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  • Finding Hope Amongst The Chaos

    - Nicole Barelli


    The antagonist is a Dark Mirror for the protagonist - a person and, in more minimalistic stories like the ones we're just analysing, a feeling, who's thematically similar to them, more than the partner or any other supporting character.

    Joel and Marlene are willing to do what it takes to survive. The Firefly Queen gave her heart an ice bath, reading herself to sacrifice Ellie in the hope of finding a vaccine. If the journey to find the Fireflies had been a catwalk, and Joel had arrived at their base without going through all of that, would he care about Ellie's death? Of course not! He would accept his guns and go back home to... well, keep surviving.

    Marlene empowers the current mental state that nothing in the world is more important than surviving and, although the need for surviving may be strong on itself, the game proves that, alone, this need feels empty. How much are we sacrificing to save ourselves? How far can we go before everything lose its meaning?

    Ellie jumpstarted the cold smuggler, but only by finding the strength and willpower to fight against Marlene - and his inner demons - to rescue and lie to the little girl, is that the true change aroused, meeting Joel's unconscious desire.

    What about God of War? Kratos and Baldur are much alike. "Why?" Baldur asks during the final battle. "Why do you even care? You could have... walked away."

    "The cycle ends here," Kratos replies, quoting his father's words in a whole new sense. Calliope and Pandora died because of his need for power and vengeance, respectively. Atreus, however, had the potential to be as powerful as - or even more than - his father, and Kratos saw the boy following his steps. To prevent the same destiny, Kratos must overcome his main antagonist, both inner and outer. "The cycle ends here" represents the White Warrior's awareness of his thematic premise - we must be better.

    Both Joel and Kratos come face to face with an extreme version of themselves - Marlene is more than disposed to sacrifice an innocent child, without her "permission", in the search of a possible vaccine; she is isolated from her own feelings, as if "survive" has become a mechanical routine. Baldur is eager to get rid of what he considers to be a curse - the fact that he can't feel anything and, consequently, cannot die, because of his mother's radical efforts to keep him safe. He will destroy anything in his path, including Freya herself, who prefers to surrender her life for his son to fulfil his wish for revenge and see him keeping on living than to see him suffering. An ultimate sacrifice in the name of love.

    Baldur would get his revenge should Kratos hadn't interfered. He could've walked away, but he didn't. He chose to be better. No more unnecessary deaths. No more sacrifices for the sake of a hollow surviving.


    Because of their journey, the partners they were teamed-up with, the forces of antagonism they faced, our characters changed. Their beliefs have been moved, not all the way through the other pole, but enough to make them rise against apathy, against coldness. Joel still stands up for those who block his way - the guard and Marlene -, but he found something that's truly worth fighting for. Kratos didn't hang up his weapons, didn't give up being a warrior. Instead, he now fights for what's truly worth, not for a bestial eagerness for blood nor an attempt to keep distance from his past.

    Both The Last of Us and God of War bring dark stories, narratives that investigate and show us the ominous sides of our existence, the atrocities humankind can commit with their own selves and others. However, in the end, they're optimistic stories! Kratos and Joel go through terrible situations, and yet come up stronger, with a resolution of not giving in to that apathy. To make sure we are always the best version of ourselves.

    As you can see, the Theme helps a writer to keep the focus on the story's message - and every story has one. It's one of the most powerful guides we have in our craft. By clearly knowing our Theme, we can create a much more solid and coherent telling with credible characters and world!


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