Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey in The Last of Us

(Photo by Liane Hentscher/HBO)

If you rolled the credits on The Last of Us’ first season finale craving a bit more closure and resolution on Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie’s (Bella Ramsey) complex relationship, well, there’s millions of gamers who can totally relate. Upon finishing the PlayStation 3 game in 2013, fans were left in the very same, awkward spot following Joel’s deception, Ellie’s dubious acceptance of it, and the story cutting to black.

The big difference, however, was players had to suffer another seven years before The Last of Us Part II picked up Joel and Ellie’s interactive tale, finally revealing what became of them after that divisive conclusion. Thankfully, with the enormous, record-breaking popularity of the series — and the fact it’s already been green-lit for a second season — the show’s following needn’t wait nearly as long to catch up with their favorite Cordyceps-apocalypse survivors.


the last of us s1 samuel hoeksema

(Photo by Chris Large/HBO)

Of course, where exactly season 2 will take us is still a mystery. Given how closely the first nine episodes stuck to the source material’s storytelling, those who’ve played the sequel probably have a good idea of the narrative path ahead. That said, the first season wasn’t an entirely faithful adaptation, adding new characters like Kathleen (Melanie Lynskey), while drastically altering the stories of existing characters, like Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett).

Toss in the fact the second game includes some major twists that make its predecessor’s — and the series’ — most unexpected surprises look tame by comparison, and season 2 is positioned to drop bombshells that could hit fans of both versions like a rampaging Bloater.


Spoiler alert: The following contains details about video game The Last of Us Part II. Stop here if you have not played the game and wish to avoid potential spoilers for the show.


More Flashbacks and Side-Stories

Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett in The Last of Us

(Photo by Liane Hentscher/HBO)

Two of the first season’s most talked-about — for better and worse — episodes spent much of their run-time in the past. Both Bill and Frank’s episode, “Long, Long Time,” and Riley (Storm Reid) and Ellie’s (“Left Behind”) were told in flashbacks and largely focused on side characters from the game. The Last of Us Part II is even more ripe for this sort of storytelling, as the sequel is considerably longer, more complex, and features a much larger cast.

Brand new characters like Dina — Ellie’s girlfriend, who may have been glimpsed in episode 6, “Kin” — as well as their mutual friend Jesse, could be further explored via jumps to the past. Similarly, Abby, a complicated protagonist/antagonist players control for much of Part II, has her own group of friends and allies that could also benefit from additional screen-time.

The sequel also introduces two new factions, the Washington Liberation Front (WLF) and the Seraphites/Scars, both of which feature prominently in the second game’s plot. The latter group is explored through the compelling tale of Lev and Yara, a transgender teen and her sister who are forced to flee from the spiritually devout faction. The siblings’ story, much like Bill and Franks, could make for especially fertile flashback territory.


Gabriel Luna in The Last of Us

(Photo by Shane Harvey/HBO)

These fresh characters — as well as some returning figures, like Joel’s brother Tommy — are well-established in the sequel, but their individual stories and their connections to the primary players could certainly be further nuanced. It wouldn’t be surprising, for example, if Lev and Yara’s mostly-unseen, contentious relationship with their religious mother, as well as the events leading to their exile, was given an entire episode.

Potential season 2 flashbacks could be totally original, like Anna’s (Ashley Johnson) birthing scene in the finale’s opening, or be pulled from the source material, like Ellie’s friendship with Riley. While Part 2 doesn’t have any flashback-focused DLC expansions, like Left Behind, much of the core game actually takes place in the past.


Fresh Friends and Foes

Melanie Lynskey in The Last of Us

(Photo by Liane Hentscher/HBO)

One of the first season’s most popular characters didn’t appear in the game at all. Lynskey’s Kathleen was only in two episodes, but her ruthless rebel leader earned a rabid following that was disappointed to see her meet an ugly demise so quickly. That brief, incredibly badass appearance by Ellie’s mom was also a fan-favorite. Her character was referenced, but didn’t appear in the games, yet her inclusion in the series certainly made for a better story with added context and characterization.

Given how well these additions were received, we suspect creators Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann will follow suit in season 2. Again, considering the complexity of the sequel’s story and how it expands the franchise’s universe, it wouldn’t be surprising to see some of these elements anchored to characters that didn’t exist in the source material. This could mean a new ally in Jackson, where the sequel spends a good deal of time, or maybe new friends or foes leading the WLF and Seraphites/Scars factions.


Read Also: The Last of Us Season 1 Finale: Fun Cameo Fuels an Important Flashback


There’s a ton of potential to build on some of the sequel’s many, often interconnected stories via new characters. Of course, there’s also the chance existing, but secondary or never-seen characters could also see more screen-time when Part II’s adapted. We saw this, again, with Ellie’s mom, but also with cannibal antagonist David, who received a meatier portrayal in the series. Henry (Lamar Johnson) and Sam (Keivonn Woodard) were similarly fleshed out for the series.


The Spoileresty Spoiler That Ever Spoiled — You’ve Been Warned

(Photo by HBO)

If you’ve played Part II, you’re aware of the Bloater-sized elephant in the room, which also serves as an equally massive spoiler for those who haven’t braved the second game. Yes, Ellie discovers the truth about her and Joel’s time at the Firefly lab, and she confronts him about the story he swore was true. But that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re also not alluding to Ellie having two fingers bitten off and Tommy losing an eye — yep, the sequel’s bleak as hell.

Nope, all that is small potatoes compared to — did we mention the big spoiler you might want to avoid if you haven’t played Part II? Well, here it comes. Skip to the next section, “More Episodes and Seasons,” if you want to avoid it …


the last of us s1 ep9 Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey

(Photo by Liane Hentscher/HBO)

As we were saying,  the brutal end Joel meets early on in the game. Yes, not only does Joel die, but players then spend a good chunk of the adventure playing as his killer, Abby, another brand-new character. Abby is the daughter of the surgeon Joel murdered while saving Ellie. Eagle-eyed fans of the games might have spotted her voice performer, Laura Bailey, in the finale as one of the nurses Joel spares in the operating room.

In light of the series’ enormous success, and the fact much of that success was fueled by the relationship between its two main characters, Joel’s death definitely puts a fly in the ointment for the series’ creators. Killing off a main character in a game franchise is one thing, but eliminating one of the series’ stars at the start of the season would be bold even for a show that’s had no problem repeatedly breaking our hearts with brutal deaths of favorite characters.


The Last of Us: Pedro Pascal, Bella Ramsey

(Photo by Liane Hentscher/HBO)

Still, with that sticky situation essentially serving as Part II’s vengeance-driven catalyst, we can’t imagine the series abandoning it just because the audience might not be able to imagine the show without Pascal. What’s far more likely is the series will faithfully adapt the story, but strategically leverage the elements mentioned above, from flashbacks and further fleshed-out characters to the introduction of new faces, to help soften the blow of Joel being gone.

There’s a ton of potential to not only include these elements, but also cleverly and gracefully massage them into the existing narrative so viewers are better eased into Joel’s absence. The game already does this to some extent, featuring some fantastic moments from Joel and Ellie’s life after they’ve settled into a true father-daughter relationship in Jackson. Between mining this sort of material, focusing on the sequel’s other stories, and maybe introducing some new threads and characters supporting them, season 2 could probably sit on this bombshell until episode 5 or so.

Of course, the creators could also throw all caution to the wind, gut-punch us 10 minutes into episode 1, and we’d still tune in the following week.


More Episodes and Seasons

(Photo by HBO)

We’d love the next drop of episodes to keep us pinned to the edges of our seats for a few additional weeks. Season 1 was originally slated for 10 episodes, but it was ultimately decided its story could be spun in nine. And that included adapting the Left Behind DLC and giving Bill and Frank’s arc an entire episode.


Read Also: Loved The Last of Us? Here Are 10 Shows To Watch Next


With the greater length, larger cast, and additional narrative complexity of the second game, it could easily fill 10 episodes, if not more. Of course, while we’d love two more seasons, the prospect of a second season cliffhanger leaving us in limbo for a couple of years sounds about as pleasant as a cannibal cult leader having you for dinner.


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The Last of Us’ first season finale doesn’t pack many surprises for those already familiar with the PlayStation game that spawned the HBO Max series. Creators Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann had promised the nine-episode season would closely adapt the events of the franchise’s first game, and they’ve mostly delivered on that, right down to the final, line-for-line exchange between Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey).

Titled “Look for the Light,” the finale covers the same ground as the game’s last three chapters — “Bus Depot,” “The Firefly Lab,” and “Jackson.” And while the 44-minute episode doesn’t deviate far from the established narrative path, it does take a few creative liberties to further flesh out Ellie’s past and the source of her immunity to the Cordyceps infection.

So can this surprisingly short season-capper satisfy fans of both the series and the game? And how do its minor changes alter the larger story? Let’s head to the Firefly hospital — after feeding some giraffes, of course — and find out.


Spoiler alert: The following contains details about The Last of Us season 1, episode 9, “Look for the Light.” Stop here if you have not watched the episode.


BADASS BIRTH

Ashley Johnson in The Last of Us

(Photo by Liane Hentscher/HBO)

Before this week’s opening credits can even roll, we get an awesome cameo, some welcome backstory, and the most badass birthing scene ever committed to film. We first meet Anna, Ellie’s biological mom and Marlene’s (Merle Dandridge) friend, who’s briefly mentioned but never seen in the games. She’s suffering contractions while being pursued by a Cordyceps-crazed freak. She reacts by simultaneously giving birth and stabbing the monster in the head. Oh yeah, she then uses the same knife — the switchblade that ultimately gets passed down to Ellie — to cut the umbilical cord.

More than just nudging our butts to the edges of our seats, the tension-ratcheting scene provides some larger context. While giving birth and fighting the infected, Anna is bitten. She can see herself turning even as baby Ellie, still tethered to her mom, cries on the floor. Anna doesn’t nurse her newborn for fear of infecting her.

In the next scene, Marlene finds her friend, who immediately lies and insists she was bitten after she severed the umbilical cord. She also begs Marlene — who she’s known her entire life — to take Ellie back to Boston and care for her. Anna then asks Marlene to kill her before she turns. Marlene reluctantly complies with both requests.

Anna is played by Ashley Johnson, the actress who voiced Ellie in the games. It’s great that we finally get to meet Ellie’s mom and learn more about her, even if it’s via this absolutely gut-wrenching scene. But it’s even cooler that this integral character is brought to life by the very same performer who also brought Ellie to life in the game a decade ago. Troy Baker, the original Joel voice actor who admirably appeared last week as James, definitely got the short end of the cameo stick here.


JOEL’S EVOLUTION EVOLVED

Pedro Pascal in The Last of Us

(Photo by Liane Hentscher/HBO)

The new flashback scenes sandwiching the opening credits run about 10 minutes, leaving roughly half an hour for the finale to tie up the game’s aforementioned three chapters. But the episode not only pulls all this off, but also adds another wrinkle to Joel’s troubled past.

With last episode’s emotional conclusion cementing Joel and Ellie’s bond, we find their father-daughter relationship further evolved this week. As in the game, Joel talks about teaching Ellie guitar, and the pair also share the fantastic moment with the giraffes. In fact, the latter scene plays out almost identically, with Ellie even dropping the ladder in her excitement to see the animals. Joel’s suggestion of abandoning their journey and returning to Tommy’s is also the same. Ellie’s similarly distant and quiet in both versions as well.


Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey in The Last of Us

(Photo by Liane Hentscher/HBO)

What’s new to the story, however, is Joel revealing to Ellie that he attempted to take his own life in the wake of his daughter Sarah’s death. On top of this fresh, though often presumed, piece of Joel’s past being a pretty big reveal, it says a lot about his relationship with Ellie. He really opens up to her here, shedding any last remnants of the rigid facade he held up for much of the series. If there was any remaining doubt concerning his closeness to her, this conversation — especially Joel’s tearful allusion that Ellie has healed him — readily puts it to rest.

Interestingly, the game contains its own, unique relationship-strengthening moment also involving Sarah. Ellie possesses an old photo of Joel and Sarah from happier, pre-pandemic times. She admits to stealing the picture from Marie in Wyoming and offers it to Joel. It’s an optional exchange, one that’s not as impactful as the pair’s conversation in the series, but it similarly attempts to showcase Joel’s emotional evolution.


IMMUNITY ANSWERS

Bella Ramsey in The Last of Us

(Photo by Liane Hentscher/HBO)

The rest of the episode plays out very similarly to the game — incorporating many near-identical scenes and dialog exchanges — save for two key differences. The first is how Joel and Ellie are discovered and captured by the Fireflies. Believe it or not, their journey is even more harrowing in the game, with Ellie nearly drowning just before the rebel group finds them. An extended set piece sees Joel trapped in a bus submerged under water, leading to Ellie finding herself in an equally soggy situation.

But she can’t swim, resulting in Joel rescuing her and trying to resuscitate her just as the Fireflies arrive. Crucially, she’s still not breathing when they’re separated, so Joel doesn’t know her fate when they’re dragged off. The series replaces this entire sequence with the couple becoming disoriented and captured after the rebels toss the smoke bomb.

The second key difference comes soon after, when Marlene meets with Joel just as he’s coming to. Their exchange will be familiar to fans of the game, except for the expanded explanation on Ellie’s immunity. Where the series smartly ties the theory of the Cordyceps growing with her since birth to the opening scene with Anna, the game sort of glosses over her immunity, simply stating her Cordyceps infection has “mutated.”

Of course, Joel’s reaction is exactly the same. His kill spree sticks scary-close to the source material as well. He does mercilessly slaughter far more Fireflies in the game, as the action sequence sees players systematically stalking and executing targets on their way to the pediatric operating room. That said, it’s somehow more chilling watching Pedro Pascal — playing Joel as a sort of numb, Terminator-like mass murderer — than it is pulling the trigger ourselves.


RECORDED HISTORY

Merle Dandridge is Marlene in The Last of Us

(Photo by HBO)

While the game doesn’t include the scenes with Anna or connect her being bitten while giving birth to Ellie’s immunity, it doesn’t entirely leave her out of the story’s conclusion. Much like the photo of Sarah Ellie offers to Joel, there’s an optional pick-up in the hospital players may stumble upon. It’s a tape recording of Marlene offering a cathartic confession to her long-deceased friend, explaining that she has protected Ellie since her birth, but now no longer has a choice but to sacrifice her for the greater good. She ends the message with “I miss you, Anna. Your daughter will be with you soon.”

This isn’t the only recording that helps soften Marlene’s personality a bit. In another, players hear how upset she is to discover from the surgeon that “there’s no way to extricate the parasite without eliminating the host.” Curious players craving more story can explore the hospital further, taking a break from killing Fireflies to collect recordings from other characters involved in Ellie’s procedure and the larger quest for a cure.


The game also cranks up the intensity a bit during Joel’s final escape with Ellie. Where the episode cuts from the operating room directly to the elevator, the game makes you sprint a good stretch, carrying Ellie while alarms flash and blare, and gunshots follow you until the doors close.

Everything from that point on is practically interchangeable between the two mediums, from Joel and Marlene’s encounter in the parking garage and he and Ellie’s car ride back to Wyoming to their final exchanges and his lie — and Ellie’s dubious acceptance of it — that will lead us into season 2.

96% The Last of Us: Season 1 (2023) is now streaming in its entirety on HBO Max.

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