In “The Last of Us” recap for the season 1 finale, Joel is forced to make a difficult decision while Ellie tries to fulfill her duty to save the world….
By Damon Martin — Editor/Lead Writer
It’s all led to this.
From a harrowing escape to get out of Boston to an equally terrifying trip through Kansas City all the way to a resort town in Colorado filled with cannibals, Joel and Ellie have been through a lot in an effort to arrive at a Firefly hospital where they hope to find a cure to the Cordyceps infection.
The nine episode first season of “The Last of Us” has been filled with brilliant, heartbreaking yet beautiful performances with each hour telling a different part of the same story with Joel and Ellie serving as the through line connecting it all.
Whether it was Tess urging Joel to take a chance on Ellie and the belief that she might really be the key to ending the infection that effectively ended the world. Tess then made the ultimate sacrifice to help Joel and Ellie escape.
Joel was eventually reunited with his brother Tommy at an outpost in Wyoming where the younger Miller brother had started a family of his own — and a town where things almost seemed normal again.
But it was all leading to this moment as they finally arrived at the Firefly hospital where doctors believe whatever allowed Ellie to survive the Cordyceps infection might allow them to create a vaccine that could finally stop the rampaging fungus from wiping out all of humanity.
Needless to say not everyone survived this episode — it wouldn’t be “The Last of Us” without at least a few deaths — and some incredibly hard choices were made. Were they the right choices? Only time will tell.
But for now let’s recap the season 1 finale of “The Last of Us” titled “Look for the Light”….
You Tell ‘Em Ellie
The episode opens with a very pregnant young woman named Anna (played by Ashley Johnson who voiced Ellie in “The Last of Us” video game) running towards a house as the sounds of the infected trail close behind her.
Anna arrives at the house expecting to find her friends but it seems no one has arrived there yet, which means she’s alone and about to give birth with fungi infected zombies chasing after her.
After getting inside, Anna rushes upstairs as her water breaks and she attempts to fortify a door behind her as the sounds of the infected draw nearer. As she sits down, Anna pulls out a familiar switchblade and waits as she hears the infected zombie enter the house and start banging on the door to the room where she’s sitting.
A moment later, the door bursts open and the infected runs at Anna as she shrieks in pain while trying to fight off the ravenous zombie. She stabs the infected person several times until it finally falls dead and as Anna looks down she sees that in all the struggle, her baby has been born.
But then Anna also notices that the zombie managed to bite her leg — so she rushes to cut the umbilical cord to ensure her child isn’t infected.
Later that night, Anna’s friends finally arrive at the house and we realize that it’s the Fireflies led by Marlene — they got held up and it took longer than expected to reach the rendezvous. Marlene finds Anna holding the baby but not nursing the child after confessing that she was bitten and it’s only a matter of time before she turns.
Anna lies to Marlene and tells her that the baby was born and the cord was cut before she was bitten. Anna then makes Marlene promise that she’ll care for her newborn baby girl named Ellie — and she also asks Marlene to be the one to pull the trigger to ensure she never transforms into a fungal zombie. Before dying, Anna also asks Marlene to give Ellie the switchblade that she’s been carrying as a weapon.
Marlene hesitates but eventually picks up the baby and hands her over to another soldier before returning to the room where she executes Anna. This was Ellie’s origin story — and perhaps the real insight into how she became immune from the infection thanks to her mother being bitten just as she was being born.
All or Nothing
In the present day, Joel and Ellie have escaped the snow-filled mountains of Colorado and made it all the way to the outskirts of Salt Lake City where the Firefly hospital is supposedly located. In the aftermath of Ellie being forced to kill David to survive, she’s understandably withdrawn and far from the usually outspoken and upbeat 14-year-old girl we’ve come to know.
Almost like a reversal of fortune, Joel is suddenly warm and kind towards Ellie, trying to make her laugh and even offering to teach her how to play the guitar one day. Joel has finally let his guard down and allowed Ellie into his heart — he hasn’t loved anyone like this since his daughter Sarah died and now he’s feeling those same emotions for this young girl he’s been protecting.
Once they arrive in Salt Lake City, Joel really has no idea where to look other than checking out every hospital in town but that’s going to require a better vantage point. So like usual, Joel suggests climbing up to the top of a nearby building so he can get a lay of the land to understand where to travel to each of these hospitals.
After making it inside, Ellie is so elated by something she’s seen that she runs up the stairs and leaves Joel behind as he races to catch up. Joel eventually finds Ellie but this time she’s not in danger.
Instead, Ellie is enthralled by the vision of free-roaming giraffes that have obviously escaped the zoo and now live in a grown over Salt Lake City. This particular giraffe is feeding on some trees grown up around a blown out building.
Joel finally sees the real Ellie peeking out for the first time since they left Colorado so he encourages her to feed the giraffe as she almost seems like a kid again. After sharing a sweet moment together, Joel and Ellie walk out to take a look at the city to see what awaits them.
That’s when Joel suggests that perhaps they just abandon this mission all together — leave Salt Lake City and just return to Jackson, Wyoming where they can live with Tommy and his growing family. Ellie could just be a kid again and actually grow up around other children without the threat of FEDRA or the infected around every corner.
But Ellie can’t give up potentially providing a cure that could stop the fungal apocalypse.
“After everything we’ve been through, after everything I’ve done, it can’t be for nothing.”
As much as Joel just wants to take her away from all of this, Ellie has her mind made up and she wants to find the Fireflies who could potentially use her to find a cure to the Cordyceps infection. Joel finally resigns to his original mission to bring Ellie to the hospital.
Along the way, Ellie asks Joel about some medical tents that were torn apart and he explains that was a military installation that popped up just after the infection started spreading. Joel knows because he saw those same tents in Austin — it was here that Joel spent his second day of the apocalypse after the death of his daughter Sarah.
Joel then points to a scar on the side of his head — the one where he took a bullet but thankfully the person trying to kill him missed the target.
“It was me. I was the guy who shot and missed.”
Joel confesses that in the wake of Sarah’s death, he felt he no longer had any reason to live so he put a gun up to his own head to commit suicide. As he was pulling the trigger, Joel flinched and the bullet glanced his head but didn’t kill him.
He survived but he never truly recovered — at least not until now.
Joel tells Ellie this story as a way to help her process the torment and the trauma she’s suffered in the wake of her experience with David. After he lost Sarah at the start of the outbreak, Joel felt he had no reason to carry on and Ellie may be feeling the same kind of way right now but she’ll eventually move forward.
Ellie: “So time heals all wounds I guess.”
Joel: “It wasn’t time that did it.”
For Joel to finally move past the tragic loss of his daughter, he had to find Ellie and let her into his heart.
As they continue their journey, Joel lightens the mood by asking Ellie to read him some of the terrible puns from her book and they share a laugh together. That is until a flash grenade gets tossed at them and explodes just as they duck for cover.
A second later, Joel hears the muffled sounds of Ellie being carried away and then the butt of a gun being slammed down on his head. It all goes white as Joel falls unconscious.
When Joel wakes up, he’s laying in a hospital bed where he’s greeted by Marlene — she’s made the same cross country trip but lost half her party just getting to Salt Lake City from Boston. She never imagined Joel would survive much less arrive with Ellie still unharmed.
Joel asks about Ellie and that’s when Marlene tells him about the unique condition that allows her to resist the Cordyceps infection. Marlene explains her relationship to Ellie’s mother and how she believes that it was the bite from an infected zombie just as the baby was being born that allowed the child to survive.
Essentially, Ellie’s body produced a chemical that made Cordyceps believe her entire body was already infected so there was no need to spread. Doctors hope to tap into this chemical produced by Ellie’s body and then use that to create a vaccine that could provide the same benefit to every human on Earth.
There’s only one problem — Cordyceps grows primarily in the brain.
In order for the doctors to extract the chemical produced by Ellie’s brain, they’ll have to operate and she’s going to die. Marlene tells Joel that Ellie has been sedated and she’ll feel no pain but this is the only way to get the chemical necessary to potentially save the world.
Joel demands to be taken to Ellie but he’s struck down by a soldier. Marlene tells him that she was close to Ellie’s mother and promised to take care of her daughter so she understands the impossible choice that’s being made right now but it’s the only one that will possibly help create a vaccine to stop the Cordyceps infection.
Marlene then tells the soldiers to escort Joel out of the building — they’ll return his backpack and the switchblade that once belonged to Ellie. She also orders her soldiers that if Joel resists, they will shoot him dead.
On the way out, Joel takes a glance at the various floors that make up this hospital so he can figure out where Ellie has been taken. He’s barely down a few flights of stairs when Joel turns the tables on the soldier, shoots them both dead and takes the gun that was meant to keep him under control.
From there it’s all instincts as Joel marches through the hospital, room by room, floor by floor, executing every Firefly that gets in his way. Joel is like a machine taking out anyone and everyone who dares to stand between him and Ellie.
He eventually makes it to the operating room where he sees Ellie being placed under anesthesia and Joel marches in gun drawn demanding that the doctor unhook her from the operating table. The doctor refuses so Joel shoots him dead — and then he turns to the nurses with the same commands.
They quickly take the IV out of Ellie’s arm, put a bandage over the wound and Joel carries her out of the hospital. They arrive at the basement where Joel spots a car that’s already running — but then he’s intercepted by Marlene, who already has her gun pointed at him.
Marlene tries to tell Joel that Ellie wouldn’t want him to do this — and no matter how hard he tries, he can’t keep her safe forever. Eventually, Ellie will be torn apart by infected or she’ll be murdered by raiders but at least right now she has the ability to potentially save the entire world by sacrificing her life so that doctors can put her immunity to good use.
In other words, Joel is condemning Ellie to live in a broken world she could have saved.
But Joel isn’t concerned with saving the world — he’s only worried about saving the only person he’s ever loved nearly as much as his daughter. So without hesitation, Joel shoots Marlene with Ellie still draped over his arms.
Marlene begs for her life but Joel doesn’t want to hear it.
“You’d just come after her.”
Joel then puts a bullet in Marlene’s head and carries Ellie to the car where they escape Salt Lake City.
When the young girl finally wakes out hours later, she’s confused about why she’s in the back of a minivan instead of the hospital. Joel lies to her and says that it turns out she’s not unique — the Fireflies found dozens of people who were immune to the infection but despite their best efforts, the doctors weren’t able to find a cure.
Then a group of raiders attacked the hotel and Joel says he was lucky to grab Ellie quick enough so they could escape unharmed. Ellie continues to drift in and out of sleep as she hears the story Joel tells her about no longer being the cure and the world hasn’t been saved.
Hours later, the minivan breaks down but Joel tells Ellie that they’re near the Jackson outpost and it’s only about a five-hour hike to get there. Along the way, Joel actually tells Ellie about Sarah — he explains how they used to go on hikes just like this together, although he’s not sure how much his daughter actually enjoyed it.
Ellie is still withdrawn because she can’t quite believe what Joel has been telling her about what happened with the Fireflies even as he opens up to her about Sarah. Joel even says that Sarah and Ellie would have liked each other and probably would have been friends.
They finally approach a hill that overlooks Jackson, which means their destination is close.
Before making the final drive to arrive at their new home, Ellie tells Joel about the first person she ever killed — a story she hinted at when they first got to Kansas City. Ellie reveals how she was bitten in that abandoned mall in Boston but she wasn’t alone — her best friend Riley was right there alongside her.
Sadly both of them ended up being bitten and Riley had decided they should just embrace their fate and go mad together from the Cordyceps infection. Only one problem — Ellie is immune so only Riley turned into a mindless zombie.
Ellie was then forced to put down her best friend and that’s the first person that she ever killed before this cross country mission with Joel. Losing Riley was also just the first in a long line of people that would die around her — from Tess to Sam and now even Marlene — but Joel stops her from getting buried in the same guilt that suffocated him for the better part of the past 20 years.
“Sometimes things don’t work out the way we hope. You can feel like you’ve come to an end and you don’t know what to do next but if you just keep going, you find something new to fight for.”
Ellie stops Joel before he can say anything else because she needs him to swear to her that everything he told her about what happened with the Fireflies and the cure was true. She wants to make sure Joel isn’t lying to her about anything.
Joel swears he’s telling the truth even though he obviously wasn’t.
In his mind, Joel has finally found someone worth fighting for and he wasn’t about to let her go, especially not for the sake of a potential cure that was far from proven.
Ellie chooses to believe him even if deep down inside she’s obviously skeptical. There’s no trust without truth but she answers back “OK” before they continue on their journey together.
With that “The Last of Us” season 1 comes to a close but we already know the series has been renewed for season 2, although it most likely won’t debut until sometime in 2024 or potentially even 2025 so stay tuned for that information as it becomes available!