This The Last of Us Part II article contains spoilers.
Much will be said in the coming weeks about The Last of Us Part II‘s story and the characters trapped in the cycle of violence that makes up the game’s premise, but fans should also take a moment to appreciate the acting in Naughty Dog’s latest. The Last of Us Part II is an absolute showcase for veteran performers like Ashley Johnson (Ellie), Troy Baker (Joel), Shannon Woodward (Dina), Stephen Chang (Jesse), and Patrick Fugit (Owen).
Brought to life beautifully through motion capture and incredibly polished CGI, The Last of Us Part II is one of the most visually impressive and best-acted games on the PlayStation 4. At the very least, it’ll be difficult for any other title coming out this year to top the performances in this long-awaited sequel. And Laura Bailey, who voices Abby Miller, the game’s antagonist and second playable character (a surprise Naughty Dog first teased in the game’s second trailer back in 2017), is arguably the best of all.
With Abby, Bailey not only brings to life a formidable new villain to the story, one who at first we want to hate as much as Ellie does for killing Joel, but also humanizes her so that by the end of the game you may even sympathize and root for her. The script by Naughty Dog creative director Neil Druckmann and Halley Gross (Westworld) must also be credited in this regard, but it’s Bailey’s acting that gives all of the writing its true weight.
To say that Abby’s introduction in the opening hours of the game is disorienting is a bit of an understatement. During the extended prologue leading to Joel’s violent death, the game switches perspectives between Ellie, who is on patrol in the snow-covered region just beyond her home in the walled town of Jackson, and Abby, whose arrival in the area ushers in a sense of doom to the proceedings. While her intentions aren’t clear at first, we know they’re not good.
Indeed, in a game full of brutal executions that would make even the first game cringe a little, Joel’s death is perhaps The Last of Us Part II‘s most shockingly violent scene, as Ellie is forced to watch as Abby bludgeons the closest thing she has to a father to death. It’s again Bailey behind the brilliance of this scene, unleashing the rage Abby feels for Joel but also the split-second of hesitation when she’s about to deliver the final blow. There’s relief in Abby’s eyes when Joel’s had his last breath and mercy when she decides to let Ellie and Tommy live. And it’s Bailey’s facial expressions and physical performance in a mo-cap suit that brings players into Abby’s character before the script has really told us anything about her.
Later in the game, we learn why Abby trekked all the way from Seattle to kill Joel, but we won’t spoil that bit here. But what we can say is that the script makes a very good argument for why Abby is not quite the villain she’s initially presented as.
While the level of violence and the countless twists in the story will likely be the major points of discussion at first, there will be a lot of time in the next few years to admire the quieter moments in Naughty Dog’s revenge epic, intimate scenes that see both Ellie and Abby connect with others and the world around them. Ellie admires the green beauty of post-apocalyptic downtown Seattle while Abby helps save an animal in need and plays fetch with a very good dog. I think ultimately these are the moments that we’ll remember beyond Joel’s death and Ellie’s own quest for revenge.
Abby’s relationship with her friends, both in flashbacks and during the nightmarish events that unfold over three days in war-torn Seattle, offers up some of the game’s most intimate and revealing moments of characterization. If at first you can’t see Abby in any other light than a murderer who deserves to be punished, the game tries its hardest to soften that viewpoint when it finally gives the “villain” a chance to speak.
Bailey brilliantly plays off of the rest of the cast. I especially enjoyed her scenes opposite Alejandro Edda, who plays Abby’s friend and roommate Manny in the game. Abby shares a level of camaraderie with Manny that she doesn’t quite have with anyone else, even her on-and-off-again romantic interest in later chapters. Of course, all of that lightheartedness (and even love) wears off any time Abby comes face to face with Ellie, and it’s ultimately their more violent natures that come into play most often in The Last of Us Part II.
Like Ellie, Abby is the product of a world that’s already ended, when humans have given in to their base instinct: survive. In The Last of Us series, that means scavenging, clearing the Infected, and killing your enemies. Ellie and Abby are mortal enemies who will stop at nothing until one of them is dead, caught in a violent loop of revenge that never gave them any other choice. But there’s more to these characters when removed from situations where they’re forced to kill people and monsters who are trying to kill them, and Johnson and Bailey really shine when allowed to explore other aspects of their characters.
Bailey, who has video game voice credits dating back to 2002’s BloodRayne (she voiced the main character, Rayne), is no stranger to video games or nerdy entertainment. Originally appearing in the dubbed version of Dragon Ball Z as the voice of young Trunks, Bailey has an impressive resume of voice acting roles, lending her voice to many of gaming’s biggest franchises, such as Street Fighter, World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy, Fallout, Resident Evil, Mass Effect, and Gears of War. She’s also set to voice Black Widow in Square Enix’s upcoming superhero game Marvel’s Avengers.
This also isn’t the first time Bailey has appeared in The Last of Us series, having voiced several minor characters in the original game, but The Last of Us Part II is arguably her biggest starring role yet.