‘The Last Of Us’ Season 1 Episode 1: Every Major Character Appeared In Episode 1, Explained

There haven’t been too many video games in the past that are as well-loved as Sony Computer Entertainment’s “The Last of Us.” The fictional characters created by Naughty Dog have become synonymous with some of the best characters seen in video games. While the game won’t be losing its spot as one of the best-made games ever anytime soon, Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann’s latest series on HBO, “The Last of Us,” seems to have created an almost equally amazing world with Pedro Pascal playing the protagonist Joel Miller. After a brief flashback to 20 years in the past that shows one of the biggest traumatic events to have altered Joel’s life forever, we’re brought into the present-day world where a mysterious infection has brought on an apocalypse. With a show where the characters play the moving pieces of the story, let’s take a look at the characters we met in Episode 1.

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Spoilers Ahead


Joel 

A construction worker with a military background, Joel Miller (Pascal) was your average, run-of-the-mill blue-collar man whose life revolved around heading construction projects with his brother Tommy and spending quality time with his adolescent daughter, Sarah. The first time we met him was in 2003; he’s 36 years old and depends on his daughter to wake him up in the morning and start with breakfast before he can take over. Although he’s not one to say it outright, he loves Sarah more than anything else in his life and is able to express it through small paternal gestures like carrying her to bed and kissing her forehead when she’s sleeping. However, when things start turning ugly, with infected people starting to attack others and fires breaking out all around Austin, Texas, he slides back into his army veteran persona and bulldozes through the city with his daughter and brother to find a safe haven. Joel is practical, if selfish at times, because he refuses to give a lift to another family with a child on their way out since they, too, have a kid with them. Frustrated with the packed streets, he’d not mind running over the people, infected or not, if it meant getting his daughter to safety. However, when faced with a gun, he fumbles for a second, and his daughter gets shot in the stomach. Pascal emotes the pain of a father who lost the only thing that kept him sane in this world as he tries picking up the bloody and lifeless body of his daughter. His tears and pain say all the things he could never say to his daughter while she was alive.

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Twenty years have passed since the outbreak, and the years haven’t been kind to Miller. Joel, now 56, has lines on his face and gray in his hair. For his day job, he serves as a grunt worker for the FEDRA (Federal Disaster Response Agency), which might include heaving dead bodies into a fire or cleaning the sewers for ration tickets. At other times, Joel moonlights as a smuggler who gets contrabrand in and out of the city. Basing most of his meals on alcohol and pills now that Sarah can’t serve him orange juice, he’s the tough guy that others are scared to mess with. His partner, Tess, and he plan to buy a car battery from Robert, so he can get to his brother Tommy, who’s stuck in the quarantine zone. Unfortunately, Robert double crosses them and makes off with their money without giving them the battery. A turn of events leads to Joel and Tess having to smuggle a girl named Ellie to the Fireflies, the organization that opposes the state military. When the same Ellie stands to be shot by a soldier with Joel standing between them, the trauma of two decades flashes by. Having failed to protect his daughter 20 years ago, Joel starts punching the soldier until he’s dead. This hardening of the heart and the drive to exact revenge for his daughter’s death might be the most significant things that changed within Joel in these 20 years. 


Sarah 

We meet the adolescent Sarah (Nico Parker) for only a few minutes, but it’s enough to establish her as a lovely character. From her waking moments on, her life revolves around helping her dad around the house and being way mature for her age in terms of handling responsibilities. From little things like pouring her father orange juice because it’s rich in Vitamin C to sneaking $20 from his drawer to get his watch fixed for him, Sarah cares for him, and it shows. She’s also helpful towards the Adlers, their neighbors—helping Mrs. Adler bake raisin cookies, although she’d have preferred chocolate chips. Sarah, an attentive girl who doesn’t fail to notice the rising sense of tension as the day passes, might be the glue that holds Joel together. However, when the infection starts spreading, and people are turning or dying, she can’t help but act her age, and she’s terrified. With her ankle messed up from a crash, she clings to Joel to carry her, perhaps for the feeling of protection that he provides. It’s tragic how she has to die so quickly, but she leaves behind an impact on her father that he won’t be able to forget all his life.

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Tess 

Joel’s partner and a known face in the black market, Tess (Anna Torv), is just as tough as him, and she prefers alcohol as a painkiller when some punks give her a blackeye. She’s quick to make a decision and can talk calmly even while being held in a hostage situation. It’s clear that her “street cred” is quite high because Marlene, the leader of the Fireflies in the Boston area, is aware of what she and her partner are capable of. However, she’s terrified of the infection, as we see when she suddenly spots the dead body of someone with a severe infection against a wall and again when the test for Ellie comes back red, meaning positive. Panicking that they might be infected because of this human cargo, she wishes she had killed Ellie earlier. We don’t get to see much else of Tess in the first episode, but given how she’s a centerpiece of the story, there’s so much more we shall get to know about her as the series progresses.


Ellie 

Not much older than Sarah when he last saw her, the confident and trash-talking Ellie (Bella Ramsey) is handy with a switchblade and doesn’t mind charging at an adult who’s twice her size, armed with the trusty weapon. While being held captive by the Fireflies, she says her name is Veronica and doesn’t shy away from using expletives to express her emotions. She seems to consider the blade rather precious and struggles when Joel stands on it to keep it out of her reach. Having grown up in a FEDRA orphanage that Marlene had put her in, she’s street smart and not one to scurry at the hint of danger. An intelligent kid through and through, she quickly breaks the radio message code that Joel used and even lords it over him to show that she cracked it. When being detained by the soldier, she doesn’t have to think too much before stabbing him in the leg with her knife. Ellie hides a massive secret until the end of the episode—she was bitten by an infected three weeks before the current events and hasn’t turned since. In many ways, she serves as a contrast to the sweet and polite Sarah and ends up taking some of her place in Joel’s life. Joel lunges in to beat a soldier to death to protect Ellie, making her the object that he wants to protect. As the series rolls on, we’ll get to see if this rag-tag duo ends up forming a bond or not.

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Marlene 

The leader of the Fireflies in the Boston district, Marlene (Merle Dandridge), is a fierce fighter and a strict leader who wants her followers to follow her orders. However, unlike the authoritarian military that the Fireflies want to overthrow, her actions are motivated towards achieving democracy and freedom from the prison-like situations that the citizens now have to live under. She’s the one who put Ellie in the orphanage when she was a baby, although her motives for that aren’t clear yet. She also has a bigger task at hand, one that requires Ellie, and like most of the other characters, we need to wait to find out more about her.


Indrayudh Talukdar
Indrayudh Talukdar
Indrayudh has a master's degree in English literature from Calcutta University and a passion for all things in cinema. He loves writing about the finer aspects of cinema, although he is also an equally big fan of webseries and anime. In his free time, Indrayudh loves playing video games and reading classic novels.

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