It’s a bittersweet feeling that the show that made us laugh, cry, and rediscover love for the internet’s father figure, Pedro Pascal, came to an end today. For nine weeks, each Sunday, we awaited the duo of Pascal and Bella Ramsey as they continued their journey towards the goal, and each week they bonded a bit more until she was his “baby girl.” With extremely realistic hordes of zombies, awesome action sequences, and acting that might earn the leading characters several accolades, HBO’s “The Last of Us” is probably one of the best video game adaptations of all time. Each episode has differed from the source material in some way or another, but the finale is one where the source was followed almost religiously, especially the much-awaited climax. With no more “The Last of Us” to wait for until Season 2 rolls around, here’s a breakdown of the finale, regarding every similarity, difference, and Easter egg that we could spot.
The finale opens with a flashback that was never a part of the show but had bits and pieces of it in “The Last of Us” comics titled “American Dreams.” The opening shows a heavily pregnant woman run through the forest and reach a house that’s probably a Firefly safe house because of the Firefly logo on the tanker next to the house. The woman named Anna, played by none other than Ashley Johnson, the VA of Ellie from the 2013 Naughty Dog game of the same name, gives birth to Ellie after killing a zombie that bit her in the leg. She cuts the umbilical cord with the same switchblade that Ellie treasured as one of her most prized possessions, and her blood mader her brain think she’s cordyceps, as Marlene explained later. This is probably the reason she’s immune to the virus, but more on that later. Marlene arrives to find Anna singing to Ellie “The Sun Always Shines on TV” by A-ha, and the mother leaves the baby the knife, the green jacket she wears later in life, and the name, Ellie. Interestingly, Ellie is a fan of the band based on the cassettes of A-ha found in her FEDRA-designated room. Additionally, the wallpaper under which Anna gives birth to Ellie is that of a tree spreading its branches, so Ellie is the symbol of life and hope she might bring to the world. When asked by Anna to kill her before she turns, Marlene initially refuses, but in the end kills her friend after making up her mind, foreshadowing how she promised to protect Ellie forever but, in the end, agreed to sacrifice her for the greater good.
Back to the present day, Ellie seems dazed and out of touch with the real world as she deals with the traumas she just suffered in Episode 8 and is found sitting on the back of a truck as Joel scours for supplies. In the game, however, she was found looking at a deer emblem on a wall, and her mind trailed off to when she went hunting for one, which led her to the pack of cannibals and David, their leader. Much like the game, Joel tries cheering her up with light-hearted conversation, and they make their way through a deserted street packed with abandoned cars as they walk through a signboard that announces they’re in Salt Lake City. We also find a similarity where Joel says he’s going to teach Ellie how to play the guitar once they’re done with the Fireflies. This shall be a big part of the second part of the series, where Joel is seen strumming on a guitar and Ellie follows later.
While on their way to a building, Ellie recounts the blueprint of their plan just like Joel would, and she knows the plan by heart because it has been their routine throughout the game. Inside the building, Joel boosts Ellie up to the higher floor so that she can drop a ladder down for him, similar to the game mechanics of the duo’s operation. Ellie runs off when she spots something, squealing with excitement, and Joel has to follow nervously, in an almost exact remake of the game, until he finds Ellie staring at a giraffe. The following scene, where Joel helps Ellie feed leaves to the giraffe, is taken exactly from the game, along with Ellie’s line, “You can’t deny that view.” It’s a call-back from Episode 2, where the two stood at a building and looked onto the Capitol Building in the distance, and it hints at how Joel’s life has come full circle. He then proceeds to offer her the choice of returning to Tommy’s and starting a life as father and daughter, although he doesn’t mention the relationship, but Ellie says they need to see their mission through, exactly like the PlayStation exclusive. She does mention that after their mission is over, she’ll follow him wherever he heads, including the sheep ranch and the moon, as a callback to Episode 6, where they shared their individual dreams. Joel wanted a sheep ranch, and Ellie was fascinated with the moon.
The duo headed to a temporary medical unit that was also present in the game, and it’s here that we get to learn a secret that Joel had kept to himself all these years. He explained how he got the scar that he had talked about all the way back in Episode 3 and added that he was the one who had tried taking his life but couldn’t go through with it in the last moment and ended up with the scar. This wasn’t a part of the game, including the dialogue where Joel said it wasn’t time that healed his scar but the bond with Ellie that saved him. The show left out the part where Ellie gave Joel the photograph of him and Sarah, and it’s the same one that Joel had rejected when Tommy tried handing it to him back when the two brothers united. After Joel and Ellie have a warm moment where they recognize each other as family members, this is where the show takes a major departure from the game. Joel asks her to read him puns from her joke book, and this time he really appreciates each of them, even the really terrible ones. This happy moment is ruined when the Fireflies throw a smoke grenade at the duo, and Joel is knocked out by the armed men while Ellie is taken away. In the game, though, there’s a very elaborate section where Joel and Ellie have to make their way through a tunnel full of infected, including two Bloaters, and the player can choose between sneaking away stealthily or going in guns blasting. While escaping, Joel falls into the water, and Ellie lunges in to save him, but because she doesn’t know how to swim, she loses consciousness. When he’s trying to save her life, they’re surrounded by Fireflies, who knock him out.
Joel wakes up in a room much like the one in the game and finds Marlene. The Firefly leader tells him that Ellie was fine, and Joel’s line “it was all her” is adapted directly from the game, which goes to show how much she means to him. Marlene proceeds to explain that she was taken into surgery because cordyceps grows in the brain and it has to be cut out of her brain to develop a cure, and Joel demands to be taken to his adoptive daughter, but the armed men step in. Marlene orders her men to lead him out and let him go, and kill him if he tries anything, much like in the game. The only difference in the section that follows is that Joel is accompanied by two guards instead of one as in the show. We see Joel more visceral and cold-blooded than we have ever seen him, and he turns full Rambo to slaughter everyone in the hospital, even going as far as killing those who’ve already surrendered. The show makes Joel a lot more violent than he was in the game, and it chooses to skip the audio logs that contained Marlene’s thoughts as she wrestled with the decision to hand Ellie over for the greater good. When he barges into the pediatric surgery room, Joel shoots a doctor in the head and then asks the nurses to unhook Ellie from the leads and drips lodged in her body. Interestingly, one of the nurses in the back was played by Laura Bailey, the VO for Abby in “The Last of Us” Part 2.
In the game, Joel had to rush with Ellie in his arms towards the elevator as the Fireflies chased him, but here, he had obliterated his foes completely, so the only thing he was left with while entering the elevator was a moral dilemma. The next section is adapted entirely from the game, with Marlene trying to stop Joel and trying to reason with him, and him shooting her dead. Ellie wakes up in a car as Joel is driving her away, and he tells the same lies he had told her in the decade-old game, with one important addition. He says that raiders attacked the hospital, and he barely escaped the place with her, which goes a long way to assure her that there’s no way she could have spoken to Marlene or anyone else once her drugs wore off.
The show closes out with Ellie asking Joe to swear that everything he said about the Fireflies is nothing but the truth, and he does. After several massive differences from the source material, HBO chooses to stay true to the game to a T for the ending, and we couldn’t be happier about it.