The Beat Sheet, Act IIA
Narrative Analysis: The Basics
The B Story
In screenwriting terms, a B Story is a secondary story within the larger narrative (the A Story) that develops the characters and the themes. B stories often feature two characters falling in love, but they do not necessarily require a romantic component. Other common B stories include relationships between friends, siblings, and parents and children: all close, personal connections that can be tested. “The B story is also very often a brand new bunch of characters,” Snyder adds. “…[Since] Act Two is the antithesis, they are the upside-down versions of those characters who inhabit the world of Act One.”11 In other words, these additional characters hold a mirror to the protagonist, allowing them to observe the potential result of their choices.
In The Last of Us, the B Story is the relationship between Joel and Ellie. While their goal is always to bring Ellie to the Fireflies, their growing connection gives their journey meaning and elevates the stakes when making difficult decisions. To set up this relationship, The Last of Us sends Joel and Ellie on a short mission to acquire a car from Joel’s friend, Bill. Bill’s experiences after the outbreak act as a parallel to Joel’s, as he has dedicated himself to a life of seclusion and warns Joel that having a partner can only bring heartache. Although Joel is inclined to agree, he finds himself warming to Ellie as they rely on each other throughout the mission, and Joel realizes how much Bill is suffering by being alone. The mission ends with Joel allowing himself to momentarily relax around Ellie, bonding over the music and magazines she stole from Bill’s bunker. This icebreaking moment sets the trajectory for their relationship, building the expectation that they will only get closer as the journey goes on.
Fun and Games
The bulk of the first half of Act Two is dedicated to a suite of scenes Snyder refers to as ‘Fun and Games’. According to Snyder, “The fun and games section is that part of the screenplay that, I like to say, provides: The promise of the premise.”12 In a romance novel, these are the pages where the characters begin to fall in love; in an action movie, this is the point in the script where guns start blazing and bombs start going off. Regardless of the narrative’s medium, the Fun and Games section exists to satisfy the audience’s expectations for the story. It may not always be fun for the characters, but for the audience, it’s exactly what they want.
The Fun and Games section of The Last of Us is not the most emotionally uplifting segment of the game, as it ends with both Joel and Ellie receiving a harsh dose of reality. Still, it does fulfill the promise of the premise: confronting the twin dangers of zombie and man. While journeying west through Pittsburgh, Joel and Ellie are forced into combat with both zombies and fellow humans. These confrontations lead them to partner with Sam and Henry, two brothers who are also struggling to survive. Like Bill in the previous section, Henry and Sam exist to parallel Joel and Ellie, as Henry is the guardian to Sam. Their continued survival and companionship give Joel and Ellie hope, but that hope comes crashing down when Sam is infected, and Henry shoots him, and then himself. Theirs is not a fun story, yet it satisfies the audience’s expectations for the premise. It reminds them that Joel and Ellie live in a dangerous world, and not everyone is guaranteed a happy ending.
The Midpoint is one of the most common plot points across all story structures. It occurs in both the Three-Act and the Five-Act Structure and also has a home in the Find step of the Story Circle. Whatever the name may be, this point acts as another threshold for the characters to cross: perhaps the most important one of all. Snyder divides midpoints into two categories: “…[Either] an “up” where the hero seemingly peaks (though it is a false peak) or a “down” when the world collapses all around the hero (though it is a false collapse), and it can only get better from here on out.”13 The divide is not always that simple—some Midpoints may incorporate both a false victory and a false defeat—but the dynamic of the world always changes, regardless of how it happens.
In The Last of Us, Joel and Ellie hit the Midpoint when they find Tommy in Jackson County. Unbeknownst to Joel, Tommy has gotten married and moved on from his nomadic life. When Tommy tries to remind Joel of the importance of family by showing him a picture of Sarah, Joel rebuffs him, ignoring his past. Consequently, Tommy is reluctant to take Ellie away from Joel and guide her to the Fireflies, and his wife is even more uncomfortable with him leaving. Joel convinces both of them with some persuading, but Ellie runs off with one of the horses before they can leave. Joel and Tommy track her down, leading to an emotional moment where Ellie confronts Joel about his fear of loss and his daughter, and Joel realizes he can’t avoid forming human attachments forever. He agrees to take Ellie to the Firefly base in Colorado himself, demonstrating growth. What started as a defeat—Tommy’s refusal to help—turns out to be false, as Joel found the resolve to confront his emotions and move on.
11 Snyder, Blake. Save the Cat (p. 80). Michael Wiese Productions. Kindle Edition.
12 Snyder, Blake. Save the Cat (pp. 80-81). Michael Wiese Productions. Kindle Edition.
13 Snyder, Blake. Save the Cat (p. 82). Michael Wiese Productions. Kindle Edition.
* Reference Run: GameCin. The LAST OF US 1 REMASTERED Full Movie All Cutscenes Story [4K-60FPS]. YouTube, 2019.
** Reference Script: The Last of Us Wiki. The Last of Us script. FANDOM Games Community, 2021.