Song of the Day #4,463: ‘Take On Me’ – Ellie (Ashley Johnson) from The Last of Us 2

I’m not much of a gamer. I played a lot of video games when I was in junior high, back when the Atari 2600 and Commodore 64 were the height of technological advancement. But I missed the window when games got really good.

A few years ago, though, my family bought a PlayStation 4 and the Star Wars Battlefront game and I sat slack-jawed at how complex and cinematic these things can get.

Now, my younger daughter is a full-on gamer who spends much of her free time playing Fortnite or Call of Duty while talking to her friends through a headset. That whole setup would have looked like the most far-fetched science fiction to my 14-year-old self.

As for me, I’ve had a great time playing the post-apocalyptic epic Fallout 4 and the campy horror game Until Dawn. But my heart fully belongs to The Last of Us, a take on the zombie apocalypse that is more narratively complex and emotionally resonant than most fiction on the big and small screen.

In fact, a Last of Us series is currently in development at HBO by the showrunner of Chernobyl.

[Warning: Spoilers ahead for both The Last of Us and its recently released sequel…]

The Last of Us follows Joel, a hardened survivor who lost his young daughter 20 years earlier during the early stages of a global pandemic, and Ellie, a 14-year-old who is the only known person immune to the deadly virus. Over the course of the 20 hours it takes to complete the game, Joel and Ellie’s relationship goes from adversarial to familial.

In the game’s climax, Joel kills a group of doctors intent on removing a sedated Ellie’s brain to find a cure for the virus. In the closing moments, he lies and tells her no cure was possible, but the look on her face suggests she doesn’t believe him.

That brings us to The Last of Us 2, released earlier this summer, which takes place five years after the first game. Ellie and Joel’s relationship is strained, largely because she rightly suspects that he robbed her of a chance to save the world.

Before they can properly reconcile, Joel is violently murdered by a woman with another faction of survivors, leaving a devastated Ellie to seek revenge. That quest makes up about half of the game, but in a viciously brilliant twist, the creators also put you in control of Abby, the woman who murders Joel.

You learn her back story and her understandable motives, and you are forced to sympathize with her as you maneuver her through her own hellish journey. It’s a fascinating exploration of the idea that every character is the protagonist of his or her own story, that naming heroes and villains isn’t easy when you widen your perspective.

One of the things I love about The Last of Us series is how the game finds room for moments of grace. In the first game, Joel and Ellie come upon a herd of giraffe near an abandoned zoo and for a moment she is allowed to be a kid again.

In the new game, a much sadder and wearier Ellie — now 19 — finds a guitar in an old music shop and plays a song for her girlfriend (the treatment of Ellie’s sexuality is another admirable quality in this series). The song she plays happens to be one of my all-time favorites, A-Ha’s ‘Take On Me,’ and in her somber performance you can see the weight of so many years of trauma.

You hope that all the characters in this game, and all of us in the midst of our own global pandemic, can — in the words of the song — slowly learn that life is okay.

[Verse 1]
We’re talking away
I don’t know what I’m about to say
I’ll say it anyway
Today’s another day to find you
Shying away
I’ll be coming for your love, okay?

Take on me (Take on me)
Take me on (Take on me)
I’ll be gone
In a day or two

[Verse 2]
So needless to say
I’m odds and ends
But I’ll be stumbling away
Slowly learning that life is okay
Say after me
It’s no better to be safe than sorry

Take on me (Take on me)
Take me on (Take on me)
I’ll be gone
In a day or two

2 thoughts on “Song of the Day #4,463: ‘Take On Me’ – Ellie (Ashley Johnson) from The Last of Us 2

  1. Dana Gallup says:

    The evolution of the gaming world has entirely passed me by. Clearly, we’ve come a long way from Asteroids and Donkey Kong, though I’m sure the latest iteration of the latter provides Kong’s perspective as the protagonist trying to get the human Mario out of his habitat.😜

  2. Peg says:

    I feel so old

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