Warning: This article contains major spoilers for season 1 of The last of us (2023).
In the HBO season 1 finale The last of us, Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) finally arrive at the destination they’ve been traveling to ever since they met. However, before making their final trip to the Salt Lake City hospital, where the Fireflies have set up their new base, Joel asks Ellie if he wants to come back. Ellie, in response, tells him that they have both lost too much not to finish what they started. She adds that only after they have met the fireflies and their immunity has been used to create a cure can she and Joel truly build a new life together.
Following Ellie’s comments, Joel reveals that the scar on his forehead is not from a shooting, but from a failed suicide attempt. However, instead of continuing to grieve over the death of his daughter, Sarah (Nico Parker), Joel tells Ellie that her bond has made him happy to be alive. Together, these emotional moments not only bring Ellie and Joel even closer, but also set the stage for the second half of The last of us‘violent season 1 finale.
Moments after Joel’s confession, he and Ellie are stunned by a flash grenade and knocked unconscious by a squad of fireflies. Joel wakes up in a hospital bed hours later to find himself surrounded by several Firefly soldiers, as well as their leader, Marlene (Merle Dandridge). After expressing her surprise that Joel was able to successfully escort Ellie across the country, Marlene reveals that Ellie has been drugged and unknowingly sent to an operating room. The Firefly leader then reveals that Ellie’s immunity will only be able to produce a cure if she extracts herself from her and dissects her brain.
Joel understandably does not react well to this news. Rather than let the fireflies go through with his plans, he proceeds to systematically kill all the soldiers that stand between him and Ellie’s operating room. When Ellie’s would-be surgeon shows him a scalpel in protest, Joel shoots him in the head before taking Ellie back to the hospital parking lot. There, he comes face to face again with Marlene, who tries to convince him to give up and leave Ellie with her. Marlene insists that despite what she would do to Joel, Ellie would want to die if it meant humanity would be saved.
However, Joel doesn’t listen to her. Instead, he shoots Marlene and takes Ellie back to the settlement of Jackson, Wyoming, where her brother Tommy (Gabriel Luna) has settled. On the way, Ellie wakes up and asks what happened to her while she was unconscious. Joel tells her that the fireflies were testing dozens of other people for immunity like Ellie when they arrived and that the group had already given up on trying to find a cure. When Ellie questions why they took her out of the hospital without her normal clothes, Joel claims that the building was attacked by muggers and he was forced to get her out of there as quickly as possible.
The last of us he then catches up with Joel and Ellie several weeks later as they near the end of their trip back to Jackson. Near the outskirts of the settlement, Ellie stops Joel and asks him to swear that everything she said about the fireflies was true. When Joel does so, Ellie hesitantly responds with a bittersweet “OK.” A moment later, The last of us It ends its first season with one last cut to black.
Like those who have played the original The last of us The video game will know, the ending of the HBO show stays incredibly faithful to its source material. Both in 2013 The last of us game and its HBO adaptation, Joel makes the decision to single-handedly take down the fireflies and save Ellie’s life despite knowing, deep down, that she wouldn’t have wanted him to. In doing so, Joel not only complicates his and Ellie’s relationship in ways neither of them can fully fix, but he also sets the stage for the events of The Last of Us Part II.
Even more important, Joel’s actions in the The last of us finale helps tie together the various themes of the HBO show about love and pain. For a show that is so intent on exploring how love has the power to save and destroy us, it stands to reason that the end of The last of us In season 1, a girl’s surrogate father chooses to ignore the fate of the entire world not only to save her life, but also to avoid the pain of her loss.
The last of us Season 1 is streaming now on HBO Max.