[Editor’s Note: By the very nature of a “recap”, there will most certainly be spoilers in these weekly pieces, we didn’t think to mention that with the premiere, but we will keep a “SPOILER WARNING” label at the top of these weekly recaps for the rest of the season. Thank you and sorry if we spoiled anything for you!]
The end is here. After two great months of witnessing what has become, in my opinion, the most successful adaptation of a video game yet to date, we have arrived at the end of Joel and Ellie’s journey. Like any other adaptation, one is always worried if they will stick the landing. The Last of Us has one of the most polarizing conclusions in all of gaming, one that has drawn equally supportive responses for whichever side of the fence you fall on. Would original creator Neil Druckmann and co-show runner Craig Mazin recapture the magic and discourse from the first time around? In short, you bet your ass they do. Episode 9 – titled Look for the Light – is a great finale to a flawless masterpiece.
It begins, as you sometimes do, at the very beginning. We follow pregnant Anna (Ashley Johnson, the actor who played Ellie in the TLOU games) as she is running through some swampland toward an abandoned house, eluding some infected in pursuit. As she enters, she clearly knows the place and is looking for someone within. Anna seals herself off in a room on the 2nd floor. This barricade doesn’t last long as a rabid infected human comes plowing in on all fours, barreling toward her at a rapid pace. Anna ably fends off this infected with a good ole’ stab to the neck. Unfortunately, she couldn’t escape harm as she was bitten during the scuffle….and gave birth to her baby to boot. She quickly cuts the umbilical cord, hoping to cease the spread of the infection to her baby. Ellie was truly born out of rage, murder, and survival, which is quite fitting knowing the character we have today and will be getting when they adapt Part 2. It’s also neat to get some hint as to how Ellie is immune to the cordyceps, as this was never truly breached or explored in the game. Cool additions all around here.
Marlene – the firefly who saddled Joel and Tess with Ellie in Ep. 1 – eventually shows up to find her friend Anna bit and her baby already born. Anna instructs Marlene to take her baby, named Ellie, to the Boston QZ and raise her as best she can (Anna also leave her daughter a parting gift – her knife) and end her life before she turns. Reluctant at first, Marlene ultimately decides to fulfill Anna’s last wishes. She puts a bullet in Anna and takes Ellie off to Boston.
We cut to Ellie chilling in the back of a truck. Joel clearly seems the more talkative and “friendly” of the two now, a role reversal of sorts. Joel seems stoked in finding a can of Beefaroni and a copy of the word game Boggle, but Ellie’s mind is clearly still lost in the brutal murder of David that she had to commit in Ep. 8. They arrive in town and they cut through a building to get a better look of where the hospital is, Ellie gets sidetracked and runs off in glee toward something. As Joel finally catches up to her, he finds that Ellie has come across a giraffe. This moment was an amazing scene in both the game and show, a moment of tranquility for these two poor souls who have gone through enough trauma. As Joel provides Ellie with some branches and leaves to feed the giraffe, the pure childlike smile on Ellie and the fatherly grin of approval from Joel really makes you tear up a little inside. Seeing this moment as a possible way to end this all on a happy note, Joel offers the option that they don’t have to continue to the fireflies, that they can go back to Jackson and live out their lives together. Ellie would love nothing more than to do that, but she believes they have come too far now to turn back. After the journey and mission is over, she agrees that they can go back to Jackson.
As they cut through an abandoned Army triage, Joel reveals the true story of his head scar. Joel was ready to die after Sarah was killed and, unsuccessfully, tried to kill himself. Unless I am misremembering, there was never any hint of suicidal tendencies on the part of Joel in the game, so it was an interesting wrinkle to see how much he was truly affected by Sarah’s death. Life wasn’t worth living. If the story by Joel wasn’t emotional enough – and delivered perfectly by Pedro Pascal – it gets even more heavy. As Ellie says, “I guess time heals all wounds”, Joel responds that something did heal him, and it wasn’t time. The glorious look that Joel gives Ellie, and vice versa, brought me to a blubbery mess in my living room. Pascal and Ramsey deliver once again. It’s unreal. They begin to press forward, and while Ellie lays down some bad pun jokes at Joel’s insistence, you can see soldiers pop up behind them slowly and throws a flash grenade in their direction. Joel and Ellie get knocked down and captured. The joy never lasts in the world of TLOU.
Joel wakes up in a hospital bed and is reunited with Marlene. She is clearly indebted to him, stating that he is the last person that she would want to “owe one”, but she truly does owe him big. Joel demands to see Ellie but is delivered the news that is the last thing he wants to hear. Ellie is being prepped for surgery, as the doctors believe some sort of chemical messenger that makes the cordyceps believe it’s already present in the host, keeping the person from being infected. As Joel notes that the cordyceps grows in the brain, he knows this surgery will ultimately kill her. Sensing that Joel will not let this go down and could get in the way, Marlene instructs two other fireflies to walk him out to the highway outside the city and kill him if he tries anything. The stoic face of a singular mindset that Joel exhibits after learning of Ellie’s fate is downright chilling. He is not going to let her die, and he is not going down quietly.
As the fireflies escort him down the staircase, Joel gets into gear. Before you can blink, he gets the upper hand on those two firefly soldiers, killing both in quick succession, one of them only getting a single fleeting chance to fess up Ellie’s location before getting his head blown off. What follows is a visual & aural representation what it must be like in the mind of Joel. Sound has been generally muted, with only the muffled sound of gunshots as Joel mows down anyone who gets in his path. It’s the most brutal and cold sequence of the season, showing how far Joel will go to keep someone he loves alive after so much loss. Many innocent fireflies are killed, some who don’t deserve the fate that Joel has delivered upon them. It’s a brilliant scene and I loved every second of it.
Joel ends up at Pediatric Surgery and begins a slow descent down a long straight hallway bathed in red light. It’s a striking visual as Joel is still in Terminator-mode but is starting to show signs of emotion and fear that the surgery is already taking place. As he enters the surgery room, he is greeted by a doctor and a few nurses. Ellie is just being put under; surgery has not begun yet. As Joel demands them to free her, the doctor picks up a scapel and warns that he can’t take her. Joel puts a single shot into this doctor, and demands the nurses release her, which they do (one of them is played by Laura Bailey, the actress who portrays Abby in TLOU Part 2, a nice touch). Joel slowly approaches Ellie, cradles her as he would his own daughter, and walks out of the room quietly, making their way to the elevator.
Just as they enter the parking garage to leave, Marlene catches up to them. Marlene tries to plead to Joel’s sensible half, thinking Ellie would not want Joel to do this and would want to sacrifice herself to save the world. Joel seems to have a moment on inflection, glancing over at Ellie before raising his gaze back to Marlene. Perhaps Joel sees what he has done is wrong. Perhaps not.
Joel is now driving away in a truck out of Salt Lake City. After a few seconds, it’s revealed that Ellie is in the backseat of the truck, starting to awake but groggy from being put under. As Joel is explaining what happened back at the hospital – a fabrication that dozens of people were also there with the same immunity, but nothing could be done to make a vaccine – we see that Joel went with his heart and not his head. Joel ended up shooting Marlene back in the garage, and after putting Ellie in the car and realizing Marlene was still alive, went back to finish the job. The line delivery that Pascal spews as he finally puts an end to Marlene – “You will just come after her” as she pleads to be spared – is just as cold and calculated as it was in the game, and Pascal puts the final nail in his coffin of pain he delivered to the fireflies in the latter half of this episode.
We are drawing near to Jackson, and as they finally come over a hill that reveals the lovely town, Ellie finally confronts Joel and wants him to swear that everything he told her about what happened at the hospital was true. Joel, without so much as a moment of hesitation, says Yes. As we keep a shot locked on Bella Ramsey’s face, her expression, one of uncertainty and possible distrust in the person she put her life in the hands of, seems to give a slightly curious glance back at Joel before uttering the final word of Season 1 (and also the TLOU game)….OK
The Last of Us S1 was an absolute banger of an adaptation. They made all the right choices in the things they kept in from the game and what they added to flesh out characters and motivation beyond what was already present. Every single actor deserves to get a mention here for making this a rousing success. Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey ARE Joel and Ellie, and that was something I never thought possible after the portrayals from Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson in the game. Gabriel Luna brought heartfelt brotherly love as Tommy. Anna Torv brought the toughness and glimmer of hope in Tess. Merle Dandridge was able to bring various layers of humanity and logic to Marlene in both her game and show iterations. Nick Offerman was amazing in his incredibly more fleshed out role of Bill. Lamar Johnson and Keivonn Woodward brought love and warmth to their tragic portrayals of Henry and Sam, respectively. I could on for days. The wait for Season 2 of TLOU is going to be a long one for sure, but after the unabashed success of Season 1, I will be here when it’s ready.