I’m writing this post on the heels of another late-night The Last of Us binge because I was left wondering: what does The Last of Us and The Walking Dead have in common? Other than being amazing games that MP recommended, what do they thematically share? I came to the sleep-depraved conclusion that they both feature this makeshift construction of family. One of the main themes of both games is attempting to rebuild a society in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. The members of the Crawford community wanted to create a Utopian society full of medicine and strong people; and the rationing community is very present in both games. There is a romance hinted in both games (Carley and Lee // Ellie and Riley) and the idea of rebuilding family.
What does this all mean? Is this Telltale‘s ominous way of predicting the future? After a catastrophe wipes away all of the remnants of society that we know: all we have left is ideas and beliefs to recreate an “ideal” community? I noticed that with Molly, the cancer survivors, and many other Last of Us NPCs; the mention of Clementine and Ellie changes the way they interact with the main protagonist.
Knowing that Lee is a surrogate father to Clementine builds this immediate trust between him and a stranger; while Joel’s relation with Ellie allows him to be trusted with other larger missions. I propose that, in these new post-apocalyptic worlds, anything that has a semblance of normalcy is given priority and trust. Kenny is hell-bent on taking the crew onto a boat because of his former occupation as a fisherman. Joel warms to Ellie because of the death of his own daughter. Clementine believes in the fantasy of peace in Savannah because that is where her parents were. All of these examples are instances where a character is looking for solace from the past. This notion drives them to want to recreate that same world: and with that, take all of the “positive” aspects of society and rebuild with them in mind.
This is why leadership is so fascinating in the game. Every leader in the games has been a “family man” or the metonymic symbol of the American Dream. Hershel, the St. Johns, Kenny, Lee: they are all the patriarchs of their respective clans and treated as the figureheads and top providers. In regards to Kenny specifically, family also means having the numbers. When he makes a decision, he has the power of two more “votes” (Katjaa and Duck would always agree with him) and therefore, has a unchecked weight in the group. When the two die, Kenny is visibly weakened, both mentally and in this democratic group. Joel’s gameplay also changes when he does not have Ellie as backup.
What makes this relationship most fascinating, I think, is the trust that comes with it. I touched on this earlier, but everyone seems to take down their walls as soon as they learn of the presence of their children. Likewise, Lee and Joel have this child who they would die to protect, and in turn, a protector/predecessor who will return the favor when they are weak or wounded. Maybe it’s the fidelity of youth, maybe it’s this parental bond, but Clementine and Ellie are the only people that you put your complete faith in. They are the only ones that you take to the end. No others in your group have that honor.
I say all of this to say, why are these traits valued even in this broken-down apocalyptic future? Are these the types of characteristics we look to in our present-day society? What kinds of prejudices are ignored in this new Utopia and which ones still persist?