Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us franchise took the gaming industry by storm in 2013 after its largely anticipated announcement in 2011. From the commercial and critical success of its initial release, The Last of Us became one of the bestselling video games, receiving several accolades that include multiple Game of the Year awards. Its predecessor made such a long-lasting impression on gamers everywhere that a sequel, The Last of Us Part II, was released in June 2020. Both The Last of Us and Part II featured some uniquely identifiable and relatable characters, which is one of the Playstation exclusive’s many commendable qualities.
From Joel’s admirable leadership to Ellie’s inspiring courage, each character has individual quirks that make them likable, respectable, and personable. Some are painted as merciless but are truly misunderstood, whereas others fool the masses with pretenses of kindness but aren’t as innocent as they appear to be.
Here is every main character from The Last of Us franchise, ranked.
Unfortunately, Sam is dreadfully forgettable. He serves a valuable purpose to further the plot, as he and his older brother Henry escort Joel and Ellie to the radio tower, but after he comes infected, Henry is forced to protect the others by shooting Sam at point-blank range.
Sam profoundly affects Ellie, who mourns his loss and feels immense survivor’s guilt due to her immunity. However, Sam feels insignificant when comparing his minor appearance to the remainder of the overarching narrative.
There are very few human antagonists in The Last of Us, but David may be more despicable than every infected species out there. Not only was he an unapologetic cannibal, but portrayed as a pedophile, particularly evident by how he affectionately groomed Ellie, who was 14 years old and underage at the time.
David proved to have nefarious intentions despite presenting himself as a noble leader and stood out as a disconcerting enemy. He marked a turning point for Ellie, who became withdrawn and traumatized but more determined than ever to reach the Fireflies. Still, David was just plain creepy and tainted every single scene he appeared in.
As the older brother of Sam, it was Henry’s duty to be a compassionate and protective guardian, similar to Joel’s relationship with Ellie. For the most part, Henry was likable. He had some nasty trust issues, but those were understandable given the global pandemic. When Henry committed suicide, completely overcome with grief, it was hard not feel sympathetic, especially after fighting alongside the tag-alongs Henry and Sam for an extended period of time.
Henry had a nervous disposition, which made it difficult to vouch for him, but he had some redeeming qualities and ultimately fell victim to circumstance. Sadly, he never made a lasting impact and faded into the background, overshadowed by more interesting and important characters.
Although not immediately prominent within the central plot, Bill is one of the quirkier and more volatile characters. He can be paranoid and distrusting, but just as easily amiable and caring. Although he can be uptight, Bill has a kind heart, essentially portrayed as one of the most “realistic” characters amidst an outbreak, proven by his excessive use of booby traps and an overbearing need to survive and thrive.
There must be something about hard-bitten characters that makes them appealing, because Bill can be horrid, but he always manages to outweigh his bad qualities with good ones. Bill represents the logical, pragmatic few that would likely survive a real-life zombie apocalypse.
As evidenced by his blink-and-you-miss-it death scene, Manny was intended to be a throwaway character, serving the sole purpose of motivating Abby and fuel her dual-narrative alongside Ellie. However, many players grew fond of Manny, which only made his departure all the more tragic, especially for those who preferred Abby over Ellie and shared her devastation.
He could be cruel, but Manny was a gentle giant to those he cared about. His brutality was somewhat practical, used to increase his chances of survival. Just like Joel’s death scars Ellie, Manny was that same motivator for Abby, therefore pushing the fact that Manny played a crucial role in driving the main conflict.
Although she appears only briefly in The Last of Us, Sarah accompanies Joel during the early stages of his journey. When she dies, her loss has an adverse affect on Joel, who never manages to move on. However, that fateful night becomes a turning point for Joel, who becomes determined to protect and mentor Ellie, unlike he did for his biological daughter.
Sarah was the typical “innocent soul” character that just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. She helps ease players into the chaotic environment and prepare them for more distressing deaths in the future. It makes matters worse that Sarah was only a young child; Naughty Dog truly hammers home the hard-hitting reality that children get involved in warfare no matter what.
Unfortunately, Yara was another doomed character. Undertaking the missions to retrieve surgical equipment and amputate Yara’s arm, only for her to eventually die anyway, was unbearably frustrating. When Yara was recovering, she grew closer to Abby, and by association, the player. The unbreakable sibling bond between Yara and Lev was inspiring and Yara risked life and limb (literally) to support Lev and became an apostate as a result.
Yara eventually sacrifices herself for Lev, proving how deeply she cared for him. She regrets not supporting Lev during his transition, thereby showing character growth that made her all the more likable. Much more than any other character, Yara was sensible and matter-of-fact, showing an intelligence and wisdom beyond her years and seeing the corrupt world for what it truly was. Honestly, she was difficult not to like.
For someone like Joel, who had every sliver of happiness stripped from him, Tess was the ideal life-long partner. She and Joel flirted excessively and tess acted as a temporary mother figure to Ellie, always reassuring and protecting her. These heartwarming moments only made it more unbearable when Tess valiantly sacrificed herself to save Joel and Ellie. Tess, like many other characters, was taken from us far too soon.
Tess faced her death with a rare humanity, accepting her fate for what it was. She was brave, loyal, untethered, and unwavering in her firm resolve. Ultimately, Tess went against her philosophy of a “dog-eat-dog” world, at first believing that it was all-for-one, but she undergoes one of the biggest character developments in the entire franchise, especially for such limited playtime. Tess will forever be remembered as an unforgettably noble and selfless character.
Admittedly, Marlene evoked a lot of strong emotions, whether players adored or despised her was entirely dependent on the perspective of each individual. On one hand, Marlene had her sights set on saving humanity by sacrificing Ellie for a vaccine, which is perfectly understandable; losing one life to save thousands more. On the other hand, she became emotionless toward Joel, who sought to jeopardize the surgery and save Ellie after growing attached to her.
Love her or hate her, Marlene was entirely justified to consider trading Ellie’s life for the sake of others. She believed that Ellie was destined to be a martyr. However, she was insensitive to Joel’s upset and therefore lost herself some respect along the way.
At the tender age of 13, Lev is battle-hardened and pessimistic, therefore completely distrusting of anyone he deems a threat. He made history as one of the first mainstream transgender video game characters and represented trans youth all around the world. There is, quite literally, no other character like Lev and audiences identified with him, attaching themselves to his beliefs and his relentless battle to be himself.
Lev becomes emotionally involved with Abby, whom he sees as an older sister after Yara’s passing. Likewise, Abby sees Lev the same way and the two become inseparable. Through Abby, Lev has such an inspiring story of self-discovery that it feels impossible to strongly dislike him.
Like most stories, there always needs to be the “misunderstood jerk” that paints himself as unlikable only to redeem himself later on. Well, Jesse is that same jerk. Initially, he feels some sense of hostility toward Ellie, who begins dating Dina shortly after she and Jesse broke up. For that reason, he can sometimes crack jokes that are more hurtful than humorous. He deeply cares for Dina, and in turn, Ellie, but sometimes has an odd way of showing it. Regardless, Jesse has a good heart.
Jesse assists Ellie in her hunt for revenge, risking his life by doing so. He commits himself to the ideology that his friends’ problems are his problems and he quotes this saying to Ellie. Overall, Jesse puts others before himself and possesses fairly strict morals. He ranks highly on the list for being an all-round good guy, as far as “good guys” go.
Ellie’s beau, Dina, almost perishes by Abby’s hand. That moment, knowing that Dina is pregnant with Jesse’s baby, is perhaps one of the most heart-wrenching in the entire franchise. She shares some heartfelt moments with Ellie (score one for the LGBTQ+ community) and proves herself as a valiant and reliable fighter. On more than one occasion, Dina saves Ellie from certain death and never doubts Ellie’s leadership.
Dina is sweet, sassy, and personable. She presents herself as so fun-loving and optimistic that her positive energy becomes infectious to those around her. Dina marches into battle with Ellie without ever questioning the purpose. She becomes vital to Ellie’s journey and players learn to love Dina just as much as they do Ellie. At one point, the two are inseparable and watching the relationship blossom healthily paints Dina in an even better light.
Tommy is caring, compassionate and represents the side to survivors that longs for more than mere survival. He defies the mediocrity of just living to scavenge and nothing else, always trying to make a more sustainable life for himself. Tommy is far from perfect; he has killed innocent people ⏤ probably more than he could count ⏤ but has always sought redemption and never classifies himself as an inherently bad person.
Even during a horrendous outbreak, Tommy still manages to be respectable and sympathetic, helping others in need and when Joel dies, the only negative trait he truly exhibits is an insatiable need for revenge that he shares with Ellie. Despite that, Tommy grew immensely popular among The Last of Us fans, who were empathetic toward his projection of failure as he undergoes another huge transformation from start to finish.
Everyone loves Joel. You simply can’t hate him. Just like any other video game, players are more inclined to grow attached to the main protagonists more than anyone else. We accompany them on their journey, witness all the deepest, darkest parts of them, and help them find qualities in themselves that make them better people. It feels magical, really.
As a devoted father, friend, and guardian, Joel prioritizes the well-being and safety of others before himself. He may not be perfect ⏤ Joel has stained his hands with innocent blood ⏤ but he can never be labeled as monstrous or malicious in any way. He simply does whatever he needs to do in order to survive, even if it means making the hard choices. Joel’s father-daughter relationship with Ellie is one of the most powerful enemies-to-friends dynamics out there ⏤ another compelling reason why Joel ranks among the best.
There may be some controversy that sparks from ranking Abby second. When The Last of Us: Part II released, fans were verbally transparent about their distaste for Abby’s character, simply because she mercilessly kills Joel. She may appear rough around the edges, but she suffers from severe emotion inner-conflict, which only makes her more intriguing. Abby is single-handedly the most multi-faceted and complex character in the entire Last of Us franchise.
She has questionable morals at times, such as murdering Joel and threatening the murder at-the-time pregnant Dina. In every regard, Abby is no saint. However, after befriending Lev, her dark exterior begins to fade and a more compassionate side shines through. By the end of Part II, Abby has shed her scaly skin and denounced her grudge against Ellie, committing herself to protecting Lev and finding a new purpose. Abby undergoes the biggest character development of all, which is a privilege to witness firsthand.
It should come as no surprise that Ellie ranks first. She is the main antagonist, after all. Ellie is considerably foul-mouthed, rash, temperamental, and often cracks jokes at the worst of times, causing her to be immediately disliked by anyone that encounters her. However, Ellie retains her childlike wonder as she ages through adolescence, always finding joy in the dullest times. Many The Last of Us fans identify with Ellie as a young and reckless girl battling her inner demons, exploring her sexuality, and taking justice into her own hands.
Players have followed Ellie from a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed 14-year-old to a mature and dedicated young adult. Following her on this meaningful journey, full of revenge, loss, love, and triumph, truly bonds Ellie to the player in a way that no other character ever could. In many ways, we feel responsible for protecting Ellie just as Joel does and only ever want to see her flourish. Additionally, Ellie is at the forefront of every other relationship in the game, therefore the narrative seemingly orbits her, making her the sole purpose for playing The Last of Us ⏤ and we wouldn’t have it any other way.