‘The Last of Us’ finale: Fight like a Mother, Fight like a Father…

'The Last of Us' is a dark show, but in the finale, will our heroes 'Look for the Light'?

Over a decade ago, a pregnant woman runs to find shelter from her pursuers. Over a decade ago, one woman makes a fateful promise to her friend. In the present, a man wonders if he should complete his mission as promised. In the present a young girl takes on the weight of the world and decides to push onwards.

The decisions that all of them have made now come to this moment and everything that will come next. Because now the world itself depends on the hardest of choices and those who must make them…

And heaven help anyone who gets in their way…



After everything we’ve been through, after everything I’ve done… it can’t be for nothing. I know you mean well, I know you want to protect me… and you have. When we’re done, we’ll go wherever you want: Tommy’s, a sheep-ranch… the moon. I’ll follow you anywhere you go, but there’s no halfway with this. We finish what we started...”


A few weeks ago, The Last of Us moved its broadcast date to accommodate the Super Bowl (with genre fans getting the weekly chapter a few days early). Make of it what you will, but HBO decided not to move its groundbreaking season finale away from the same night of the Academy Awards… and there’s now every chance the audience will pivot towards a violent and emotionally-complex event with consequences for everyone involved and watercooler recriminations for days to come. Nah, who am I kidding… they’ll be watching The Last of Us.

Then: It was noted some time ago that the voice/performance capture actors behind the characters of Joel and Ellie in the original game would be making cameos in the HBO series as other characters. Last week we saw Troy Baker playing Steven, one of the henchmen of the disreputable Pastor David. Blink and you’ll miss Laura Bailey as a surgeon close to the end of the finale, but the big news is the turn of Ashley Johnson and, as rumoured, she is indeed playing a character that was never shown directly in the game: Ellie’s mother. That intimate connection and lineage brings a lot to a part already destined to be poignant as we know that Ellie’s mother is long dead in the game.  Here we don’t get all the answers, but we do get some important ones.  We meet a heavily-pregnant Anna on the run from her pursuers and finding her way to a deserted house where she manages to temporarily barricade herself away from anyone or anything outside, her only other defense is a small penknife (which eagle-eyed viewers will realise is the one that a grown Ellie carries with her). It’s not enough as a runner manages to get in and attacks her. In a panic Anna kills the attacker and almost simultaneously gives birth to her daughter. She cuts the umbilical cord with the knife.  It’s a moment of joy with a darker edge as she realises that in the midst of this new life, Anna herself has been bitten.  When Marlene arrives a short time later, Anna looks her in eyes and said that the baby’s cord was cut before she was bitten and begs Marlene to take the baby she’s named Ellie and make sure she’s safe… then to kill Anna herself. Initially Marlene refuses, but it’s the two final things she can do for her friend… so she wraps the newborn up to take with her and then reluctantly kills Anna before she can ‘turn’.

Every week, The Last of Us breaks our hearts and here we have arguably the most emotional opening since the premiere. It’s a very powerful, distressing set of scenes, incredibly well-acted and made all the more so by Johnson’s legacy participation. But we’ve come to expect nothing less from this landmark show…

Now: Ellie and Joel are making their way through the urban sprawl towards the hospital and making sure that they avoid the kind of trouble they encountered in Kansas and Silver Lake. After everything they’ve been through and knowing they’re nearly at their destination, there’s now an easier vibe between them as Joel finds a game of Boggle and notes that if she wants to beat him at anything then it’s probably a word game and then jokes about their tactics. After recent events, Ellie is still quieter than normal but keeps moving.

It’s nice to see some of the ‘movement’ of the game used as much as key sequences. Ellie is able to shimmy up some of the debris and then lowers the ladders to Joel (a key tactic on the PS4 adventure) and there’s a lovely recreation of the moment when the two encounter a herd of giraffes who have escaped from the nearby zoo. It’s an animal that neither of them would have seen in the ‘wild’ before and it’s an oasis of comfort on what’s been a traumatic journey. (Incidentally, the review copy of the episode didn’t have all the FX finished and it was interesting to see how some of the encounters were stitched together through WETA‘s amazing CGI and editing).

Every week, The Last of Us breaks our hearts and here we have arguably the most emotional opening since the premiere. It’s a very powerful, distressing set of scenes, incredibly well-acted and made all the more so by Johnson’s legacy participation. But we’ve come to expect nothing less from this landmark show…

The audience also learns something profound about Joel and his partial hearing-loss. When they reach a derelict FEDRA camp, Joel notes that his head and ear were stitched up at a similar camp after a bullet nearly killed him… but what he’s never said before is that he was the one firing the bullet. Ellie immediately understands the confession as Joel admits that at that moment, years before, he simply didn’t see the point of going on. However he’d flinched at the pivotal moment and missed. Ellie wonders if time heals all wounds, but Joel notes it simply wasn’t his time that day, for whatever reason.

And then, in the midst of reminiscing – and doesn’t this always happen – they are attacked by soldiers throwing gas grenades and we’re momentarily left to wonder who their latest captors are. It’s the Fireflies… and this is where the divisive plot elements of the game come directly into play, with events unfolding very much in the same way did then.

The end of the original game shocked many players and if you didn’t know the ending before broadcast, it will likely have felt just as brutal, though for some viewers it may feel things spiral out of control very quickly. When Joel awakens, he’s ‘safe’… but that’s a complicated description. He’s thanked by Marlene, who says Ellie is being prepped for surgery. Surgery? What she hurt? No. No yet. Marlene explains that their doctor theorises that the Cordyceps virus has grown with Ellie since birth and that it produces a kind of chemical messenger that fools the virus into thinking Ellie’s body is part of the fungal growth – making her immune. However, they’ll have to cut into her brain… a procedure that might produce a cure for all mankind but from which Ellie will definitely not survive, either way. Marlene says they didn’t tell Ellie so as not to distress her, but Joel is furious and has to be restrained. Merle Dandridge, who is the only original actor reprising the same role from the game, once again shows the weight of the decision and her inner conflict. On one hand she was there on the day Ellie was born and promised Anna she would always look after her child… on the other, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to save the world and Marlene, always a soldier, feels she cannot afford to miss that window of opportunity for sentimental reasons.

Joel’s rampage through the hospital is impressive – not perhaps intense as, say, The Raid, but powered by the urgency of the situation, the emotional investment of character and audience and also solid editing amid dark corridors and oppressive lighting. Again, for those of us who know the game, it almost feels it should have lasted longer, though there’s no denying the brutality and emotional core that drives Joel forward. Pascal has never looked more angry or desperate in the show. Joel kills anybody in his way and collects ammunition to face whatever is around the next corner, but though that echoes the gameplay of the original it never feels like you’re just playing a game here. By the time Joel gets to the room where the surgery is about to take place, you absolutely know that anyone who would hurt Ellie isn’t going to get out of this alive. But it’s still unsettling to see Joel murder (and, undeniably it is murder) the doctor. As in the game, there’s little indication of just how fateful that decision will prove and it will be interesting to see if they inform The Last of US Part 2‘s reason d’etre).

The final confrontation with Marlene is heavy with foreboding and full of moral quandaries that people will likely argue about later. Both Marlene and Joel have absolute belief in their positions and they both know the positions have heavy consequences.  If Marlene wins, Ellie dies on the operating table but humanity has the best chance in a generation to survive and thrive once more… if Joel wins, Ellie lives. The decision to cut to Joel back on the road and play out in immediate flashback his decision is another savvy editing choice. That he killed Marlene and now lies to Ellie about it (saying there was no cure to be found) is something that will definitely power into the second season.

The Last of Us entitled its finale episode ‘Look for the Light‘ and there has been every shade of light and darkness through the past two months of episodes. It has been quite the superb series, a genuine television experience and event worth the plaudits, groundbreaking in its blurring of previous multimedia boundaries and – when all is said and done – just compelling drama from start to finish. Building on the powerful cinematic story of the original game, its producers gave us casting choices that might not have been initially obvious but Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey have been superb and have won almost everyone over…and likely generated a raft of upcoming awards. And even guest-stars have produced some of their career-best moments. (Seriously, we might as well hand over some major Emmys right now). The show has captured a zeitgeist, re-energising the apocalypse genre after The Walking Dead shuffled off – and, it gives me no joy to say it, but it’s hard to imagine any of TWD spin-offs doing as well as The Last of Us.

The only problem is: where to go from here… and for those who don’t know what’s ahead, there’ll be no spoilers here (and, please, avoid them elsewhere if you can). I truly hope that HBO doesn’t speed headfirst into the second PS4 game’s scenario – it would seem to waste an awful lot of potential in exploring the largely unexplored five years between the two chapters and bring us far too quickly to a defining moment that could up-end the show’s popularity.

If it must – and it probably must, eventually – one hopes they approach those controversial events more slowly and with caution because at Last we have a show worth the journey.

'The Last of Us  S01 EP09 - Look for the Light'   SKY/HBO review)
'The Last of Us S01 EP09 - Look for the Light' SKY/HBO review)
  • Story
  • Acting
  • Direction
  • Production Design / VFX
SKY review