Make no mistake, The Last of Us 2 is very much a forward looking sequel, committed to expanding Naughty Dog's apocalyptic universe and its cast of unique characters without ruminating too heavily on the past. That being said, there are few crucial threads of connective tissue which ties the game to the story of 2013's The Last of Us, shedding new light on old events and asking us to reconsider their context.
Below, we'll be exploring all the ways The Last of Us 2 connects to the events of its predecessor, so it should go without saying that full spoilers for both games lie ahead, and you shouldn't read on if you haven't beaten either of them. Still here? Good. You've either rolled credits on both games, or are one of those people who immediately turn to the end page of every book they start reading. I tip my hat to you either way. So let's get into it.
Abby and the Fireflies
Most of us likely had our theories about Abby's motivations for killing Joel at the beginning of The Last of Us 2's campaign, but a mid-game flashback reveals that the murder was much more personal than we might have presumed. Not only are the group that hunted down Joel a band of former Fireflies that have since been adopted into the WLF, but Abby and her friends were actually present at St Mary's Hospital on the night of Ellie's expected operation.
More sinister still, Abby's own father was the surgeon in charge of performing the fatal procedure on Ellie herself, and the very same one who Joel stabs to death with his own surgical knife at the operation table. A late sequence in the game also reveals that Jerry was far from just a heartless scientist unphased by the idea of taking Ellie's life, but a man of virtue and warmth who took his responsibility to save humanity seriously. He was also Abby's last remaining kin, so it's little wonder that she felt such hatred towards Joel for taking his life.
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As mentioned, The Last of Us 2 relies heavily on flashbacks to fill in the gaps left by its predecessor, not just from Abby's perspective, but from Ellie's too. In doing so, we learn that - one year prior to the events of Part 2 - Ellie travels back to St Mary's Hospital to confirm her suspicions that Joel isn't telling the complete truth about what went down during that fateful night.
To her horror, she learns that there was a cure, after all, and the Fireflies were planning to go through with the operation before being thwarted (read: murdered) by Joel, who refused to let Ellie lose her life as part of humanity's last hope for a vaccine. After confronting him about the revelation, Joel finally spills the beans, leaving Ellie rightfully pissed, swearing to cut him out of her life completely.
This effectively wipes out any ambiguity left by the ending of the original game, in which players were asked to make up their own mind as to whether Ellie believed Joel's lie, is pretending to believe it, or is simply willing herself into falling for the deception to avoid considering the darker alternative. Instead, Part 2 confirms that Ellie did have her doubts after all, and they only grew over time to the point where Joel simply wasn't able to maintain the artifice.
This twist also subverts the player's understanding of Ellie' motivations in the present day story. Even after everything Joel took from her, she's still going to great lengths to avenge him. Why? You'll have to check out our explainer on The Last of Us 2 ending for the answer to that question....
Other callbacks and Easter eggs
Aside from those two, major links to the first game, The Last of Us 2 also has a wider handful of more nuanced callbacks in the form of Easter eggs, recirculating environmental props, and conversational in-game nods to Joel and Ellie's original adventure.
We hear Ellie often refer back to the events of The Last of Us when opening up with Dina, for example, recalling the moment she first killed another human being, and offhandedly mentioning other characters she met during her journey across the United States, such as Bill and David.
In addition, several Last of Us 2 Easter eggs are tied into the tapestry of its predecessor, including re-appearances from fictional arcade game The Turning, the same halloween masks that Ellie and Riley play with in the Left Behind DLC, and multiple winks to the famous Giraffe scene that marks many a player's favourite gaming memory from the original (including the reveal that zebras are roaming around the hospital too).
It's all part of Naughty Dog's effort to make sure this sequel feels like an authentic extension of the universe it first established back in 2013, and it works, though it is a little odd that Ellie doesn't react more strongly to masks, and the memories they conjure up of her last moments with Riley. Maybe she's just trying to play it cool with Dina so close by. In any case, you can find more callbacks to the first game via our list of every The Last of Us 2 Easter egg we've found so far.
Think we've missed something? Let us know in the comments below, or check out our Last of Us 2 ending breakdown feature to discover where the series might be headed next.