The Last of Us was already franchise-making material for Sony before the second installment in Joel and Ellie’s ill-fated adventures ever arrived. But when The Last of Us Part II debuted last June, Naughty Dog’s post-apocalyptic sequel sold hordes of copies, lit up the gaming awards circuit, and spurred a critical mass in the pop culture zeitgeist that’s since led to a big-budget live action series at HBO.
TLOU2’s polarizing plot and handling of key characters created plenty of buzz when the game released for the PS4, but that definitely didn’t keep it from flying off the shelves or mute the legion of critics who adored its mature story, well-integrated gameplay, and mind-blowing graphics. With The Last of Us ending 2020 with so much momentum as one of PlayStation’s strongest franchises, it feels all but inevitable that Naughty Dog would dive back in for third installment — at least at some point.
When that day comes, The Last of Us Part III (or whatever we’ll be calling it) will already have a big head start, because the overall plot of the potential sequel has already been sketched out. That comes from none other than Naughty Dog creative director Neil Druckmann himself, who recently shared at the Script Apart podcast that he and TLOU2 writing collaborator Halley Gross (Westworld) have devised how the next chapter will unfold.
If you’ve been wondering what’ll become of Ellie and Dina after those fateful few postgame moments that closed out Part II, it sounds like Naughty Dog is thinking the same thing. “I don’t know how much I want to reveal” said Druckmann. “…[Gross] and I did write an outline for a story that we're not making — but I hope one day can see the light of day — that explores a little bit what happens after this game. We’ll see.”
Part II hasn’t yet been in players’ hands for a full year, and Druckmann and Naughty Dog have a lot of irons in the creative fire at the moment. Aside from being custodians of other big PlayStation properties (Uncharted, Jak and Daxter, Crash Bandicoot) that we likely haven’t heard the last of (pun intended), Druckmann is co-writing and co-producing the upcoming TLOU live action series for HBO alongside Emmy-winning Chernobyl director Craig Mazin. Starring Pedro Pascal (The Mandalorian, Wonder Woman 1984) and Bella Ramsey (Game of Thrones), filming on the series is reportedly set to begin in July.
Naturally, Naughty Dog’s busy calendar means there’s no announced timeline for the studio to turn its attention to the next TLOU installment just yet. But Druckmann says Ellie’s future has definitely been on his mind, and that starting a third chapter is just a matter of sorting through the studio’s game-making priorities.
“[W]e take a long time to explore different ideas, whether it’s going to be Last of Us III, whether it's something new, whether there's some old franchise we want to go back to,” he said. “I like to fully explore all of those, then look at, like — ‘Okay, we have all of these ideas in front of us. As a studio, what do we want to commit to?’ Because it’s a huge commitment — monetary, time, passion, talent.”
Druckmann told GQ last year that he’s already thinking about the “next thing” for Naughty Dog to work on, confessing that it “could be a Part III” or “some new IP” altogether. Meanwhile, the studio is reportedly working on a next-gen remake of the original The Last of Us, as we wait for word on when the HBO series will make its debut. Ellie may finally be safe from the Infected…at least for now. But with The Last of Us’ future looking brighter than ever, it’s perhaps only a matter of time before she finds a reason to strap up, get back in the gaming saddle, and ride out into the post-apocalypse once again.