The Biggest Moments THE LAST OF US Series Adapts From the Games

As The Last of Us was first released on the PlayStation a decade ago, everything from key moments to delicate minutiae have calcified in fans’ minds. This hikes up the temperature considerably in terms of anticipation — the legacy is quite real. One of the big questions going into HBO’s adaptation is how much of the game will carry over into the series, and how much will change? The balance is vital to anchor viewers in the story’s world, while still expanding on it in truthful, authentic measures.

Jump to: Episode One // Episode Two // Episode Three // Episode Four // Episode Five // Episode Six // Episode Seven // Episode Eight // Episode Nine (Giraffes!)

Episode 1

Joel (Pedro Pascal) takes Sarah's (Nico Parker) head in his hands as the zombie outbreak begins in The Last of Us.
Joel’s Birthday Watch

The story’s opening moments are some of the most difficult to experience as a player, and as they should be. The first POV you play in The Last of Us is of Sarah Miller, Joel’s daughter. The game begins on the evening of Outbreak Day, also known as Joel’s birthday, where Sarah gives him a watch. This exchange is so heartfelt, boxed in with the priceless father-daughter humor that is so fleeting between the two of them. This scene is almost identical in the show, with Nico Parker’s Sarah echoing the same, cheeky words from the game to explain how she paid for the watch: “I sell hardcore drugs,” in the same Texan accent.

The similarities are eerie, but deserved; its warmth swells, especially if you come to the show as a fan of the games. However, before this, the show rewinds us back to the beginning of Outbreak Day, to September 26th, 2003, a decade before the events of the game.

Sarah (Nico Parker) runs her hand through a sprinkler before the world ends in The Last of Us.

HBO’s adaptation allows viewers to get even closer to Sarah. We follow her throughout the day — cooking breakfast; tossing out quips about Joel needing diapers soon; heading to school; venturing downtown on a city bus to have Joel’s watch fixed (with his money from his bedroom drawer). This makes her death so much more grueling on viewers, as the scene — downtown in flames, restaurant that Joel carries her through, and standoff with the soldier — is effectively identical to that in the game. 

The Beginning of the Journey

Fast forward 20 years, and Joel is not bedridden like he is in the game. Instead, he is tossing the corpse of an infected child into the FEDRA flames of the QZ. Tess, gunslinging and troubled as ever, is instead a captive of Robert. He stole the car battery that she and Joel had planned to use to go find Tommy out West. The familial ties seem to be much stronger in the show. Joel and Tess’s romantic partnership is more or less confirmed, and they have a pre-existing mission to go find Tommy who has been AWOL through their radio communications.

Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Tess (Anna Torv) shine flashlights on a human fungal growth in a dark, abandoned office building in the first episode of The Last of Us.

When Joel and Tess set off to satisfy their vendetta against Robert, he is already dead — it is Marlene who kills him. His stupidity from the game bleeds into the show, as he thought he would get away with selling the defective car battery again to the Fireflies. 

The game and the adaptation converge here, with Marlene handing Ellie over to Tess and Joel. The promise of goods is still very much the same, and their agreement to transport Ellie to downtown Boston is still for selfish reasons. Marlene is injured, FEDRA about a block away from the Fireflies hideout, and desperation is the final push — Joel and Tess for their car battery, Marlene for getting Ellie to the Fireflies lab out West.

Episode 2

Venturing Into Downtown Boston
Ellie (Bella Ramsey) and Tess (Anna Torv) looks through trees toward downtown Boston.

Once Tess, Joel, and Ellie make it out of the Boston QZ, they do something they almost never do in the game—they rest. Well, Ellie does; Joel and Tess keep watch over her from a lengthy distance inside of a disused barber shop with overgrown foliage. The next events of the show occur in broad daylight as opposed to nighttime, allowing the horror to exist on its own without the darkness to tip the edge. The skyline almost mirrors the environment art from the game: demolished skyscrapers holding each other up to keep from completely dissolving into rubble.

Instead of venturing into one of the dilapidated office buildings to get closer to the Capitol, they cut through a hotel. This seems to evoke a similar setting later in the Pittsburgh portion of the game. While the circumstances are different, geography, character, and plot-wise, this scene even takes from the dialogue of that game encounter, when Ellie asks, “You ever stay in a place like this?” to which Tess takes Joel’s response, “Uh, no. A little out of our league.” In this way, it seems the creators of the show are doing as much as they can to preserve the original content, even if misplaced.

The Museum
Samuel Hoeksema as as a Clicker in The Last of Us.

After climbing ten flights of stairs, Joel and Tess realize that they cannot take “the long way” due to the hundreds of infected bodies connected on the ground below (and the short cut was axed before they started walking). Tess explains to Ellie the connectedness of Infected, of how these tendrils can grow miles long underground, forging them into a responsive network. They ultimately decide to go through the museum, which seems to have had a history of Infected dominating the building. When they enter the building, they realize the state of the building is in way worse shape than they had anticipated: the clicking noise is a dead give-away. They make it through, almost exactly as in the game, but not without forthcoming consequences.

The Capitol Building
Tess (Anna Torv) and Joel (Pedro Pascal) confront each other as Ellie (Bella Ramsey) looks on.

The similarities between the game and the series with respect to the Capitol Building are haunting, from the angle of the light shining through the high windows to the color of the walls to the dome shape. The panic and exasperation from the game are maintained in this scene as they discover that all of the Fireflies in the Capitol were murdered by Infected. “Our luck had to run out sooner or later,” she says, to which Ellie responds, exactly the same as in the game: “F**k, she’s infected!” Joel turns to her at the same time as the camera pans to him, so that the viewers learn about Tess’s grim fate. Tess’s last preserved line from the game is “Oops, right?” as she uncovers her neck, bitten.

Instead of FEDRA showing up to hunt them down, it’s the dozens of Infected they had spotted earlier in the day from the balcony of the hotel — the tendrils from the Capitol have awakened the masses, and they come running. Tess quickly knocks over tanks of gasoline throughout the room. When the game’s “Make this easy for me,” is replaced with “Save who you can save,” Joel jerks around and drags Ellie out before he can stop himself, because if he waits any longer, he won’t be able to. By the time the Infected make it to the Capitol, Joel and Ellie are gone and Tess tinkers with a lighter that won’t catch. An Infected’s tendrils enter her mouth, making for the most disgusting kiss scene you have ever seen on screen. Then, from outside of the building, you see: an explosion.

Episode 3

Frank sits at the piano while Bill watches on The Last of Us
Bill and Frank

For this episode, which aligns with the portion of the game in Bill’s town, HBO changes the canon markedly. The greatest distinction, which is inspired from the game, is that Frank is alive in the show — not a corpse with a caustic letter left behind for Bill. Due to the content of that letter in the game, and Ellie later cracking a joke about the male pornography that she took from Bill’s lodging, many fans of the game have long deduced that Bill is gay, and that Frank was in fact his partner, in more than just work. Therefore, the entire presence of Bill and Frank’s story diverges from the game, but it seems to exist with the same flavor as the actual game, such that the story exists authentically within the world of The Last of Us.

Bill’s Less of a Jerk…Slightly

An interesting, more subtle change within the episode is how Bill is as a character. We learn that Bill is an excellent cook and his anal-retentive demeanor manifests more so in maintaining the tranquility of his town. His survivalist skills are more apparent with diminished threat from Infected or raiders. His electric fence keeps those out, and his white-picket fence community is pristine. Within, there is a fabric store, hardware store, and winery.

Bill (Nick Offerman) sits outside drinking wine in The Last of Us.
The Letter

One small thing seems to be preserved, however small it is. That is the letter Ellie and Joel find when they finally reach Bill’s town in present day, months after he and Frank have died. The contents of the letter are obviously different from the game due to the vast changes of the plot. However, within the letter, along with Bill’s humor, refers to Tess as Joel’s lover, more or less. In the game, Bill’s allusion to Tess and Joel as “inseparable” is one of the only clues that confirms the romantic dimension of their relationship. In this case, it surfaces in the letter, along with the flashback to Joel and Tess dining with Bill and Frank. It truly is a treat to watch.

Episode 4

Ellie’s Puns

The fourth episode of the season marks Ellie and Joel’s portion of the journey that they spend in the car. If this were the game, they would be driving towards Pittsburgh; however, the Pittsburgh act of the game is now Kansas City. Remarkably, as in the game, Ellie takes to her humor in this episode, bearing the same copy, cover and all, of the book of puns that Riley gives to her in Left Behind: No Pun Intended (Part Too). Different parts of the episode feature Ellie’s puns, including their campsite in the forest at night that is not from the game. 

Moments on the Road

Also from the game are two classic moments from their car ride. First, Ellie whips out a Hank Williams cassette tape, asking Joel, “Does this make you all nostalgic?” to which he replies, “This was actually before my time. It’s a winner, though,” and the notorious tune “Alone and Forsaken” from their entry into Pittsburgh plays in the show. Immediately after, Ellie announces she has something else, a male porn magazine from Bill’s town. With this comes her famous joke, as she asks Joel, “Why are all these pages stuck together?” Joel’s “Uh…” is gorgeously cut with Ellie’s “I’m just f*cking with you,” as she tosses the magazine out the window.

These moments, where the dialogue comes directly from the game, are so nostalgic for game players, which allows for divergences elsewhere in the plot. They are precious reminders of this ambitious series’ origins. It is even more heartfelt to hear Bella Ramsey adopt the same words that Ashley Johnson spoke over a decade ago, taking on some of her accent, some of her intonation, and making those things new.

Ellie (Bella Ramsey) hides behind Joel (Pedro Pascal) in an abandoned storefront in The Last of Us episode 4.
Liane Hentscher/HBO
The Gunfight

The direct transfer of game material earlier in the episode balances with unexpected, new story points. When Joel and Ellie arrive in Kansas City, they find themselves in a showdown with locals as in Pittsburgh. Here, the locals aren’t really “hunters”: they are part of the Kansas City insurgency that overthrew FEDRA 10 days before our protagonists arrive. In this way, the series elaborates upon the mythology of The Last of Us world, showing different kinds of resistance. This part of the episode also incorporates the game moment from the hotel where Ellie defends Joel by shooting his attacker. In the adaptation, Ellie of course uses the gun that she secretly took from Bill and Frank’s house, and she uses it to shoot Joel’s attacker whom he could not hear due to his auditory problems. This moment is incredibly emotional, hitting much harder than its counterpart.

Melanie Lynskey's Kathleen stands before a group of people outside wearing clothes and fully armed on The Last of US
Liane Hentscher/HBO
Henry and Sam

This new section of the story returns to the game roots once we hear about Sam and Henry. Before they ever come on screen, Kathleen, the leader of the resistance, seem deadset on finding them. She has a vendetta against Henry for providing the intel to FEDRA on her brother’s actions and whereabouts. He was the leader of the resistance before his death. Her mission, hinged on vindictiveness, is to find and kill Henry, as well as all other FEDRA collaborators. Kathleen riles up her soldiers and teammates, including Perry, who is played by Jeffrey Pierce, the original voice actor for Tommy. As Ellie and Joel try to find a way out of the city, they make it to the top of the tallest building in KC, where they awake to Sam and Henry’s guns pointed at them, marking the official introduction to their characters in the show.

Episode 5

Sam and Henry

Sam and Henry are two of the most cherished characters of the first game. Their heartbreaking story from the game is even deeper in the series, as Sam is much younger, and is also deaf. Therefore, Henry is not only his big brother and protector, but also his ASL interpreter. The audience witnesses so many silent but beautiful exchanges throughout the episode. 

Keivonn Woodard and Lamar Johnson as Sam and Henry in The Last of Us.
Liane Hentscher/HBO
Navigating Underground KC

In episode 5, Henry reveals why he and Sam followed Joel and Ellie: he has a plan to safely exit the city. In exchange, Henry asks that Joel protect him, since the way out of the city involves maintenance tunnels where FEDRA related all of the city’s Infected. Though Henry assures Joel and Ellie that he has it on good word that FEDRA had cleared out the tunnels a few years back, there may be a few still down there.

The tunnel system emulates the sewers in the Pittsburgh section of the game. After trekking through, they encounter a room resembling the children’s area of the sewers, with books, arts and crafts, and toys. They realize the room served as an underground harbor for those trying to continue with their lives, leaving a lingering melancholy. We see a great deal of parallels here, as Ellie and Sam play a bit of soccer with the wall-drawn goalie net.

Keivonn Woodard and Bella Ramsey looking at Savage Starlight comic in The Last of Us.
Liane Hentscher/HBO
Savage Starlight

Savage Starlight is real! The series features true copies of the original comic series from the game, which serves as a gorgeous way for Ellie and Sam to bond organically throughout the episode, despite the fact that Ellie doesn’t know ASL. 

Sniper in the Suburbs

Unlike in the game, the small group from the series makes it out of the tunnel system without encountering any Infected, and certainly no Stalkers as in the sewers. However, once they reach the residential area outside of the perimeter, the episode evokes the unforgettable game sequence of the belligerent sniper blocking their exit from the city, notwithstanding the different circumstances. Joel weaves stealthily through the area, eschewing all bullets, and makes his way up to the top floor of the house where the sniper is stationed. Once he arrives, he kills the sniper and takes over, exactly as he does in the game (which is one of my favorite sequences to play). As Kathleen and the resistance fighters show up as well as the swarms of Infected, Joel works his magic.

Melanie Lynskey and Jeffrey Pierce in The Last of Us.
Liane Hentscher/HBO
The Bloater

From early episode four, Kathleen and Perry hint at something awful in the tunnels; the asphalt ground of a building cracked from underneath. This episode reveals tons of runners, clickers, and finally, a Bloater coming up through the fiery foundation of a house. The Bloater seems an almost direct replica of one from the game, as gruesome as it is horrifying. The Bloater moves the same way, murders the same way, and sounds the same way as in the game. It does not throw acid spores at its victims due to changes in the show’s Infected lore.  

Keivonn Woodard and Lamar Johnson as Sam and Henry in The Last of Us.
Liane Hentscher/HBO
Sam’s Death

This part of the episode was destined to be the most devastating, and it is. There are direct carryovers from the game, but in the adaptation, Ellie actually knows that Sam has been bitten. More heartbreakingly, she attempts to cure him through a transfer of her “magic blood.” By morning, the events are the same: Sam has turned, Henry shoots Sam, and then he takes his own life. The added touch of sentimentality, however, is that Joel and Ellie bury Sam and Henry, laying them to rest. Ellie then says goodbye to her small friend, laying Sam’s writing pad on his grave. She writes the words “I’m sorry” in bold. The series succeeds in showing how the tragedy of Sam and Henry affects her in her journey.

Episode 6

Venturing Out West

When Ellie and Joel make it out of Kansas City, they set off towards Wyoming to find Tommy. As in the game, Tommy was once part of the Fireflies; Joel figures he will be able to help them find out where the research laboratory is located. Because they traveled primarily on foot with no definitive location on the map to find Tommy, Joel and Ellie wander aimlessly through Wyoming, in winter rather than autumn as in the game. A group of people that turn out to be members from the Jackson settlement where Tommy has been living stop them in a tense exchange; this moment of capture evokes the moment when Ellie and Joel arrive at the hydroelectric power plant in the game.

Tommy (Gabriel Luna) and Maria (Rutina Wesley) show Ellie (Bella Ramsey) and Joel (Pedro Pascal) around Jackson's sheep pens in The Last of Us.
Liane Hentscher/HBO

When Ellie and Joel arrive in Jackson, the story bypasses the conflict at the powerplant from the game wherein marauders attack the plant workers. Instead, this episode gives us a taste of The Last of Us Part II, which is the first time players encounter the Jackson commune. The scenes in snowy Jackson depict nearly an exact replica from the second game; small rustic shops lining both sides of a communal area, even including “The Tipsy Bison” bar. This is where Ellie picks up the “bigot sandwiches” from Seth before going out on patrol. (If you know, you know.)

The gorgeous scene pops against the backdrop of snow-capped mountains. Tommy and Joel’s heartfelt reunion seems much more potent in the game as Joel calls out to him as he rides in on a horse. They jump into each other’s arms, and for the first time in the series, Joel displays some outward sense of relief, maybe even some happiness.

Tommy (Gabriel Luna) and Joel (Pedro Pascal) embrace after years apart in The Last of Us.
Liane Hentscher/HBO
Joel’s Request

One of the key differences to this chapter is that we learn Maria Miller, Tommy’s wife, is pregnant. We also learn that she had a child die after the cordyceps outbreak, same as Joel. Subsequently, when Joel asks Tommy to take his place in delivering Ellie to the Fireflies, Tommy is much more resistant. However, to equilibrate the higher stakes, Joel’s plea is more painful than in the game. He laments all of his failures, failing Sarah, then Tess, and nearly failing Ellie in Kansas City. Ultimately, Joel’s internal strife is more apparent on the outside; due to his declining physical condition, he does not believe he can provide for Ellie all of the way, which is what leads Tommy to accept.

The Fight

As in the game, Ellie overhears Joel’s request to Tommy and thus feels abandoned. She does not, however, ride off on a horse. Instead, she stows herself away in a bedroom from the house that Tommy and Marie assign to Joel and Ellie. (This will likely be the house that Joel lives in in the second game, but that is to be seen.) Joel confronts Ellie in the bedroom, and the scene almost plays out identically to the corresponding cut scene from the game. It is clear that the production team understood the importance of this scene, as an important factor in each of their characterizations, as well as a milestone going forward. The next morning, Joel goes back on his word. He gives Ellie a choice on her guardian for the remainder of the trip. Without hesitation, she chooses Joel.

Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) eat food in The Last of Us.
Liane Hentscher/HBO
University of Eastern Colorado

The portion of the episode at the university feels a lot shorter. However, it does not do a disservice to the plot. The two of them arrive at the home of the Rams and encounter a scattered group of ex-laboratory monkeys. They eventually learn that the Fireflies have relocated to Salt Lake City. Finally, in the open air rather than the science building, a group of hunters accost the traveling pair. After a fight, Joel is impaled with a shiv in place of his gruesome fall from the second floor balcony from the game. The episode ends on a dangerous cliffhanger, providing a delight transition into Left Behind territory. 

Episode 7

Incapacitated Joel

Like The Last of Us: Left Behind, the DLC to the original game, this episode begins in the present day with Ellie caring for a severely injured Joel. Joel and Ellie are already in the wintery woods of David’s territory. Therefore, there is a lack of connectivity between the concurrent storylines, as both occur in shopping malls. Unlike the game, the events don’t jump back and forth in time, focusing primarily on Ellie and Riley’s story. However, the episode does end with Ellie stitching Joel’s wound up with a needle and thread that she finds in the house.

Ellie and Riley hold their flashlights while talking on The Last of Us
Riley’s Return

Following the flashback to Ellie’s life in FEDRA school, the events of Left Behind begin to play out. Riley sneaks into Ellie’s room, which by the way, is so Ellie; there is a collage of cutout photos on her wall all in the theme of space, along with an issue of Savage Starlight, cassette tapes of a-ha and Ella James, and a few dinosaur pictures (Easter eggs for TLOU Part II players). One difference is that Ellie does not know who Marlene is at this point, so when Riley mentions her, there is no association. This is a callback to the first episode when Marlene asks Ellie if she thought Riley was a terrorist for joining the Fireflies.

Entering the Mall

The events that follow are very loyal to the game, but their destination has been completely untouched since the outbreak. As Riley takes Ellie into the mall, Riley turns on the power straight away, and all of the stores light up in succession like dominoes. Pure amazement washes over Ellie. This is one of the only instances of joy that Ellie exhibits throughout the entire series, and it is beautifully underscored by “Take On Me” by a-ha, which is a reference anchored in the world of The Last of Us Part II. 

Ellie and Riley ride a mall's carousel on The Last of Us

All of the fun activities from Left Behind unfold with uncanny resemblance. As in Left Behind, Riley takes Ellie around to the “five wonders of the mall.” Viewers only get a tiny window into the relationship of Ellie and Riley, so episode 7 is one of the shortest love stories on television ever, to contrast with Bill and Frank’s lifelong romance. HBO is so faithful with these moments from the game, honoring the importance that the DLC had in pop culture: it served as Naughty Dog’s explicit introduction of Ellie as a lesbian, back on Valentine’s Day in 2014. 

Ellie and Riley go from the carousel, with a “Just Like Heaven” by the Cure playing as the ride’s music, to the photo booth (where their photos are printed!), and then finally to the arcade, where they play Mortal Kombat instead of The Turning with beloved character, Angel Knives. Their young love progresses through hand holds, shared laughter, and flirtation, and the youthful shyness of their friendship and love blossoms.

The Halloween Store

The order  of events in the episode with respect to Left Behind is a bit different, for the scenes in the Halloween store occur as the grand finale to Riley and Ellie’s adventures. Ellie and Riley’s argument about RIley’s departure with the Fireflies ends with Ellie storming off, but she quickly turns on her heels back to Riley because she thinks she hears danger. Instead, she finds Riley in the Halloween store and Riley gifts her with No Pun Intended: Part Too. The two do the best to enjoy the rest of their night despite their shared devastation about Riley’s future.

Ellie dons a wolf mask, and Riley a clown mask, and the two dance it out on a glass-display counter to “I Got You Babe” by Etta James. They have the time of their lives, and when the emotions are running at their highest, they take off their masks and Ellie pleads, “Don’t go,” kissing Riley in gorgeous, true cinematic fashion. Ellie apologizes, and Riley retorts, “For what?” Grinning ear to ear with rosy cheeks, Bella Ramsey and Storm Reid pull off this scene without a hitch.

Ellie reads a book pf puns to Riley on The Last of Us
The Bite

Ellie and Riley’s post-first kiss glow is rudely interrupted by an infected man, and if it weren’t so tragic, it would be funny. It has been established that far fewer infected appear in the show than in the game, so the lone runner bears as much of a threat as the pack that chases the girls in the game. The scene is thus much different, but it ends the same: Ellie and Riley both have bite marks. Riley talks through their options, puts her hand in Ellie’s, and delivers her famous line, “We can just be all poetic and shit and lose our minds together.” Though we don’t see what happens over the next two days, we know for certain from prior episodes that Ellie, immune, shoots Riley when the infection takes over. 

Episode 8

Meeting David
Scott Shepherd as David talks to Ellie in her prison on The Last of Us

The eighth installment to The Last of Us feels the closest to the source material, which constitutes the “Winter” act of the game. At this point, Joel’s condition is critical, and Ellie is just trying to salvage what she can to nurse Joel back to health in the ski-resort area they have found. As a means to an end, she goes hunting with Joel’s rifle. This portion of the game is special, as it is the first time you play as Ellie; the mission to bring down the deer carries over, though Ellie is equipped with Joel’s rifle as opposed to the bow and arrow.

When she eventually brings the buck down, she comes across two men, one of whom is David, and his companion James, played by Troy Baker (the voice actor for video game Joel). The initial dialogue between the characters is nearly an exact replica from the game, though Ellie is surely more menacing in the show, as she attempts to bolster herself up as a defense. Ellie shouts, “Turn and face me! Slow. Any sudden moves and I put one right between your eyes. Ditto for buddy boy.” In exchange for sharing the game she murdered, Ellie asks for antibiotics for Joel, which David promises.

The Cannibalism

The mythology surrounding David and his group is what most distinguishes this episode from the corresponding section of the game. HBO fleshes out the background of the group a bit more, making David a minister and creating a religious component to the group’s belief system. There is something immediately sinister about the group when the episode begins, between David’s sermons, the universal sadness in the members, and the quietness of the meals. Those who have played the game know that this is tied to the fact that the meals are made of human meat. David from the game justifies that this is due to prolonged absence of animal meat and other food supplies, and this is further contextualized when David tells Ellie that “only a few of us know.” There are parallel shots of human bodies in the kitchen area as in the game. 

The Chase
Scott Shepherd's David sits opposite Ellie at a fire pit on The Last of Us
Liane Hentscher/HBO

In place of the game play where David and Ellie fight Infected, Ellie takes the antibiotics from James and escapes, eager to help Joel. Nevertheless, David and his men are still on her tail, and as in the game, Ellie attempts to draw the attention away from the house where Joel is resting. David and his men capture Ellie after shooting down the horse, and imprison her in the same way they do the game.

The TV set looks almost the same, as she is caged within a kitchen where they are preparing their meals. David serves Ellie dinner, but having seen the human remains in the kitchen, she refuses. This conversation goes deeper than in the game, as David tries to manipulate Ellie more by trying to convince her to join him. Ellie eventually breaks free and murders James, escaping from David’s grasp for fear of losing her life to their next meal.

The Boss Fight

When Ellie escapes from the kitchen, she makes it to the open restaurant area but cannot get through as the doors are locked. This section corresponds to the boss fight with David, where players have to sneak up on him and stab him three times, making quick work as the building is slowly being consumed by flames. Ellie’s quiet, stalkery movements are replicated here, as is her tremendous victory when she repeatedly stabs David with his own machete, screaming wildly amidst a room full of flames.

a head shot of Scott Shepherd as David on The Last of Us
Liane Hentscher/HBO
Joel and Ellie’s Reunion

While Ellie is trying to liberate herself from imprisonment in the episode, Joel slowly works up the energy and stamina to come find her. He pushes through the pain as in the game, but encounters fewer people, though still leaving some casualties. When they reunite, the scene plays out almost exactly as in the game: Ellie, covered in David’s blood, is hysterical, running out of the restaurant where Joel finds her in the snow. She panics at his touch, but he pulls her close, comforting his adopted daughter. He says “It’s okay baby girl, I got you,” and Ellie calms substantially. It constitutes another major turning point in the game, depicting how close they have become, especially after almost losing one another. 

Episode 9

Arriving in Salt Lake City

In the game, Joel and Ellie’s arrival in Salt Lake City marks the transition into Spring, as does the series. The duo walk a segmented freeway, and Joel notices that Ellie acting aloof. This could be a result of her trauma from David, or regarding the uncertainty of her future with the Fireflies. Will they truly be at the hospital? If they are, will they be able to make a vaccine? What will become of her either way? Ellie has the weight on her shoulders, as she should. Joel attempts to break through her walls, stepping into the fatherly shoes he once wore: he promises to teach Ellie how to play the guitar.

Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) overlook the city in the the last leg of their journey in The Last of Us finale.
Liane Hentscher/HBO

One of the most iconic moments from the last leg of the game is the giraffe encounter. Ellie’s love for nature yields a childlike joy when she finds the giraffes roaming around near St. Mary’s Hospital. It’s a reminder of how little she has been exposed to with respect to things that seem so mundane; it’s her first time seeing a giraffe, and Joel is there with her. This joy supersedes her reluctance and hesitation going forward. Joel and Ellie feed the giraffes, and then there is a shot of the two of them overlooking the view. The giraffe was not CGI, but a real giraffe that The Last of Us‘ team trained to accept food from Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey’s Joel and Ellie. According to HBO Max’s Making of The Last of Us, its name was Nabo. And, of course, we love this giraffe.

This, of course, parallels the scene from episode one of Ellie seeing the Boston skyline for the first time; the two of them realize in that moment just how far they have come together, and how different their relationship is from Boston to now. As a final option, Joel tells Ellie that she doesn’t have to go through with this, and Ellie responds very closely to how she does in the game: “After all we’ve been through, everything I’ve done… It can’t be for nothing.”

Marlene (Merle Dandridge) breaks hard news to Joel in The Last of Us.
Liane Hentscher/HBO
The Hospital Attack

When Joel and Ellie are taken into custody and transported to the hospital, Joel reunites with Marlene and finds out the truth: Ellie’s immunity comes from the mutated cordyceps penetrating her brain. The only way they can access them to synthesize a vaccine is killing her. Joel, as in the game, has to think fast: he won’t fail her the way he believes that he has failed Sarah and Tess. He creates a blood bath in St. Mary’s hospital to get to Ellie, who is at the point anesthetized in an operating room on the pediatrics floor. He makes quick work, taking Fireflies down, one-by-one. 

Joel Takes Ellie

When Joel arrives in the OR, he quickly shoots the surgeon and removes Ellie’s intubation, taking her out of the hospital. With an unconscious Ellie in his arms, Joel finds Marlene in the parking lot, and as in the game, ignores all of her pleas and rhetoric that she spews at him for what he has done. He shoots her as well, hijacks a car, and drives Ellie away from the place that almost ended her.

Joel looks at Ellie, sedated on a surgical table, in The Last of Us finale.
Liane Hentscher/HBO
The Hike

When Ellie awakes, the pair have nearly made it to Jackson, but are left to hike a few hours due to a car malfunction. There is a weight in the air, something unspoken. Joel has lied to Ellie about other immune children, about the failure of the tests, but Ellie is too smart to truly accept his lie. At this point, that is not too clear apart from her skeptical demeanor, and Joel quells that by talking openly about Sarah for the very first time in the series: “She woulda liked you,” Joel tells Ellie, as he tries to find common ground between the two, ultimately deciding that Sarah would have liked Ellie because she’s funny. “I bet you would have liked her back,” Joel adds, and then they make it to the overlook of Jackson.

Finally, The Last of Us season one ends the same exact way the first game ends: Ellie confesses to Joel about how she came to survive infection. Ellie, in her discomfort following an unfulfilled mission, confronts Joel: “Swear to me. Swear to me that everything you said about the Fireflies is true.” And as in the game, Joel responds, stoic, on guard: “I swear.” With the same music from the game, same background scenery, Ellie speaks the final word: “Okay.”

The screen cuts to black, stirring in the anticipation for what will no doubt be another prodigious season.

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