Long read: Who is qualified to make a world?

In search of the magic of maps.

If you click on a link and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. Read our editorial policy.

Let's discuss The Last of Us episode nine

The series finale.

After nine weeks, we have reached The Last of Us' final episode (for this season, at least).

This episode - Look for the Light - is an emotional one, and as ever leaves plenty to discuss with you all.

So, for one last time, let's dive on in.

THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR BOTH THE SHOW AND THE GAME SERIES IT IS BASED ON. ADDITIONALLY, THERE ARE DISCUSSIONS OF SUICIDE BELOW. PLEASE READ ON AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION.

Cover image for YouTube videoEpisode 9 Preview | The Last of Us | Max
Episode nine preview.

Before I watched this episode, I knew there were several things from the game I wanted to see included - these were (in no particular order) the giraffes, Ellie's water peril and Joel's desperate attempts to save her, Joel's final back and forth with Marlene (particularly the line "you'd just come after her"), Ellie giving Joel the picture of him with Sarah, and Ellie's "ok" at the end.

And, did I get those things? Well, mostly.

I know that face... Image HBO.

The final episode of The Last of Us' first season begins with a cold open - something the show has recently eschewed. We see a heavily pregnant woman running through some woods, clearly being chased by an infected (although they are not seen).

Fans of the game will immediately recognise this actor as Ashley Johnson, who played Ellie in The Last of Us Part 1 and 2. As previously announced, here she is playing Ellie's mother, Anna. Ah-ha, so that is who is in the bump!

Anna makes it to an abandoned farmhouse (perhaps a bit of foreshadowing, or an Easter egg from Part 2), where she barricades the doors as her pursuer continues to follow. Oh, there is also the small fact Anna is in labour. Her waters have broken and, boy, is she feeling those contractions.

As a mother, I can only imagine how incredibly stressful this situation must have been for Anna. Alone, in mortal peril and with no pain relief. No thank you!

The infected that chased down Anna. Image HBO.

The infected that has been chasing Anna ultimately breaks through the door to where Anna is hiding, and Anna (again, while in labour) fights for not only her life, but the life of her unborn baby. She finally overcomes the infected by stabbing it with her switchblade. However, despite her best efforts, Anna is bitten in the struggle.

With the infected lying on the floor beside her, Anna is brought back to the moment by the sound of crying - her baby has been born. Anna quickly uses her switchblade to cut the umbilical cord, and picks up her child.

As her baby cries, Anna looks at her newborn with pride and love.

"You tell 'em. You fucking tell 'em Ellie."
Anna with a newborn Ellie. Image HBO.

Following this introduction, and presumably later that same day, we see a group of people approaching the building Anna is in. It is Marlene and the Fireflies (arriving with torches in the dark, looking just like thier firefly namesakes).

They find Anna, who is holding both Ellie and her switchblade to her neck. Marlene sees Anna is infected, and apologies. Anna states Ellie is hungry, but she hasn't wanted to nurse her (which is understandable, given her infected status).

Anna gives Ellie to Marlene and asks her to care for her daughter, claiming she was bitten after she had cut the umbilical cord. She also hands Marlene her switchblade for her to give to Ellie, and asks Marlene to do one last favour. Take care of Ellie in Boston, and kill her (Anna, not Ellie).

At first Marlene can't bring herself to do it, but after hearing Anna cry out to her, she relents. She hands the newborn Ellie over to another member of the Fireflies, asking them to cover her ears. She then returns to the room Anna is in, and shoots her as Ellie begins to cry. Marlene then takes Ellie in her arms.

Marlene finds Anna. Image HBO.
Crying, she takes Ellie from Anna. Image HBO.

As with numerous times over this series, The Last of Us' showrunners have taken story elements from the game and elaborated on them. Those who played Part 1 will know Ellie's mother and Marlene knew each other, and Anna entrusted Ellie into Marlene's care. In the game, you can also read a letter Anna wrote to Ellie before she died. Meanwhile, in the American Dreams comic series, we find out Ellie's trusty switchblade used to be her mother's.

However, we never hear exactly how Anna died. It isn't even stated she was infected before her death, although given the world of The Last of Us, it is easy to assume. Anna's is a story Neil Druckmann has wanted to tell for a while, but until now the stars never aligned and allowed him to do so.

Anna's letter to Ellie. Images Naughty Dog.

After this heartbreaking introduction to the finale, we are then brought back to the present day. As in the game, Joel and Ellie are now in Salt Lake City, and Ellie is in a state of depression following the events with David and his followers. She is distracted, and doesn't readily engage with Joel (and bless him, he does try - he tells her he will teach her the guitar when this is all over, and tries to chat with her about Boggle).

Ellie is subdued at the start of the episode. Image HBO.

As they make their subdued way through the city, Joel gives Ellie a boost up to a higher platform (it is very gameplay-ey, with even a Naughty Dog yellow smudge showing the way that I appreciated). The intention is that she passes a ladder down to him, so he too can make his way onto the platform. However, Ellie suddenly becomes distracted, and after clumsily tossing the ladder down to Joel, she dashes off.

If you had played the game, you will know exactly what is going on, and boy did I have a big smile on my face when I saw Ellie scarper off away from Joel with no explanation. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the first item on my episode wishlist can be checked off. When Joel finally catches up with Ellie, she is with a giraffe. Oh, my heart.

I may have had a tear or two here. Image HBO.
Even the outfits are the same. Image Naughty Dog.

This moment in the game is often cited as being one of the best examples of storytelling in video games. It not only helps Joel understand the impact their journey across America has taken on Ellie, but it also reinforces Ellie's determination to reach the Fireflies. Yes, she has been depressed, but she is resolute in her end goal.

Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey both do a brilliant job of capturing the importance of this scene. Joel looks on with such love as Ellie smiles and giggles while feeding the giraffe. It is a beautiful, peaceful moment of innocence and parental affection.

As in the game (and as I have alluded to), the two take a moment to pause here, and reflect on their journey. When looking out over the herd of giraffes, Joel asks Ellie if it is everything she hoped for. "It's got its ups and downs, but you can't deny that view," Ellie replies.

Joel then tells Ellie they don't have to go on any further. They can turn back, and return to Jackson. They can be a family.

"We don't have to do this," he tells her.

Ellie, taking in Joel's words, explains she does not want their journey to have been for nothing - "After everything we've been through. After all I've done..." she reflects.

"There's no halfway with this. We finish what we started," Ellie tells Joel after promising when they are done she will follow him wherever he wants to go. There is hope in both of the characters' words.

As the duo continue on their way through Salt Lake City, they come across an abandoned medical camp. As in the game, Joel remembers the time he was a patient at one of them.

However, unlike in the game, in the show Joel reveals he was at the medical camp because he tried - and failed - to kill himself. The scar on his head is from where he flinched when firing the gun. He talks to Ellie about this moment, saying he still doesnt know why he flinched as he was "ready". It was after the outbreak, and he had lost Sarah. He had no reason to live.

The game's medical camp. Image Naughty Dog.

Joel tries to explain to Ellie why he is telling her all this, but she says she can guess. "Time heals all wounds," she states. Joel then tells her it wasn't time that healed him, before giving Ellie a meaningful look.

It was her. Ellie is his surrogate daughter, and he loves her deeply. Ellie, in turn, tells Joel she is glad "that didn't work out", nodding at his gunshot scar. The two then continue on, and the mood is lightened with some of Ellie's classic (or "shitty", in Joel's words) puns.

"People are making apocalypse jokes like there's no tomorrow."

This nice moment is soon interrupted by some military looking types and a smoke bomb, and Joel is soon knocked uncocnsious by an unknown solider.

The scene then cuts to Joel coming to in the Salt Lake City hospital, and Marlene. Those unknown soldiers were Fireflies, who did not know who Joel and Ellie were (so, no, there is no water section in this episode - once again the showrunners have moved the focus from "gameplay sections" to character development, with Anna and Joel's backstories both being embellished upon in the finale).

Marlene reveals Ellie is being prepped for surgery. The Firefly doctors believe they can find a cure for the cordyceps. And, here, we find out just why Ellie is immune. The cordyceps has been with her since birth, because of the bite Anna recieved when she was in labour.

Joel realises, however, that cordyceps grows inside the brain. Twigging that Ellie will die if she is operated on, Joel begs Marlene to find someone else, and asks to be taken to Ellie. Marlene refuses, and tells Joel she is sorry and understands how he is feeling. Marlene talks about Ellie's birth and her promise to Anna.

"I have no other choice," Marlene explains.

She then tells her men to walk Joel to the highway, with orders to shoot him if he "tries anything". She also gives them Ellie's switchblade to eventually give to Joel. It is all very much like the game, although I did feel a little bit like the show tried to paint Marlene as more of a villain at this point with the music and lighting.

And, just like the game, Joel soon makes a decision that will affect the rest of humanity. He has already lost one daughter, he will not lose another one. Ahead of this episode's release, cast members had stated the finale will be divisive, and we are about to see why.

With his mind made up, Joel kills the Fireflies escorting him, and then, in a rather chilling sequence of events, he proceeds to gun down the Fireflies - even those who try to surrender. He leaves scores of dead in his wake, just as he does in the game.

The show plays this slaughtering out to some rather haunting music, adding a melancholy to Joel's actions. Perhaps I am being pedantic here, but I do feel this massacre was a bit out of place for the show's version of Joel. Not the action itself (more on that in a moment), but the actual execution of it.

While we have seen Joel's violent tendencies, such as when he beat the FEDRA soldier to death in episode one, the only other time he has shown any real proficiency with a gun was in Kansas City or briefly shooting at immobile targets with Ellie. Now, however, he seems to be cutting a path through the Fireflies like he is a member of a special ops branch.

At this point in the game, those playing as Joel had seen his skill as a marksman countless times over. However, with the show's reduced focus on violence as a means to move the story forward (a decision I do understand), his sudden professionalism against a trained militia seemed, well, sudden.

Shots fired. Image HBO.
Joel needs to know where Ellie is. Image Naughty Dog.
Joel on his rampage. Image Naughty Dog.

Regardless, with his path to Ellie now clear, Joel makes his way to the surgical theatre.

As in the game, Joel kills the surgeon about to operate on Ellie (who is unconscious). He then orders the nurses to unhook Ellie from the theatre's equipment. There is no hesitation - Joel has one focus, and it is her.

As he leaves the room with Ellie in his arms, the camera focuses on the deceased surgeon, a hint at what is still to come in series two.

Oh, hey Laura Bailey! Image HBO.

Joel soon arrives at the hospital's garage, and sees a car he can use to get him and Ellie away from Salt Lake City.

As he makes his way towards the car, he is met by Marlene. She holds him at gunpoint, telling him he has the chance to change his mind. She asks him what Ellie would want, and it is clear Joel knows Ellie would want to find a cure.

"No matter how hard you try, no matter how many people you kill, she's going to grow up Joel. And then you'll die, or she'll leave, and then what? How long before she's torn apart by infected, or murdered by raiders? Because she lives in a broken world, that you could have saved."

Marlene tries to reason with Joel, telling him that even after everything that has happened "it's not too late", they can work something out. "We can still find a way," she tells Joel.

Marlene tries to reason with Joel. Image HBO.
"You can't save her." Image Naughty Dog.

We then see Joel driving through the country, and at first it seems he is alone. However, he is not - he has Ellie with him.

As she comes to, she is confused. Joel then does something that, along with his execution of the Fireflies, has caused widespread debate across the internet. He lies to Ellie.

Joel tells her there are "dozens" out there who are immune, but that the doctors could not find anything to help with a cure. As such, they've stopped looking.

He then tells Ellie the Fireflies were all killed by raiders, and they were lucky to escape. When Ellie asks if Marlene is ok, Joel can not bring himself to answer her question. Instead, he tells Ellie he is taking them "home". As Ellie rolls over in the back of the car, he apologises.

"What happened?" Image Naughty Dog.

The scene then cuts back to the garage, just like it does in the game, and we see Joel shoot Marlene.

She survives the first shot, and as she is bleeding out on the garage floor she asks Joel to let her go. Joel then looks Marlene dead in the eye, and states: "You'd just come after her" (episode wishlist, check two).

He then shoots Marlene again, killing her.

I knew Marlene's death was coming, but it still hurt. Image HBO.
Joel shoots Marlene. Images Naughty Dog.

The rest of this episode is more or less a straight copy from the game, with some wonderful acting from Pascal and Ramsey.

Once their car breaks down, Joel tells Ellie they will have to hike the rest of the way to Jackson.

During their hike, Joel talks to Ellie about Sarah, commenting that they would have liked each other. Joel says Ellie would have made Sarah laugh, and even though they are different he is sure they would have gotten along.

Joel talks about Sarah. Image Naughty Dog.

Joel and Ellie then crest a hill, and see Jackson in the valley ahead of them. As Joel sets off again, Ellie stops him. She then recalls the time she got bitten by the infected. This is the first time Ellie tells Joel about Riley. Ellie then reflects on the others who have died along the way, such as Tess and Sam.

She then asks Joel to "swear" to her that everything he said about the "Fireflies is true". He swears it is, and series one ends with Ellie looking uncertainly at Joel. "Okay," she says, despite there still being an element of doubt in her voice. And with that, the credits begin to roll on series one (check number three).

I need some time to recover from this line. Image Naughty Dog.

As I said, this was more or less shot one for one from the game. And, as we wrap up on series one of The Last of Us, I am left with the same feeling - and same question - I had playing the game. Was Joel right to do what he did, and then lie to Ellie about it?

Troy Baker, who plays Joel in the games (and James in the show, see last week's episode), has previously stated he believes Joel's actions at the end of The Last of Us Part 1 to be "the most selfish act ever". However, he does not feel the ending could have been played out any other way, as, in Joel's eyes, Ellie was "his world" and as such saving her was more important than saving humanity.

Baker has said he feels the true fault of Joel's actions lies not in the deaths of the Fireflies and those bound to become infected in the future, but rather it is the lie he tells Ellie in the game's epilogue - something we see explored in Part 2, and something we will surely see built upon in The Last of Us' future seasons.

As for me, it has been 10 years since I first heard those words, and I am still not sure where I fall on this particular argument. As a parent, I can not even fathom what it must be like to lose a child, so I appreciate why Joel fights so desperatly to save Ellie. However, the lies he tells her make me deeply uncomfortable.

Joel lies to Ellie to protect himself. Image Naughty Dog.

As a whole, I have generally enjoyed this adaptation of The Last of Us. The series creators have walked a careful line of making the show accessible to newcomers, but have also included plenty to nourish fans of the game.

I appreciated the showrunners' decision to focus more on the characters in this world throughout the series, and I think fleshing out stories such as those of Bill and Frank, Marlene and Kathleen enhanced the overall narrative. It has been refreshing to step away from Joel and Ellie in the show, but all the while never feel like their characters were being neglected or sidelined.

In fact, I would not be surprised if we eventually end up with some kind of The Last of Us spin-off series, as there are clearly plenty of stories that could be told (I would actually love to see more of Marlon and Florence).

I would have liked to see more of Graham Greene's Marlon. Image HBO.

On that note, I also loved how the games' original cast were included in this adaptation. Not just small cameos (Laura Bailey aside), these were fleshed out roles, and I enjoyed spotting these actors popping up as the series went on.

Troy Baker as James. In the game, he plays Joel. Image HBO.
Jeffery Pierce as Perry. Pierce plays Tommy in the games. Image HBO.
Laura Bailey in the show. Bailey plays Abby in Part 2, and was also the newscaster in Part 1. Image HBO.
Merle Dandridge plays Marlene in the show and the game. Image HBO.

However, as such a huge fan of the game, I do feel there has been something missing from this series, especially in later episodes where things felt a bit rushed, and an extra few episodes wouldn't have gone amiss. I remember reading a review that said something along the lines that the show was a fantastic jigsaw puzzle but one that had a few missing pieces. I think this pretty much sums up my feelings of series one.

After all, at the start of this piece, I mentioned several key points from the game I would have liked to see translated over to the television series, and as you now know, they were not all there.

Please do not get me wrong, I fully understand not everything can be included. However, I do feel omitting things such as Joel receiving the picture of his daughter and Ellie's inability to swim (especially as this was referenced in episode two) was a bit of a missed opportunity.

Ellie gives Joel the picture of his daughter. Image Naughty Dog.
Joel and Ellie nearly drown. Image Naughty Dog.

That being said, HBO's adaptation of The Last of Us has got under my skin, and I don't see it leaving any time soon. The show has made me smile, it has made me laugh, it has made me cry and it has made me think. It took many things I love about the game, and embellished on them in a way I didn't neccesarily expect. Episode three with Bill and Frank is possibly one of my favourite episodes of television ever, and even weeks on I still cannot look at strawberries in the same way.

All in all, the highs were incredibly high, with the lows few and far between, but undeniably there.

Series co-creator Craig Mazin with actors Merle Dandridge and Pedro Pascal.

I am going to watch the entire series again with my husband (who has not played the games) in a month or so.

I am looking forward to seeing his reaction to it all, especially as he has no prior knowledge of the story other than it is set in a post-apocalyptic America and features a man and a girl. I have promised him I will try and not obsessively point out all the Easter eggs and callbacks to the game.

Before I go, I just want to thank you all for reading along with me as the show has continued. It has been a real treat to dive further into a series I have a lot of love for, and I have enjoyed reading all of your thoughts on each episode. It has been a fun ride, and I am glad to have been able to share it with you.

Truth be told, I am not sure what I am going to do with myself next Monday... Actually, perhaps I will restart playing The Last of Us Part 2.