Anyone who’s made a significant change in their life for the better knows there’s a tipping point where you just get sick and tired of your own bullshit. Wanting to change is often framed as an altruistic act, one you do in service to others. In my experience, that’s not the case.
Wanting to change comes from a place of feeling bad for doing whatever it is you’re doing and deciding enough is enough. Video games’ male protagonists are no strangers to this; characters like Kratos and Booker Dewitt attempt to turn their lives around once they can no longer stand to be who they are. Women, on the other hand, are not usually given this treatment - the only messiness they’re usually allowed is hysterics, like the women from Resident Evil 7, or overprotective motherhood as seen with Freya. But Abby from The Last of Us Part 2 is a blatant exception to that trend.
Abby’s “redemption” is both refreshing, and far more believable, because it’s honest about the selfish nature of her changes. The shift begins on Day 2, when she goes back for Lev and Yara in a fit of guilt and shame after sleeping with her otherwise-partnered ex, Owen. Her reasoning for returning is cemented when the kids ask why she came back. Abby, clearly uncomfortable, reveals that she feels guilty for basically everything around her that’s falling apart, and coming back for them was a way to ease her conscience.
Mel, Owen’s current partner, calls Abby out on this, implying that Abby is trying to use Yara and Lev to get into Owen’s good graces. While Mel is wrong about the reasoning behind it, she is correct that Abby is using these kids. But Abby’s ulterior motive isn’t to sweep Owen away in a tide of domesticity, it’s to help temper her guilt over abandoning Isaac to find Owen, and subsequently sleeping with Owen behind Mel’s back in order to feel something. Abby knows she’s not a good person, and she needs some relief from that knowledge.
Day 2 also makes it apparent that Abby is a fiercely loyal person when she cares about someone. Despite direct orders from her superior, Abby, who up until this point has been the pinnacle of authoritarian behavior, leaves the WLF base to find Owen and make sure he’s okay. Once she grows attached to Lev and Yara, she exhibits the same behavior, taking on the scariest boss in the game - the Rat King - to save Yara’s life and keep Lev from losing his sister, and eventually killing her former WLF compatriots to protect him.
Much like how Abby’s love for Owen is selfish, her love of Yara and Lev is as well. She sees them as a way to feel less terrible about herself at first, and then as an excuse to finally break away from the violent, oppressive life she’s been leading by taking them with Owen to Santa Barbara and abandoning the WLF once and for all. Once that dream is shattered by Ellie’s murderous rage, Lev is the only person Abby has left, and it becomes her new mission to keep him safe, no matter the cost.
Abby doesn’t change because she realizes it’s her moral obligation to be a better person, she seeks relief in paying for her sins by saving these kids, and only shows restraint so as to not lose Lev. When Abby is threatening Dina, and Ellie tells her she’s pregnant, Abby says, “Good.” The only thing that stops her from slitting Dina’s throat is Lev’s protest. Knowing that continuing this cycle of brutality will push Lev away keeps Abby in check, because she cannot bear to lose him.
We can’t change people, they have to make that choice themselves, but oftentimes there are people we want to change for - not necessarily because we want to be better overall, but because we want to be good enough for those people to stay. Abby is no different, and that’s why she’s able to walk away not only first, but repeatedly.
Ellie’s desire to finish this feud is so strong, she’s willing to pay any price to get it, including letting go of Dina and her son JJ. But Abby, on the other hand, refuses to lose Lev. By being honest with herself about her feelings towards Lev and her desire to switch trajectories, Abby is able to actually change. Lev had to stop Abby from killing Dina, Tommy, and Ellie in the theater, but the second time around, Abby didn’t need any outside help to control herself. After Ellie cut them down, Abby leads her away and shows her to her own boat so that she can escape, all of her own volition.
But though she’s changed, Abby is still Abby. She’s not suddenly some saintly pacifist who refuses to do harm no matter what. When Lev’s life is in danger, she doesn’t hesitate to try to take Ellie down as brutally as we’ve come to expect. Had she not been strung up for days she may well have succeeded. She is better, and even someone worth rooting for, but she’s not good by any means either. The progress she has made though at least offers hope for what’s to come.
We don’t know where Lev and Abby end up, but together, there’s at least the possibility of a brighter future, and in a story as bleak as this one, it’s a redemption that was earned.