Joel is the main protagonist and playable character in the videogame The Last of Us, the deuteragonist of The Last of Us Part II, and a supporting character in The Last of Us: Left Behind. Joel is a hardened survivor living and working as a smuggler and arms dealer in a post-apocalyptic America. Even though Joel acts as one of the main protagonists in the game (and is willing to keep Ellie safe) he still has many traits of a villain, such as selfishness and a capacity for extreme violence and brutal murder all in the name of survival.
He is voiced by Troy Baker, who also voices Kai Leng.
Personality and Traits
Joel has been described as a "violent thug, a brutal killer, and a torturer." He is shown to be able to kill his enemies with noteworthy brutality, earning his infamous reputation to those he encounters. David calls him a "crazy man." During the aftermath of the epidemic that struck the country, he has resorted to working in black-market dealings and smuggling items or people of interest through quarantine zones or other designated areas.
Because of this, he has accumulated valuable knowledge in regards to surviving the post-apocalyptic environment. Ellie notes that Joel has stained his hand with innocent blood when he reveals to her that he has been "on both sides", thus having the knowledge about a hunters' ambush and anticipating it. This dark past likely contributed to his experience as a hardened survivalist. He also becomes extremely dedicated to Ellie, using any means possible to save her and keep her safe. He tortures several people to find out Ellie's location, even going as far as to torture to death the rest of his prisoners after he has already gained information about Ellie's location. Ellie also cares greatly for Joel when she cares for him when he was injured, Just as Joel cared for her and protected her throughout their journey. They had a father and daughter bond.
However, Joel's other side is also portrayed. Prior to the apocalypse, he works hard to single-handedly raise his daughter. The outbreak and Sarah's death changed him into an apathetic and ruthless and estranged man. He wears the watch that Sarah gave him the day before the initial infection broke out as a reminder.
Upon meeting Ellie, he originally has a rocky relationship with her. However, Joel later grows to trust her and finds her reliable at most times such as Ellie spotting for Joel or providing support. As time passes, Joel establishes a father-daughter relationship with Ellie, reminding him of his beloved daughter, Sarah. Whether being selfish, or not wanting to lose another 'daughter' to the whim of another again, he chose to save Ellie and try and start some semblance of a normal life again.
It is speculated that his decision to massacre everyone inside the Fireflies facility in Salt Lake City is to cut all loose ends, to ensure that no one will have the knowledge of Ellie and thus no one will go after her in the future.
In this sense he is the opposite of Marlene, who intends to sacrifice Ellie for a chance to save the rest of humanity. Described as being in his late 40's and early 50's, Joel knows what the world looked like before it was devastated. Over time, he has begun to become less bound by morality and more driven by doing whatever is necessary to survive. "What he wouldn't do in the past is almost a daily occurrence at this point," Bruce Straley, the game's director, notes.
Not much is known about Joel prior to the events of the Cordyceps plague. Joel grew up in Texas with his brother Tommy. Sometime in his teens Joel married an unnamed woman and had a daughter named Sarah. Saddled early in life with the responsibilities that come with being a father, he never had to the opportunity to attend college. No mention is given as to the fate or whereabouts of Sarah's mother; Joel appears to be raising Sarah as a single parent. They live in a typical two story single-family home somewhere in (or around) Austin, Texas. This is learned in the opening scenes when Tommy and Joel state they need to leave Travis County by taking Texas State Highway 71.
Joel worked in construction, possibly as a carpenter. In the prologue, during a phone conversation with Tommy he mentions desperately needing to keep his job with a contractor. Building plans lay on his bedside table and several copies of a book called Construction Regionalism can be seen on top of his bookshelf.
Music was an interest to Joel in the years prior to the outbreak; he has a guitar and an extensive music collection (both CDs and vinyl) in his room. He mentions to Ellie that in his younger years he wanted to become a singer.
He seems to have ambitions of starting his own business before the outbreak, with Everything You Need To Know About Creating A Startup also on a table next to his bed. His job kept him fit, and he also owned a treadmill (seen in his bedroom). Additionally, he tells Ellie that he often went on hikes with his daughter, reinforced by pictures of hiking scenery in his house.
Despite his long working hours he still found time to spend quality time with Sarah, as seen in photographs displayed throughout their home showing the two on a cruise, at a carnival and at one of Sarah's soccer matches. In the hours leading up to the outbreak, Sarah gives him a new watch as a birthday gift to replace one he had broken months before. This becomes a cherished memento he manages to keep in the turbulent years ahead.
The Last of Us
Outbreak and Tragedy
In the beginning of the game, Joel is shown to be a single father who raises his daughter Sarah. His struggle to raise a kid on his own is interrupted when the infection breaks out and Joel is forced to take his daughter out of town, just hours after his birthday. He is joined by his brother Tommy on the evacuation. Later, the group finds the road blocked and is forced to take another route, before their car collides and they must continue on foot. While Tommy fights the infected, Joel and Sarah try to flee, but encounter a soldier. The soldier is ordered to kill the two, which he reluctantly carries out. Joel tries to shield Sarah from the shots, but the bullets fatally hit her. Tommy arrives in time to kill the soldier, but he and Joel can not do anything to stem Sarah's bleeding. The opening ends with Joel sobbing over his daughter's body.
Twenty years after the initial outbreak which wipes out millions of people across the United States, Joel operates as a smuggler of drugs and weapons through the quarantine zone in Boston. Initially Joel looks after Tommy in Boston, but Tommy suffers from nightmares for what he commits, which causes him to leave Joel and join the Fireflies under Marlene's promises of hope. Eventually, however, Tommy becomes disenchanted with the Fireflies and leaves Boston. At some point in this time Joel became acquainted with Tess, who maintains the Boston branch of the underground market and specializes in contraband, working as Joel's partner. The two appear to work with each other frequently to smuggle supplies in, out and around the quarantine zone, and they seem to have a mutually respectful alliance at the start of the game. The pair also had a shipment arrangement with another survivor named Bill, and it is said that Bill owes many favors to Joel.
Shortly before their fateful last smuggle, the pair confront and kill a local dealer Robert after he sent two men to kill Tess. Before that, Robert has sold their guns to the Fireflies, which earns him Joel and Tess' hatred. Marlene, the Fireflies "queen" unexpectedly shows up and strikes a deal: they will transport something to a group of Fireflies waiting at the Capitol Building. In exchange, they can regain their weapons and receive even more. Joel and Tess are reluctant, but go with Marlene anyway. The "cargo" is eventually revealed to be a girl named Ellie.
On the way, the trio is captured by a military patrol. While they are being checked for infection, Ellie panics and retaliates. Taking advantage, Joel and Tess overwhelm and kill the soldiers. They are, however, surprised when Ellie is revealed to be infected. Fearful for her life, Ellie explains that she has been infected for three weeks but shows no sign of transformation. Joel is angered in disbelief, but the military soon closes in and the three are forced to make their way through. Eventually, they manage to reach the rendezvous point in the Capitol Building, but they find only bodies of Fireflies and the military closing in. Revealing that she too has been infected, Tess insists Ellie and Joel continue on their own, while she buys them some time. In the end, Joel and Ellie make it out. Ellie feels guilty about having Tess sacrifice for her, but Joel firmly decides not to bring that up.
Meeting Temporary Allies
Joel plans to go to a town where he believes they can meet Bill, the mechanic who owes him a favor. The meeting does not go well since the two burst many of Bill's traps. Bill devises a plan to retrieve spare parts in the town to activate a car, as a repayment to Joel. Joel and Ellie manage to get a car and leave Bill for Pittsburgh. While entering Pittsburgh, Joel and Ellie are ambushed by a group of hunters, but escape thanks to Joel anticipating the ambush. They then battled through the city, fighting numerous hunters on the way. Joel eventually comes to trust Ellie with a gun and teaches her to use a hunting rifle. The two slowly warm up to each other while making their way through the desolation. They later team up with brothers Henry and Sam to escape the hunter area through the sewers and suburbs. The pair had slowly bonded with the brothers, but this ended when Sam became infected and Henry committed suicide out of grief for killing his brother.
Looking for the Fireflies
Fall arrives as Joel and Ellie reach Jackson County in Wyoming, where Joel believes his brother Tommy, a former member of the Fireflies, can show them their location. The two are amazed to find a settlement and, fortunately, Tommy is residing in a nearby dam providing electricity to a revived permanent community. Joel and Tommy get into a heated debate after Joel demands that Tommy take Ellie the rest of the way to the Fireflies. The two are interrupted when the bandits attack the dam. Joel helps fend off the attackers, and Tommy reluctantly agrees to take Ellie to the Fireflies. Ellie, however, runs away after learning Joel and Tommy are fighting because of her. The two men have to follow her before the bandits get to her. Joel and Ellie reconcile and the two head out for a university where the Fireflies are thought to reside. Unfortunately, the Fireflies are nowhere to be found, instead the duo are met with large groups of both infected and hunters while they explore the place. During a brutal fight, Joel is impaled in the abdomen and leaves the fighting to Ellie, who gets the both of them to the Lakeside Resort. There Ellie hides Joel in a house to take care of him, while going outside to hunt for food.
A few weeks have passed, in which Joel is unconscious and burning with fever due to his injury until Ellie manages to bring in some antibiotics from David and James, two survivors she encounters and trade food for medicine. The medicine brought him back to his feet, albeit weakened, but he is surprised to find Ellie missing. Upon leaving the hideout, he encounters a group of bandits who seem to know her whereabouts. He tortures, interrogates two of them to find a clue about Ellie's location, and upon learning where she is captured, he kills the two in cold blood. Joel arrives in the bandit's camp to discover that they are cannibals. He dispatches the rest of the cannibals before finding Ellie brutally hacking at David with his own machete. He pulls her away from the lifeless David, consoling her in his arms, noticeably calling her "baby girl", a name he used for his daughter.
Reaching the Fireflies
The spring arrives as Joel and Ellie reach Salt Lake City, the intended final destination. Joel takes up the talking part, trying to brighten an estranged and traumatized Ellie. She warms up after seeing a group of giraffes. Joel, realizing what Ellie has been through, tells her that they can leave and return to Tommy's, but she thanks him and remarks that she wants to go through with this. In the city, they encounter the Fireflies, who had fled from Boston to their new haven. Ellie is immediately taken for research on Marlene's order, which will possibly create a vaccine for the infection. Joel later gets to know of this through Marlene's disclosure. Knowing that it can possibly kill her, he protests against it. Marlene disregards him, however, saying that she is in a position to make decisions, and that her decision to sacrifice Ellie will save millions. She spares Joel's life, but Joel, having bonded with Ellie so much that she has become a substitute daughter to him (he calls her "baby girl" before, the same way he calls Sarah), escapes and tortures the Firefly soldier, Ethan to find out the location of the surgery. Joel makes his way through the facility and brings Ellie out. He is cornered by Marlene, who willingly lets him decide Ellie's fate. Joel secures Ellie in his car, before killing Marlene, claiming "You'd just come after her."
Joel delivers Ellie out of the city, heading for "home". He lies to Ellie that the Fireflies have failed to create a vaccine and gave up on it, much to her dismay. It is speculated that his decision to kill Marlene inside the facility in Salt Lake City, is to cut all loose ends, to ensure that no one will have the knowledge of Ellie and thus no one will go after her in the future. The two finally reach Tommy's dam, where Joel remarks that they can return to their normal life. Eventually, Ellie confronts Joel and tells him "Swear to me. Swear to me that everything you said about the Fireflies is true." Joel lies to her, claiming "I swear", which leaves a doubting Ellie to her own belief.