‘The Last Of Us’ Episode 1: Fireflies, Explained: Who Is Marlene? What Is Her Role In The Fireflies Group?

HBO’s live-action TV series adaptation of the much-acclaimed video game series “The Last of Us” has been released worldwide, and the pilot episode has presented a grim portrayal of the post-pandemic world. In the “The Last of Us” universe’s version of post-pandemic America, the societal structure has ceased to exist thanks to the Cordyceps fungal outbreak, and the military might of the Federal Disaster Response Agency, aka FEDRA, has taken hold of the majority of human settlements. FEDRA’s oppressive and stagnant approach to control humanity has given rise to the revolutionary rebel militia group, the Fireflies, who seek to destabilize the FEDRA control and take the country to its former state of democratic governance by restoring people’s freedom. Discussing their modus operandi and relations with key characters, as revealed in the first episode, will give us an insight into their role as a unit.


Spoilers Ahead

The Presence Of Fireflies In ‘The Last Of Us’ And Their Objective

The series’ close adherence to the source material has also been translated in the way Firefly’s importance to the narrative is shown. Their first appearance is made in the episode not by mentionong their name or affiliation but through their symbol with the slogan assigned, “When you’re lost in the darkness, look for the light” The Cordyceps outbreak in “The Last of Us” has brought the world to its knees, and the situation has only worsened due to the dictatorial military suppression of FEDRA, which has created a concentration camp-like state in quarantine zones where public executions have become a daily affair. Aside from their method of control and compliance, FEDRA has not been able to come up with a solution for betterment either, at least so it seems from the pilot episode of “The Last of Us.” From that aspect, their insistence on wiping out the logo of the Fireflies makes sense, given that the latter stands for resistance and is in total opposition to what FEDRA represents. This has also led to their being labelled as terrorists among the people living in quarantine.


The slogan of the fireflies, a signifier of the namesake insects, points towards their role as a symbol of hope in an hour of crisis. As the conversation between Firefly members and their Boston HQ leader Marlene suggests, the Fireflies seek to restore a democratic government to “the land of the free” by destabilizing this New World Order, but most importantly, their other objective, which is not clearly stated in the first episode, is to seek a cure that can make humanity return to its former state of “peace.” In order to shake up FEDRA, they have resorted to violence, bombing, and sabotaging their supply chains. And for the next part of their objective, the reason Marlene sent Ellie and Joel to another Firefly base was to secure a chance to create a cure. We later find out Ellie has immunity against the fungal infection when her three-week-old infected-bite mark is revealed, whereas the infection gets hold of people within a couple of days in most cases. For the Fireflies, and for humanity by extension, Ellie becomes the light in the darkness.

Marlene’s Relation With Key Characters And Supposed Role

Firefly plays a crucial role in the first episode as, just like the game lore, they act as the crossroads where our lead duo, Joel and Ellie, meet. It is through Firefly leader Marlene’s interference that an infected Ellie is taken under their wing (I wouldn’t have used such an endearing term given that she was chained in captivity, but fungal-outbreak precaution calls for that much precaution) after her escape from FEDRA military school. After Ellie’s immunity against infection is known, Marlene is wise enough to decide to use the entire might of Firefly under her command to secure her escape, as Ellie might be the last chance for humanity. This is also hinted at by Marlene telling Ellie of her ‘greater purpose,’ which she discloses privately. A piece of information yet not disclosed is that Marlene knew Ellie’s mother, Anna, and therefore becomes her first real parental connection in a sense too. This was the reason why Marlene left Ellie at FEDRA’s shelter, where she could live safely, and how she exposed Ellie’s ruse of using a fake name. Ellie’s connection with her only friend Riley has been hinted at by Marlene, and the point of likeness makes us assume Riley was associated with Fireflies too. 


On the other hand, Joel is least bothered by the presence of Firefly, whom he considers more of a nuisance, as seen in the way he reacts to a Firefly member inviting him to join the group. However, the personal reason for his detesting the reactionary rebel group lies in the fact that his brother Tommy had been influenced by them and later joined them, leaving Joel alone. In the game, this has been the result of Tommy’s growing concern for Joel’s loss of humanity and hope for a better future after being convinced by Marlene. In the series, we come to know that Joel blames Marlene for turning Tommy against him, which suggests similar reasons are at work for the strained relationship between the brothers. As Tess calls Marlene endearingly, the “Che Guevara of Boston” is pushed into a tight corner after the shootout with Robert’s crew; as she is injured, a significant portion of her troop is dead, and therefore they are unable to carry out their objective of escorting Ellie to the west. Marlene asks Joel and Tess to transport her instead, as she is aware of the survivor duo’s capabilities, and she promises weapons and a vehicle in return, which can help Joel search for Tommy. It is through her influence that the fated pair meet and embark on their new journey. The integrity of the character has been duly expressed by Merle Dandridge, who reprises her role from the game series. In upcoming episodes of “The Last of Us,” we will see more of her backstory with Anna and Tommy revealed as the role of Firefly expands from merely factional to the question of humanity’s survival.

See more: ‘The Last Of Us’ Episode 1: World, Explained – How Does The HBO Series Create An Apocalyptic Atmosphere?

Siddhartha Das
Siddhartha Das
An avid fan and voracious reader of comic book literature, Siddhartha thinks the ideals accentuated in the superhero genre should be taken as lessons in real life also. A sucker for everything horror and different art styles, Siddhartha likes to spend his time reading subjects. He's always eager to learn more about world fauna, history, geography, crime fiction, sports, and cultures. He also wishes to abolish human egocentrism, which can make the world a better place.

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