The Last of Us: Examining Joel’s psychological evolution in the series

Joel Miller, the central character in Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us series, presents a compelling study of character development and psychological complexity.

This article delves into Joel’s psychological evolution throughout the series, exploring how his experiences shape his character.

Joel’s backstory and initial personality

Joel starts as a loving, protective single father, a regular guy thrust into extraordinary circumstances.

The tragic loss of his daughter, Sarah, during the outbreak’s onset, profoundly impacts him. This traumatic event not only shatters his world but fundamentally alters his view of humanity and his psychological makeup​​.

The antihero trope

In the post-apocalyptic world of The Last of Us, Joel embodies the antihero archetype.

Joel’s story begins with a traumatic loss that sets the tone for his psychological journey.

The early loss of his daughter Sarah instills in him a profound sense of grief and guilt. His approach to survival is methodical, reluctant, and often abrasive.

Initially, Joel’s primary concern is self-preservation, a mindset that necessitates shutting off emotions and often disregarding the ethical and moral dynamics of his actions.

Joel and Ellie: A transformative relationship

Joel’s encounter with Ellie marks a turning point in his psychological journey.

Initially viewing her as mere cargo, their shared experiences gradually break down his emotional barriers. Through Ellie, Joel rediscovers aspects of his former self – his protective nature, sense of humor, and ability to love.

Ellie becomes a daughter-like figure, filling the void left by Sarah’s death. This relationship catalyzes a reawakening of his humanity, altering his once-rigid survivalist perspective​​​​.

Joel’s psychological complexity

Joel’s character in The Last of Us is defined by the interplay of his strengths and flaws.

His unparalleled survival instincts, a strength in the hostile world he inhabits, stem from his ability to suppress emotions and make tough, often morally questionable decisions.

However, as his relationship with Ellie deepens, his rediscovered sense of morality and ethics becomes both a strength and a flaw.

Joel’s choices, especially his decision to save Ellie at the end of the first game, highlight this moral ambiguity and survival instinct.

The journey to redemption

Throughout The Last of Us, Joel’s character arc can also be viewed as a journey towards redemption.

He seeks redemption not only for his inability to save his daughter but also for the person he has become in the post-apocalyptic world.

The psychological concept of redemption involves moving from a state of moral suffering to one of moral recovery, which is evident in Joel’s evolving relationship with Ellie.

In conclusion

Joel’s character growth in The Last of Us is a compelling portrayal of a man grappling with loss, trauma, and survival.

From a psychological perspective, his journey encapsulates various aspects of human psychology, including grief, defense mechanisms, attachment, moral conflict, and the quest for redemption.

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