Before Joel meets Ellie in The Last of Us, the players see him with Tess. The chemistry between them is undeniable, as both are seasoned survivors who are aware of what is happening in the quarantine zone of Boston. The 20 years that Joel has spent since the death of his daughter Sarah have built a good reputation for themselves; although not exactly a good one.
Tess doesn’t slouch either. Her scenes in “The Last of Us” show how capable and assertive she can be, even playing a key role in Joel and Ellie’s journey for most of the game. Tess may be in “The Last of Us” for a while, but her character influences both main characters as they begin their cross-country quest. Spoilers for The Last of Us are ahead.
Tess as a friend and partner
When players get to know the post-apocalyptic world of The Last of Us, they also get to know Tess and Joel, who is much older than him. Joel is now a seasoned survivor and smuggler who has lived with his daughter’s death for the past 20 years. Tess is basically the same, although her marital status is unknown, and she is more talkative. Together they run a business smuggling things into and out of the Boston quarantine zone, with Joel acting as the muscle and Tess as the brain of the operation. It is implied that there is more to Joel and Tess’ relationship than just business, as they live together and Tess is constantly flirting with him.
For Joel, Tess is someone he can rely on as a friend and partner. Her initial battle with Robert’s men shows that she can take care of herself, and her position as the boss of their smuggling operation proves that she can take responsibility in any situation. It must have been difficult for other people to get close to Joel after Sarah’s death, but because of the need for survival and her abilities, Tess may have been able to break into Joel’s circle of trust more easily than others.
Tess as a reliable adult and a mother figure
When Ellie first meets Joel and Tess, she is afraid of them. Both look like grumblers who are trying to beat up Marlene, the leader of the Fireflies and Ellie’s guardian. That’s why Ellie attacks Joel and Tess with her switchblade, and when Marlene says that Ellie should go with Joel and Tess to the Boston Capitol building, she vocally expresses his disagreement. But after hearing that Marlene trusts them, Ellie carefully follows Joel.
During this journey to the Capitol building, Ellie begins to trust Joel and Tess. She sees how they work, listens to their explanations about the world and follows their example. Since Tess is more talkative than Joel and wears the look of a leader, Ellie naturally gets close to her. Seeing the trio fighting for their lives, they eventually begin to trust each other.
Tess as an unforeseen complication
Having narrowly avoided meeting the infected, Tess is bitten. Knowing that her fate is sealed, she asks Joel to accompany Ellie to his brother Tommy in Jackson, which is far from Boston. Joel could have denied Tess her last wish, but because of their relationship, he obeys and tells Ellie to follow him. Out of respect for Tess and having no other options, Ellie escorts Joel out of the Capitol building. As they leave, they see Tess making her last stand against PHAEDRA’s group. soldiers.
Tess’s death affects Joel and Ellie in different ways. Joel learns to be more careful about letting people get close to him, which is evident from his initial apprehension towards Ellie. But her death also teaches Joel to be more careful about risk. Ellie’s position as a contraband cargo makes her feel guilty about Tess’s death. Perhaps because of this guilt, Ellie becomes more attentive to Joel and condescends to him (she even apologizes for what happened later in Bill’s town). This consideration plays a role in Joel and Ellie’s deep relationship that develops throughout their journey.
Tess’s death may have been the catalyst for Joel and Ellie’s search, but her life made a lasting impression on both of them. Her relationship with Joel proved that he can trust other people, and the short time she spent with Ellie allowed the teenager to see how capable an assertive woman can be. As the first minor character in the post-apocalypse The Last of Us, Tess sets the bar for the other characters who follow her.
The Last of Us Part 1 is released on September 2, 2022 for PS5, a PC version is also in development.