Who Are the Fireflies in HBO’s THE LAST OF US?

Spoiler Alert

The TV series The Last of Us, based on the popular video game of the same name, shows us a version of post-apocalyptic America wherein society has fallen to a deadly, brain-altering fungus. But, while most of the population has died or become shambling zombie-like hosts for Cordyceps, control has not fully broken down. No, the Federal Disaster Response Agency, or FEDRA, have largely taken over, plunging America’s remaining cities into martial law. FEDRA dictate every aspect of life in their crowded QZs, or quarantine zones. But one group has sprung up to fight them: the Fireflies. But just who are the Fireflies, The Last of Us‘ rebel group? And what role do they play in the HBO series? Let’s find out.

Ellie and Joel look at the Fireflies logo in The Last of Us game.
Sony/Naughty Dog

The Fireflies in The Last of Us, Explained

Now, the one thing you need to know right away about the Fireflies in The Last of Us is that their “war” is largely very unsuccessful. FEDRA sees them as nuisances at best and terrorists at worst. The second thing, while The Last of Us’ Fireflies may have started as a group of citizens intending to reestablish civilian government, after a while, they were just an organized militia group. Worse than that, when their first war against FEDRA failed, they turned to pseudo-religious zealotry. As we see in The Last of Us series’ first episode, the Fireflies try to recruit people who are lost and despondent. Their slogan, “When you’re lost in the darkness, look for the light,” is as much a rallying cry as a prayer. Although, of course, the infected are the chief “bad guys” in the show and game, we can’t exactly call the Fireflies good guys in The of Us‘ universe either.

Graffiti of the Fireflies slogan, When you're lost in darkness, look for the light from The Last of Us.

Joel (Pedro Pascal) has no time for Fireflies. He sees them as a pain in his butt. Moreover, he resents them for convincing his younger brother Tommy (Gabriel Luna) to join. Because of this, he specifically has a grudge against Marlene (Merle Dandridge), the Fireflies’ leader. He calls her “Queen Firefly” derisively. Maybe the thing he resents the most is that they preach about hope. They believe they can find a cure for the fungal infection that has leveled the entire world. Joel, probably reasonably, thinks after 20 years, were a cure possible, someone would have found it by now.

Marlene (Merle Dandridge) in HBO's The Last of Us.

But, as the premise of the show and game show us, Joel and Tess (Anna Torv) have to make a deal with Marlene to transport Ellie (Bella Ramsey) to the Fireflies base in Boston. The aim was for the militia to give Joel and Tess a car battery so they can look for Tommy in Wyoming.

The Importance of the Fireflies in The Last of Us‘ Universe

And while smaller, more brutal rebel groups will be their main consternation from Boston to the Rocky Mountains, the Fireflies are everywhere. Look around in The Last of Us game, and in the backgrounds of the first TV episode; you’ll see the Fireflies’ logo, a, you guessed it, stylized firefly, graffitied on walls and fences. The Fireflies are omnipresent, even when they aren’t physically around. Hell, the Fireflies symbol is practically also The Last of Us‘ unofficial logo.

Joel stands in front of a wall emblazoned with the Fireflies logo in The Last of Us game.
Sony/Naughty Dog

The Fireflies may be the MacGuffin necessary to get The Last of Us started, but the context for them and their war against FEDRA and the infected create the backbone for the entire adventure.

Kyle Anderson is the Senior Editor for Nerdist. You can find his film and TV reviews here. Follow him on Instagram and Letterboxd.

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