It’s not easy for a teenager to go through the ruined earth where zombies prowl, and humans have ever lesser humanity than the infected with fungus in their brains. Ellie Williams didn’t have a choice in this matter in HBO’s “The Last of Us,” as she was made to undertake a journey with a man and woman she’d never met before, to reach a place she’d never seen. She had a lot of rage in her, rage that kept spilling out when the situations got too extreme, but despite her anger, underneath was a sweet kid who was like any other child of her age. While making the journey, we get to see the unknown side of Ellie, with all the nuances that made her one of the best-made characters in recent TV. Here’s a detailed breakdown of Ellie’s character from HBO’s “The Last of Us.”
The first time we meet the 14-year-old Ellie Williams, her loud and brash nature throws us off immediately, not to mention her foul-mouthed habit of swearing at everyone. However, she can’t be blamed for her irritated nature, given she’s chained to a pole and has to deal with constantly leaking pipes, people arriving every day, and making her count from 1 to 10. The only way she calms down is when the leader of the Fireflies, Marlene, arrives to have a talk with her. Ellie never knew her parents, and having grown up in the FEDRA-organized military school, her whole outlook towards the Fireflies was one of disdain. When Joel and Tess walked in on an injured Marlene, Ellie tried attacking him with her switchblade, and that was the first time the two had ever met. Let’s just say it was a less-than-pleasant introduction, given how Joel kicked away Ellie’s cherished switchblade and looked at her with suspicion. Beyond the angry demeanor, however, Ellie was but a child who had been forced to grow up inside the walls of Boston QZ, seeing nothing but the dilapidated ruins of the city and armed soldiers patrolling everywhere. When she finally steps out of the QZ to be dispatched to the Fireflies HQ, they are immediately faced with an armed soldier, and when he tries to check if they’re infected or not, Ellie proceeds to stab him in the leg. Always quick to draw her weapon out and be ready to charge at whoever crossed her, Ellie never backed down from a foe, no matter how big or monstrous they may be. Upon taking in the full view of the world beyond the walls, Ellie’s eyes lit up with childlike wonder. Despite her tough exterior demeanor, she was indeed a child at heart, and often this trait would slip out against her best attempts.
Between the gruff man named Joel and Tess, the woman with the bruised eye, Ellie preferred the woman, probably because she felt safer with the woman as opposed to the insular man. This made Tess’s death all the more painful for her, and Ellie screamed when Joel carried her away from the burning building that became Tess’s pyre. Having spent her life in the military school, Ellie was never afraid of speaking her mind, even when she knew that it might sour her already rocky relationship with the man tasked with transporting her. She made it clear that Tess’s death wasn’t her fault, and Joel had no right to blame Ellie for whatever had befallen them. However, this cold temperament between the two started easing up slowly by Episode 4, when Ellie brought out a joke book and started reading puns for Joel. Beneath the angry outward self underneath was a child who needed someone to laugh and play with, someone who’d listen to her worst jokes and not leave her. Other than the bad puns, though, when they ran into trouble, it was Ellie who saved Joel by shooting another man not too much older than her. She wasn’t too different from her protector, though, and was quick to wipe off her tears in private without letting Joel know of her moment of weakness. Situations forced Joel and Ellie to journey together, and she didn’t have a choice but to satisfy her curiosity through Joel. This lack of a friend was almost fulfilled when Joel and Ellie encountered the pair of brothers, Henry and Sam, with the latter being closest to her age. In Sam, Ellie found an outlet for her inner child, and together they spent time doing things that regular kids would do—comparing comic book collections, playing football, and exchanging jokes. After months, Sam was laughing, and Ellie was at home with a kid who understood her likes much better than the 56-year-old grumpy man whose whole purpose was keeping her safe. But nothing lasts forever in this post-apocalyptic, zombie-infested world, does it?
Sam got bit while fleeing from a horde of Infected that sprung out of the earth, and the hearing impaired kid showed his new friend the scar on his leg. We learned that Ellie had a savior complex thanks to her immunity to the cordyceps virus, and she tried saving Sam by rubbing her blood on the kid’s wound, hoping she’d save him. The next morning left her shocked when the turned Sam attacked her, and after Henry killed his brother and then himself, the teenage girl had hardened herself and was the first to walk away from the two makeshift graves. It’s only towards the end of Episode 6 that Ellie reveals her vulnerability to Joel when he says he’s too old and frail to take her to their destination, and she reminds him that without him, she’ll be terrified. By this point, she has come to see him as the father figure that she needs in her life, but his inability to accompany her triggers her fear of abandonment. Growing up in military school, Ellie had always preferred to follow orders, as the flashback reveals in Episode 7. It also shows the first person she ever loved and the one who was the victim of this horrid virus—it was her best friend and first love, Riley. When both Riley and Ellie got infected, only Riley turned while Ellie didn’t, which is why her resolve to save the world became a lot stronger when Marlene finally revealed what she was capable of.
After Joel got severely wounded by being stabbed in the gut by a scavengers, Ellie took on the role of the protector, and she undertook massive risks to ensure the man would survive. During one such attempt, she’s captured by a diabolical cannibal called David, and he tries sexually assaulting her. This is a turning moment in Ellie’s life as she finally realizes just how wretched humans can be, and after she hacks the freak to death, she’s too traumatized to walk straight. It’s only in the arms of Joel that she finds security, but the trauma remains too severe to brush off. Such a disturbing incident can rock anyone, as Ellie’s silence and distracted nature signaled until she spotted a giraffe casually nibbling on the leaves growing on the side of the building. Once more, the traumas and terrors of the world melted away around her, and she became the child who enjoyed reading puns and playing football. But beneath the joyous self, the teenager who had been forced to grow up too quickly was still there, and the sense of duty lingered on. She argued that they needed to complete their mission when Joel suggested they leave behind the task with which they had been entrusted, and she powered on despite the odds.
While reading the really terribly puns and getting laughs out of Joel, a smoke grenade was thrown at the pair and Ellie was dragged away by the Fireflies. She was drugged and prepped for surgery, without giving her a chance to say goodbye to her father figure, because Marleen and the Fireflies wanted to rush the process of extracting a cure in exchange of the girl’s life. This is where Marlene went wrong – had she let Ellie bid farewell to Joel and let him have his closure, he wouldn’t have gone manic and ended up killing everyone inside the hospital. Ellie had always wanted her life to amount to something, as we saw in “The Last Of Us” Part 2, and Joel took away the opportunity from him, but Marlene is equally guilty in the scenario because she didn’t believe Ellie would be capable of willingly sacrificing her life, and hence the drugs and forcible surgery.
When Ellie came to again, she was being driven back in a car by Joel, who said that the Fireflies had failed to come up with a cure and the whole mission was a bust. Besides, raiders had attacked the hospital, and Joel somehow escaped with her. Realizing that her goal of saving the world and helping humanity had failed, she stared at the bite mark she’d received all the way back when she had visited the mall with Riley. Now that her purpose seemed over, she trudged along aimlessly as Joel excitedly chatted about his daughter Sarah, not sure if she should trust what he said. In the end, she asks Joel to swear that what he said was the truth, and she chooses to believe that her father figure was being truthful instead of having to discard him as a lying murderer.
Despite the multiple heartaches and abandonments that Ellie faced, she still managed to nurture the little child she was in her heart, which would come out in moments like reading terrible puns or meeting a majestic creature she’d never seen before. Be it with a kid she had just met, or for the man who had, until that point, done everything possible to keep her safe, Ellie would leave no stone unturned to ensure the people she cared about would be alright. She survived the worst life had to throw at her, and in the end, she managed to retain the innocence of her heart in a world where innocence was archaic.