The Last of Us Part 2: Joel Originally Had a Girlfriend Named Esther in the Game

In an earlier version of The Last of Us Part 2, Joel had a girlfriend named Esther, but Naughty Dog ended up cutting her from the game. Here are the details.

The Last of Us Part 2 Joel
Photo: Sony Interactive Entertainment

This The Last of Us Part 2 article contains spoilers.

Video games of the size of The Last of Us Part 2 take years to make, and during that long development cycle, plot points can change, whole scenes can be cut, and levels dropped. As we’re learning from Naughty Dog creative director Neil Druckmann and co-writer Halley Gross in post-release interviews about the making of the game, there were a few things that were left on the cutting room floor before launch.

Druckmann and Gross recently revealed that “for more than 50 percent of the production” The Last of Us Part 2 had a different, much darker ending. Originally, the game also sent Ellie on a mission to the Seraphite island, but the level was eventually cut because “it didn’t move her story along narratively,” according to Gross in a new interview with The Washington Post about the content that didn’t make it into the final game.

But the biggest cut of all may be one that would have allowed players to meet Joel’s “long-distance” girlfriend Esther, who, in an earlier version of the story, lived “in a town two hours away” from Jackson.

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According to the news outlet, we would have met Esther in a flashback “roughly six or seven hours into the game.” It was an earlier version of the flashback in the game where Tommy teaches Ellie how to use a sniper rifle and Joel and Ellie go searching for strings for her guitar.

“I think she lived out by the dams, by the electric dams, and they kind of had a commuter relationship. And Joel and Ellie were headed out there and saw that the building had been taken over by infected,” Gross said of Joel’s ill-fated relationship with Esther, who would have died in the flashback.

When Joel and Ellie found Esther in the flashback, they would have discovered she had been bitten and “knew was she was going to die.” Joel would have asked Ellie to quickly fetch water from a nearby river. When Ellie reached the river, she would have heard a gunshot.

“And you don’t know whether Esther killed herself or if Joel put a bullet in her head, but you know that this was going to happen,” Gross said. “That two adults were making a decision and they were going to try to protect Ellie as much as they could.”

This event would have triggered a conversation between Ellie and Joel that would have addressed the elephant in the room: how Ellie’s immunity and the cure the Fireflies had hoped to develop from the Cordyceps fungus in her brain (a procedure that would have killed her in the first game) could have saved people like Esther. But this scene wasn’t meant to be.

“The reason that got scrapped was because we just didn’t have time to establish Esther,” Gross said, noting that players wouldn’t have spent enough time with Esther to make her death to really resonate.

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That said some traces of Joel’s history with Esther remained in the game until very late before it was cut. “Even up until toward the end of the game, we had like a love letter from Esther in his house.”

Esther was actually first introduced during a live performance of some of the scenes from The Last of Us called One Night Live. Featuring Troy Baker (Joel) and Ashley Johnson (Ellie), the performance included a never-before-seen epilogue to the first game. It’s almost exactly the scene you see at the start of the sequel where Joel plays guitar for Ellie. The original scene mentioned Esther.

You can watch One Night Live below:

Esther wasn’t the only love interest who didn’t appear in the game. Throughout The Last of Us Part 2, Ellie mentions Cat in flashbacks and in her journal. Cat is not only the woman who gave Ellie her tattoos but her girlfriend at one point. One journal entry in the game describes how scared Ellie is of infecting Cat with Cordyceps after they kiss for the first time. The game also includes a photo of Cat.

Originally, players would have met Cat during the dance scene at the end of the game. Gross revealed that players would have had the option to have a “sassy” conversation with Cat before Ellie has her first kiss with Dina.

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“It was another thing that we cut because it wasn’t progressing anything,” Gross explained. “It was just like, again, really cool world-building, but that kissing scene also bounced around through the game a lot. We used to open the whole thing on Ellie and Joel at the dance.”

Clocking in at about 30 hours, The Last of Us Part 2‘s story is a very long experience, so it’s not surprising that not all scenes or characters written or filmed for the made it into the final product. Fortunately, we’ll have the next few years to learn more about what could have been.

The Last of Us Part 2 is out now on PlayStation 4.