There may be change on the horizon for The Last of Us Part II as developers at Naughty Dog cryptically tease that Ellie might be the game's only playable character. With 2013's original being a two-part gameplay experience where fans controlled both Ellie and the hardened survivor Joel, fans again find themselves asking the unthinkable, "Is Joel about to be killed off?"
Despite Joel (voiced by Troy Baker) being the lead of The Last of Us up until players took control of Ellie in the winter segment, the sequel has already pushed focus onto her expanded role while Joel has sat on the sidelines. Despite there being little to go on up until E3's beautiful trailer for The Last of Us Part II, various fan theories have already tipped Joel for an early grave. As the game's developers weigh in on the issue, it looks more and more likely that Joel will be back for a cameo as best in Part II.
Speaking behind closed doors (via IGN), designer Richard Cambier delivered the generic, “We aren’t saying anything about that yet" when asked if Ellie will be the only playable character. Although Cambier offered nothing for patient fans to go on, creative director Neil Druckmann went a little further and boldly declared, “Ellie is the only playable character in the game.”
While this doesn't necessarily mean Joel is six-feet under, it implies that if he is a part of the story campaign, it will be a role reversal of his relationship with Ellie in the original. Admittedly, Druckmann could be using a sleight of hand to throw players off the scent and lead to sensationalist headlines that Joel is definitely dead. The other option is that he has chosen his words carefully and Ellie really is the only playable character, giving an option for Joel to be playable in a DLC - possibly to even tell the story of how he came to die or fill in the blanks between the first game and Part II.
Either way, Joel is part of the game somewhere as Baker recently said the title's playtest was "looking awesome." Heading back to 2016's PlayStation Experience trailer for The Last of Us Part II, many picked up on Joel's strange phrasing when he said to Ellie, “you really going to go through with this?” instead of using "we." There are theories that Joel is simply there as a ghostly visage to guide her and the pistol he carries is actually the one he used to kill himself. It all sounds pretty bleak but would certainly be in keeping with the game's dark aesthetic.
Elsewhere, audiences saw Ellie sharing a kiss with Shannon Woodward's Dina in the E3 reveal, but Druckmann seemingly reduces her to also being an NPC addition. With Druckmann apparently confirming Ellie is the only playable character, The Last of Us Part II could be a much lonelier game for fans. Considering there is still no release date for The Last of Us Part II, the agonizing wait to see what role Joel and has in the game continues.