I Won't Stop Thinking About The Last of Us Season Finale For a Long, Long Time


This story contains spoilers for the season finale of The Last of Us.

After visiting a secret-religious-psycho-cannibal town, Joel and Ellie needed something good to happen in the season finale. In last week's recap, I suggested that Ellie could fall in love again, or Joel could learn that the mushroom virus finally stopped spreading. Turns out, I was far too optimistic! But Episode Nine's horror didn't come from some new goopy, fungus creature—or even a David-esque new villain. It arrived from someone we knew all along.

Let's start at the beginning. We kick things off with neither Ellie, nor Joel. Instead, we see a pregnant woman—played by Ashley Johnson, who voices Ellie in The Last of Us video games—running in the woods. She finds refuge in an abandoned house, but an infected person finds her, breaks down the door, and attacks. As the woman stabs the monster to death with a knife, she gives birth. When the woman's friends return—one of whom is Marlene!—they not only see her holding a newborn baby, but that she was infected in the skirmish. She names her Ellie. And viola—we were following Ellie’s mom during this opening scene. The Last of Us and its sad, beautiful chaos won't let up, will it?

Photo by HBO.

After the reveal, the show cuts back to Joel and Ellie. The poor guy’s trying to cheer her up, even though she’s clearly traumatized from what went down in cannibal city. As she should be! Hell, have they even talked about what happened? How Ellie had to save him from dying? Any mention of all the traumatizing things that happened to her? It feels like they haven't. Instead of talking it out, they find and feed a big ol’ CGI giraffe together. Ellie promises Joel that after they find the hospital they’ve been looking for, they’ll live out their days together. (Those are usually famous last words.) Joel tells her about his daughter’s death—and inadvertently thanks Ellie for bringing some life and joy back into his life. He even likes hearing jokes from her book of bad puns.

Good things aren't allowed on The Last of Us, remember? So this moment is short-lived. Our heroes are ambushed by a group of people and separated. When Joel wakes up, he’s in the hospital—a place at the end of the rainbow that I honestly thought they would never find. Marlene is there, and she tells him that Ellie is being prepped for surgery. The doctors believe that a special variant of cordyceps has grown within her since birth—which we witnessed this episode via flashback—and it rejects the normal kind of cordyceps that everyone is infected with, because her body believes that she’s already infected. I don’t know if this makes sense! But it may not be fact, either. This is just what this doctor believes.

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“Cordyceps grows in the brain,” Joel reminds them. Uh-oh. Brain surgery. “There won’t be any pain,” Marlene explains, essentially revealing that Ellie will not survive. Joel demands to be taken to her right away, but Marlene won’t allow him. She says that she’s the only one who understands Joel’s pain, because she was there when Ellie was born—promising at the time to protect her no matter what.

Marlene sends two nameless and disposable grunts to escort Joel from the premises. Naturally—lest you forget that this is a video game adaptation—he steals their guns and kills them. Joel then proceeds to take out the entire facility, going full murder mode. It’s like he’s playing the game with auto-aim turned on. He arrives in the surgery room and blasts the surgeon right between the eyes. Ellie is unconscious from the anesthesia, but the doctors didn't start the procedure. Some very important questions on my mind: Was she aware of what would happen to her after the surgery, or was she placed on the table against her will? We never totally learn what the Fireflies told Ellie before they put her under.

Photo by HBO.

Joel takes Ellie and attempts to leave the building. Marlene, trying to stop him, says that he “can’t keep her safe forever,” but that’s a weak excuse. You could say the same thing about life in the real world—and we don’t even have a monstrous mushroom virus. (Yet.)

So, Joel shoots Marlene and takes off with Ellie. I wouldn’t be mad at him—not even in the slightest—if he didn’t lie to Ellie when she wakes up. He tells her some nonsense about how the doctors actually have a bunch of kids at the facility who are just like her—and that after doing some tests, they’ve stopped looking for a cure entirely. Huh? Weird lie, Joel. He doubles down when Ellie asks why she’s still in her hospital gown, saying that raiders killed everyone there and they had to escape. Well, at least Joel covered up his tracks. Sort of.

Somehow, Joel's decision to lie feels even more crushing than the fact that he potentially doomed the planet for eternity, killing the man who was trying to develop a cordyceps vaccine. It’s not only selfish—but it severely complicates our image of Joel. Over these insane nine episodes, we watched Ellie save this man's soul—which is exactly why you can sympathize with him when he isn’t ready to let her go. But by not giving her a choice, or even telling her the truth, we learn that Joel is even more damaged than we ever imagined. He's a broken man who, under no circumstances, would let Ellie—who filled the hole his daughter left—leave his life. Again, I haven't played the video games, so I'm wondering how (or if) Season Two will reckon with Joel's sins. For now, it’s bleak, heartbreaking, and I'll be thinking about it for a long, long time.

FromEsquire US

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Josh Rosenberg
Josh Rosenberg is an entertainment writer living in Brooklyn, keeping a steady diet of one movie a day; his work can be found at Spin, Insider, Vibe, and on his personal blog at Roseandblog.com.
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