'Last of Us Part 2' Ending Explained: What Does the Butterfly Moth Mean?

The Last of Us Part 2 tells a complex story of loss, love, revenge and acceptance. Key characters meet unfortunate fates, loyalties are tested, and there are many questions that remain unsolved for a presumed third game. Below, we break down everything there is to know about Part 2's ending, including the meaning behind the butterfly moth seen in the very last shot.

It goes without saying that heavy SPOILERS are featured in this article. If you don't want to know anything about the ending of The Last of Us Part 2, turn back now.

A brief recap of Act 3

For those who may not have experienced the ending of The Last of Us Part 2 in a while or just want to know what happens, we'll start with a brief recap of the game's final act. These events follow the climactic boss fight against Ellie, which ends with Abby telling her to go home and never come back again.

Ellie initially heeds Abby's warning, as she and Dina finally get their farmhouse, leading a fairly mundane life with Dina and Jesse's child at their side. It quickly becomes clear, however, that Ellie is still traumatized by past events, She suffers through hallucinations of Joel's final moments and his ineffective cries for help. Dina is able to calm her down after an incident in the stables, but Ellie's vengeful spirit is reawakened after an unexpected visit from Tommy.

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'The Last of Us Part 2' has a complex story and even deeper ending. Below, we explain all its symbolism. 'The Last of Us Part 2' is available now on PS4. Sony Interactive Entertainment/Naughty Dog

Tommy tells Ellie of reports from someone who recently traded with a woman in California "built like an ox with a kid with scars across his face." Knowing he's found Abby and Lev, Tommy pleads with Ellie to finish what she started because he's not in physical shape to do so. Ellie initially refuses and allows Dina to throw Tommy out of the house, but she wakes up in the middle of the night and decides to leave anyway. Dina begs her partner to let bygones be bygones, but Ellie says she needs to get this done in order to be at peace.

As for Abby, she and Lev take a cue from Owen and head to Santa Barbra in search of a hidden Firefly outpost. They wind up at 2425 Constance, thanks to the aforementioned trade mentioned by Tommy. The house looks as ordinary as any, but Lev discovers a bookcase concealing a secret passage to a basement with a radio and several call frequencies nearby. After a few failed attempts Abby manages to reach a Firefly, and she tells him she's Jerry Anderson's daughter. The man on the radio tells her his outpost is 200 Fireflies strong, and a pickup is arranged at Catalina Island. As soon as Abby and Lev leave the house, however, they're captured by a group of mercenaries.

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Abby radios her way to a Firefly outpost. Sony Interactive Entertainment/Naughty Dog

Some time later, Ellie arrives at Constance and she's attacked by the exact same men. She manages to escape and gets bitten by an Infected in the process, but she draws a gun on her captor. He tells her Abby is being held at a nearby resort, and Ellie kills the man despite his cooperation. Following the tip, Ellie breaks into the compound and frees several prisoners held inside. One of them tells her Abby tried to escape and is currently being held at a place called "the Pillars" located on the beach. He fears she may already be dead.

Amidst the mayhem of the breakout, Ellie makes her way to the beach despite being heavily wounded. She finds an emaciated Lev and Abby tied to pillars on the coast. She cuts them down and initially plans to grab a boat and leave, but she sees a quick vision of Joel's lifeless body. Instead, she draws a knife on Lev and tells Abby she must fight if she wants Lev to stay alive.

Abby agrees, and the two strong women get into a huge brawl. Ellie has two fingers bitten off on her left hand in the fray, but she manages to chokehold Abby down into the water. Just before Abby is about to die of suffocation, Ellie sees a flash of Joel and his guitar on the night before his death. Remembering this moment causes Ellie to release her grip, and she lets Abby and Lev go.

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Ellie learns to forgive Joel just before his death. Sony Interactive Entertainment/Naughty Dog

Two fingers gone, Ellie arrives back at the farmhouse to find it empty with the exception of a few records and Ellie's guitar. She plays it, and viewers get a full flashback to the scene that had just appeared. Following Ellie and Dina's first kiss, Joel asks Ellie if Dina is her girlfriend and says Dina would be lucky to have Ellie in her life. The tender comment frustrates Ellie, who's still mad that Joel kept her alive at the end of the first game. She wanted her life to matter, and Joel took that opportunity from her, but, despite this, Joel admits he would do it again. Ellie says she can't ever forgive him for that, but she would like to try. In that moment, it appears Ellie has learned to let her grudge go.

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This is the last shot of 'The Last of Us Part 2,' but what does it mean? Sony Interactive Entertainment/Naughty Dog

The game ends with Ellie leaving her guitar behind and walking out of the farmhouse. Viewers are left with the image of the butterfly or moth symbol seen in Ellie's tattoo and on the neck of her guitar.

So what does that Butterfly/Moth Mean?

Most fan questions regarding the ending of The Last of Us Part 2 likely center around the imagery of the bug that some might assume is a butterfly, but is far more likely to be a moth. The unique identifier in this case is the spots on its wings. Look at the image below, and you'll see that what's carved on Ellie's guitar, and inked on her arm, bears much closer resemblance to a moth.

As seen in this picture, the moth has spots on its wings. YURI KADOBNOV / Contributor

With the moth symbol established, let's recap a few basic qualities of the moth that easily relate it to Ellie as a character.

Moths are:

  • Associated with death: Given all the death Ellie has seen, the comparison here is obvious. In the case of The Last of Us Part 2, Joel's death guides the entire narrative of the game.
  • Nocturnal and associated with the ability to see through darkness: For a character that does lots of slinking around at night and uses her full set of senses to assess a situation, Ellie's relation to a moth feels right.
  • Not associated with beauty: Before Ellie and Dina's first kiss, Ellie tells Dina that every guy in the room is staring at her, while Dina reminds Ellie they could be staring at her instead. Ellie brushes off the comment in a way that suggests she doesn't see her own beauty. As such, she may prefer the moth as a spirit animal as opposed to a butterfly.
  • Transformational insects: Just like butterflies, moths transition from helpless larva into capable, flight-worthy creatures. The Last of Us has often shined a light on Ellie's growth as a character. We'll detail this more below.
  • Associated with concealment: Because she is immune Ellie's post-pandemic life has always been about hiding who she is, and she appropriately uses her moth tattoo to cover the bite mark that would otherwise reveal her secret.

If we establish that comparisons like these essentially "make Ellie a moth," perhaps the most important quality relating this bug to the ending of The Last of Us Part 2 is its unique sense of determination. We've all seen moths as they dart and weave into light sources, even though doing so could very well kill them. This imagery lends itself to Ellie in Part 2, who absolutely refuses to let her troubles go, at first in the case of forgiving Joel for saving her and then again after Joel's death.

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Ellie's stays connected with Joel through her moth-carved guitar. Sony Interactive Entertainment/Naughty Dog

Literally speaking, Ellie risks her life time and time again to avenge Joel, someone she sees as a source of metaphorical light in her life. Even when Ellie is furious that Joel never gave her the opportunity to die for the sake of humanity, she's still drawn to him for support. When that support dies in the opening moments of Part 2, she clings to it for all it's worth. This mission plays out until the last 15 minutes of the game, when she recalls how she previously learned to abandon her determination to punish Joel.

Much like the moth, then, the story of The Last of Us Part 2 is a story of Ellie's transformation. Emotionally, she learns that gravitating towards death is never the answer. However, with the bite-covered moth tattoo on her right arm and newly bitten off fingers on her left hand, she's physically transformed by the events of both games as well. In that way, Ellie will be forever left with reminders of these experiences so she can hopefully learn to move past them. The fact that she leaves behind the moth-labeled guitar linked to Joel is presumably an indication that she hopes to fly toward a different purpose in life.

The Last of Us Part 2 is available now on PS4.

That's our analysis of the ending of The Last of Us Part 2, but what do you think? Is there any hidden meaning we missed? Tell us in the comments section!