Did You Catch That? The OG Ellie Played Ellie's Mother in The Last of Us Season 1 Finale


The Last of Us season finale was an emotional rollercoaster that left us a sobbing mess by the time the credits rolled. But it wasn’t just Pedro Pascal (Joel) and Bella Ramsey’s (Ellie) acting that had us misty-eyed. It was the minute Ashley Johnson showed up at the very start of the episode that we knew this episode was going to hit us right in the feels.

Video game fans will recognize Ashley Johnson just by name, but casual players might recognize her by voice. If Troy Baker was the OG Joel, then Ashley Johnson was the OG Ellie. The actress was the voice behind Ellie for almost a decade, and when HBO started developing the TV adaptation, it was only right that OG Ellie returned to the fold to play Ellie’s mom, Anna.

“Usually, when a video game is adapted to screen, the voiceover actors or motion capture artists aren’t brought into the fold,” said Johnson to Deadline.

So when showrunners Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann first approached Johnson about playing Anna, her response was instantaneous: “just projectile tears.”

Also read: 

How Troy Baker Transformed From Joel to James in Episode 8 of The Last of Us

The OG Joel, Troy Baker, Has a Lot to Say About Pedro Pascal in The Last of Us

“I was nervous, but I feel so happy that I’m able to bring this character to life and be the first character and person in Ellie’s life that fights for her to live,” said Johnson. “The layers of that are certainly not lost on me. It makes me emotional pretty much every time I think about it because this world and this project is so important to me and has been for a decade.”


When Troy Baker joined the TV show, the showrunners gave him a completely different role from Joel. Baker got to play James, one of the antagonists of Episode 8. As Baker explained in a roundtable interview with Esquire, the jump from Joel to James gave him the opportunity to make James a more complex character. And it helped that Baker enjoyed playing the bad guy. But Johnson had the unique experience of playing the “predecessor”, so to speak, of a character she’d been associated with for almost a decade. It’s not every day that you go from playing a teenage girl to playing her mother. It’s a full-circle moment for Johnson, and the impact of her role was felt by everyone who watched the finale. 

To prepare as Anna, Johnson channeled an older, more hardened version of Ellie. And by watching Ramsey, Johnson incorporated a little of Ramsey’s version of Ellie into the character. But she also added a personal touch to Anna that wasn’t seen on screen.

“In the game, there’s a letter that Anna writes that Ellie keeps in her backpack. And I wrote that letter out and just kept it in my pocket as kind of a reminder to myself of where this character came from and sort of the history of that,” said Johnson.

HBO’s TV adaptation of The Last of Us has received stellar reviews from critics and casual viewers, but it’s perhaps the approval from the original stars and creators that means the most to the fandom. Just as Troy Baker approves of Pedro Pascal’s take on Joel, Ashley Johnson couldn’t be happier with Bella Ramsey’s performance as Ellie.

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“It has been such a joy to watch her because she’s so good. And I feel like there’s been so many scenes that have been elevated because of her capabilities and her talent. She was exploring sides of her that will make sense for Season 2 because where the second game goes is even darker and heavier,” said Johnson. “It’s hard to watch because I’m watching these characters—Pedro and Bella’s version of these characters—and falling in love with them. And it’s heartbreaking because I know that life doesn’t get better for them, and she is just so beautiful to watch because even in just these subtle moments, there’s so much going on.”

Acting for a video game is substantially different from acting for TV in that voiceover actors and motion capture actors have an end goal: to provide as much movement and dialogue for artists and technicians to transform into a functioning video game. There’s not always room for character-driven moments, which is why Johnson is glad that Ramsey’s been able to give TV Ellie the justice she deserves.

“I feel like there’s been so many moments and scenes where Ellie’s been able to stick up for herself or say things that didn’t happen in the game that feels good for me to watch,” said Johnson.

Photo by HBO.

That’s not the only thing that the TV team got the opportunity to expand. In the video game, Elli’s mother is a largely abstract character whose presence is felt more than seen. This makes Ellie’s history is a complete mystery in the games, but by introducing Anna to the TV show, showrunners Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann got to finally answer the question of Ellie’s cordyceps immunity.

In a complete diversion from the games, Mazin and Druckmann portrayed Anna moments before, during, and after she gives birth to Ellie. Anna is cornered by Infected during her labor, and she’s bitten just before she kills the Infected. But during the fight, she gave birth to Ellie from the sheer stress and pressure of the moment. The moment she sees she’s been bitten, she cuts the umbilical cord, and this is believed to be the origin of Ellie’s immunity. She was essentially born with Cordyceps in her system, but the transference through the umbilical cord might have given her natural immunity. It’s a huge change from the games, but it’s perhaps the best one yet.

Anna dies soon after to save herself from becoming Infected, thereby ending her story in The Last of Us. Despite her brief appearance, Ashley Johnson got to play the most pivotal guest role in The Last of Us. And that’s exactly what the OG Ellie deserves.

The Last of Us finale is now streaming on HBO Go in the Philippines.

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Anri Ichimura
Section Editor, Esquire Philippines
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