The article contains spoilers for the last episode of The Last of Us
After surviving against a fungus-based apocalypse, an army of zombies, a religious group of cannibals, a violent military state, and an even more brutal faction of insurrectionists, the journey of Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) has come to an end.
In the first season finale of The Last of Us, the odd couple pair make it to Salt Lake City and to Saint Mary’s Hospital, where the fireflies would use Ellie, who is immune to the Cordyceps infection, to create a vaccine and restore the world to its pre-doomsday state. But on arrival, the Fireflies threw a bomb their way, mistaking them for trespassers.
Joel wakes to find Marlene (Merle Dandridge) watching over him. Ellie has already been taken into preparation for the surgery necessary to create the cure, and Marlene refuses to take Joel to see her. “Our doctor thinks the Cordyceps in Ellie has grown with her since birth,” she explains, ignoring Joel’s increasing panic. “It produces a kind of chemical messenger that makes normal Cordyceps think that she’s Cordyceps – that’s why she’s immune. He’s got to remove it from her, multiply the cells in the lab, produce those chemical messengers, and then we can give it to everyone.”
It slowly dawns on Joel that this would not be good news for Ellie: Cordyceps grows inside the brain, meaning the surgery would involve taking out part of Ellie’s brain, killing her in the process.
Not on Joel’s watch.
He attacks the armed guards who ordered to escort him from the hospital, stealing their guns and shooting his way to Ellie, already under anaesthesia and lying on a gurney surrounded by nurses and a doctor. Joel murders those who about to kill her and runs from the building, carrying Ellie’s limp body.
In the garage of the hospital, Joel runs into Marlene, who points a gun squarely at his face. Refusing to listen to Marlene’s protestations that Ellie would want to sacrifice herself to save everyone else (no matter how true), Joel shoots Marlene dead.
The moral question over whether Joel was right to save Ellie instead of allowing her to become the source of a Cordyceps cure is one that has haunted players of the original Playstation game since its launch in 2013. The series makes no attempt to answer it, leaving viewers to make their own mind up as to whether Joel’s violence was justified.
We next see the pair driving along the highway in a truck, Ellie safe from the Fireflies’ scalpel. Joel takes advantage of Ellie’s lack of memory and lies to her, saying the Fireflies were merely running tests and that she isn’t the only one who immune to Cordyceps. The doctors couldn’t make a cure work, he said. Whether he lied to protect her or to diminish his decision to save Ellie, putting a stop to the hopes of a cure in the process, remains to be seen.
Ellie and Joel drive back to Wyoming to take Joel’s brother Tommy up on his offer of a home in the Jackson commune. In the final scene, Ellie makes Joel swear that everything he had told him about the Fireflies and what happened at the hospital is true. “I swear,” he lies.
Season two of The Last of Us has already been greenlit by HBO, so we know we will pick up with Ellie and Joel in the future. If the series follows the second game instalment as closely as it followed the first, those lies will certainly catch up with the duo. But it’s far from the worst thing Ellie and Joel will have to face.