The Beat Sheet, Act III
Narrative Analysis: The Basics
The Finale is the longest sequence of scenes, encompassing almost the entirety of Act Three. It’s the home stretch, the place when everything the protagonists have done thus far must pay off, for better or for worse. “This is where we wrap it up,” writes Snyder. “It’s where the lessons learned are applied. It’s where the character tics are mastered. It’s where A story and B story end in triumph for our hero.”19 ‘Triumph’ is a relative term here, as not every Finale has a happy ending, but the ending will still be the result of the protagonist’s choices: a ‘triumph’ earned through their actions. If the protagonist does not like the outcome, they have only themself to blame. They have spent most of the story sowing; now is the time to reap.
As foreshadowed in the Fun and Games beat, The Last of Us is not a story with an entirely positive ending. The characters may have made the best choices available to them at every point, but their world is a harsh one, and even those with good intentions may find themselves suffering in the end. Such is the case for Joel and Ellie when they arrive in Salt Lake City. A final scuffle with zombies leaves Joel weak and Ellie unconscious, but they’re saved by the very Fireflies they’ve been seeking from the start, but the Fireflies have shocking news: to create a cure for the outbreak from Ellie’s body, Ellie will have to die. As Ellie is already unconscious, now in prep for surgery, Joel is left alone to make a final choice: either he can let Ellie die, offering humanity their best chance at survival; or he can steal Ellie from the Fireflies, potentially condemning humanity to a world without a cure. After protecting Ellie for so long, and after losing so much, Joel makes the only choice he can: he saves Ellie and wipes out the Fireflies, ensuring Ellie will be safe while dooming the rest of mankind. It’s not a triumph for humanity, but it is a triumph for Joel, as he was able to spare Ellie from meeting the same fate as his daughter.
Like Break into Two and Break into Three, the Closing Image parallels the Opening Image. This is the last page of the novel or the last scene in the film; it’s the moment that ties everything together, reinforcing the character’s relationships and the themes. As Snyder states, “It is your proof that change has occurred and that it’s real.”20 Even if the characters can return home, they have been altered by their journey, and their ordinary world is never the same.
The Last of Us ends with a final confrontation between Joel and Ellie. Since Ellie was unconscious while they were with the Fireflies, she doesn’t know the truth about how or why they left the base. All she knows is what Joel told her: that the Fireflies have found other people with Ellie’s immunity, and they haven’t gotten any closer to finding a cure. Ellie is unsure if she believes Joel or not, so she asks him flat-out if he’s telling the truth. After a moment of hesitation, he says he is. It’s a bittersweet moment, as it shows Joel’s willingness to compromise their relationship for Ellie’s comfort: his final act as a guardian. Ellie is now left with the choice of whether or not to believe him. It’s unclear if she does, but the final image shows the doubt in her eyes as she acquiesces with a nod. This closing shot on her face is a direct parallel to the sleeping Sarah at the start, who stayed up as long as she could to wait for her father. Sarah, eyes closed, did not know what was coming for her; Ellie, eyes open, accepts Joel and the world as it is. It’s the perfect bookend to a complex story, as it shows how both Ellie and Joel have been forever changed by their journey.
19 Snyder, Blake. Save the Cat (p. 90). Michael Wiese Productions. Kindle Edition.
20 Snyder, Blake. Save the Cat (p. 90). 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.