‘The Last Of Us’ Episode 9: Recap & Ending, Explained: Why Does Joel Massacre The Hospital? Is Marlene Dead?

All things considered, the HBO apocalyptic thriller-drama spared our hearts as it looked back for one last time (for a while, at least) and bid its adieu. We didn’t really expect an uncontaminated happy ending, did we? Neither did we want one, for that matter. It wouldn’t be fair to taint an unconditional love with a foot-stomping demand for a clear conscience when what we love has always been sort of gray. We have always known how it was going to go down. As did Mazin and Druckman, who in their endless generosity opted for healing our wounded hearts as they nursed our battered heroes with love in the middle of a war between mankind and a vicious weapon of nature. Journeys end (or maybe even begin) in the warm acknowledgment of the enduring bond that has come to form through splattered blood, ominous tendrils, and irrefutable losses—transcending the worldly metronome of good and evil. Who are we to ask the whys and wherefores when we haven’t been through the whats?


Spoilers Ahead

The Start Of Someone Wonderful

We’ve gathered here to witness an origin story as an expecting mother nears her labor in a world overtaken by Cordyceps. Panting with every anxious step she takes through the lonesome woods, Anna (played by Ashley Johnson, the actress who voices Ellie in the game) could not have gone into labor at a worse time. She has secured a tattered shelter and has barricaded herself against harm to the best of her abilities. But the undead in “The Last Of Us” aren’t the generic zombies that we’ve grown up seeing and making light of. Frighteningly, for Anna, it takes just about one Cordyceps-bearer to wreck a door and get in. Defending herself against a vicious zombie with a switchblade while the pain of the baby coming is getting unbearable for her isn’t something that can be expected of a human being. And sadly, Anna doesn’t have superpowers. Fighting it off as it fervidly attempts to do the one thing it’s programmed to do; Anna hasn’t even noticed that the baby has slid out of her and onto the floor. She tackles the attacker with her switchblade, but not before a bite was taken out of her thigh. As the lionhearted Anna severs the umbilical cord and names her little girl born into death, we are ecstatic to see our Ellie.


Marlene wasn’t kidding when she said that she was there when Anna brought Ellie into this world. Well, technically, she wasn’t there when Ellie first saw the light, but as we see her rushing in to aid her friend in need, we can pretty much connect the dots to what is to come next. Vigilant while awaiting her morose turn, Anna holds a knife to her throat. It’s only when Marlene walks in that Anna sees hope for her little girl’s survival. Anna lies for the sake of her daughter, as she was already bitten before she cut the umbilical cord. Knowing Marlene, Anna is aware that she has it in her to kill an infant if she at all suspects that the infant may be infected. Marlene is queasy about fulfilling her dying friend’s last wish and taking on the responsibility for her newborn. But we’ve time and again seen proof of her benevolence, and this time is no different. Anna lays the switchblade over little Ellie, and it is something she will come to use many times in her brutal future. What Marlene is even more reluctant to do but ends up doing anyway is put a bullet through her childhood friend’s head out of mercy, as does Ellie when Riley turns into the mall. We can assume the rest of Ellie’s journey leading up to the first time we see her as a teenager.

When We Are Done, We’ll Go Wherever You Want

The shifting winds have brought forth a discernible change in Ellie and Joel. While the former is uncharacteristically tongue-tied, the latter walks against the grain to break the uncomfortable silence. It is only understandable that Ellie would be quiet in the aftermath of the terror that the cruel turn of events had recently subjected her to. But I doubt that’s the only reason the otherwise chirpy teen is brooding. The girl, who has been made to grow up unreasonably fast, has come to realize that the closer they get to their destination, the shorter her time with Joel may be getting. There’s no going back to put his wall back up for Joel. Not when he has already opened his heart to his baby girl and embraced his position in her life as something of a father. Trying to liven up the stagnant air, Joel proposes a game of boggle and welcomes defeat as he has never been all that good at it. He even talks up the idea of acquiring a guitar so he can give his post-apocalypse daughter some lessons. But Ellie’s mind has wandered off a bit too far to even respond when he tries to get her attention. 


Coming to a bulwark formed by the fallout of a bombing, Joel tries to tickle Ellie’s funny bone with a joke about blasting through it. They’ve been walking through the shoddy remains of Salt Lake City to come to a building with a revealing view of the surroundings. Ellie is still lost in her mind when Joel asks for her help with toppling a ladder. When she does pay heed and climbs over the shattered level to push down the ladder, we are once again met with a glimpse of the bright little girl who cares less about safety and more about making the best of an amusing circumstance. They’ve come to behold a majestic giraffe—a species spared by the fungus. Joel can’t take his eyes off the happy little girl, wishing to guard her mind against the awful state of life as she giggles while feeding the gigantic, docile animal with her own hands. The giraffe walks away to join her pals, and of course, Ellie would want to follow her. Looking over the greens that have taken over the city that was once walked by people but has now laid itself out to be roamed by wildlife, Ellie gauges the balance between the good and the bad of the view she is taking in. Joel doesn’t want Ellie to let go of the bliss she is currently experiencing, for there’s danger aplenty if they move forward with their predetermined plan. Ellie doesn’t mind gambling their lives for a noble cause. Not when they’ve time and again emerged victorious from ordeals that would have ended most.

Joel’s words echo what we’ve all been contemplating ever since they walked out of the safe refuge of Jackson. Why can’t they turn away from the inevitable storms of terror and spend their lives within the snug four walls of the cottage Tommy is holding for them? Yet, we aren’t oblivious to their duties. And neither is Ellie, as she refuses to settle for an easy life that rescinds all the effort they’ve put toward their cause. She can’t back away from the enormous responsibility of saving mankind, even though it’s a burden that life has unfairly bestowed upon her. She recognizes the pain in Joel’s eyes as his words echo the fear of detachment or maybe even loss. It’s a fear that Ellie has been living with forever. And even if it’s only to comfort Joel now that he’s the one dreading what’s to come, Ellie wants to hold on to the hope that they’ll see a better tomorrow, and when that is achieved, no one will stop them from going wherever they may want to go and doing whatever they may want to do. Even a pathway to the moon is promised in the future that Ellie dreams up for her and for Joel.


What Do The Doctors Plan To Do To Ellie?

Making their way closer to the Fireflies’ base camp isn’t easy on either of them when they don’t know what horror they’ll bump into next. We find Joel and Ellie traipsing through the remnants of what Joel identifies as emergency medical assistance camps that were inaugurated by the military when the world first fell victim to the disease. Of course, these places were overrun. But this is where Joel’s bullet wound was stitched up on the second day of the apocalypse. Ellie knew that the wound was caused by a missed shot someone took at Joel. But Joel clears it out for Ellie, with whom, as he now sees, he isn’t wary of being his most vulnerable. It was a failed attempt at ending his life that bloodied Joel. Losing Sarah robbed him of any desire to carry on with life. Yet, when it was time to pull the trigger, Joel flinched, and his life was spared. It’s a first for Joel—being so devastatingly exposed that Ellie can see right through the surface that hides the bruises on his heart. It’s a first for Ellie as well, being allowed into the core of all that makes Joel the man she sees before her. She is grateful that his jittery fingers betrayed Joel when he pulled the trigger, and she thanks the passage of time for healing his wounds. The look shared between the two speaks volumes about the gratitude they both feel for having found each other and receiving another chance at shaping an invaluable bond in a dilapidated world. It wasn’t time that healed Joel. It was Ellie.

The man that once could only get himself to grumble as Ellie read the jokes aloud from her book is the same man who now calls for her to tell him a few jokes. Stealing the smiles from their faces, a grenade thrown by a group of Fireflies troopers lands them both on the ground. Groggy Joel wakes up in the Fireflies hospital to be greeted by Marlene, who is practically astounded to see that they’ve made it this far mostly unscathed. What it took a great deal of sacrifice for Marlene and her associates to achieve has been, according to what Marlene believes, relatively smoothly attained by Joel and Ellie. If only Marlene knew of the mountains of barbarism that these two needed to climb and cross to get here! Marlene is more aware than most of Joel’s brutal tendencies. She knows Joel to be a man capable of unparalleled savagery. He certainly isn’t someone that Marlene wishes to be indebted to, and yet, she has come to be. Joel doesn’t have time to listen to Marlene’s backhanded praises when all he can concern himself with is Ellie’s whereabouts. Ellie has been unharmed by the grenades, and in Marlene’s words, she is being prepped for surgery.

The mention of an impending surgery makes a switch go off in Joel. Call it instinct or intuition, Joel knows that whatever the surgery entails will not be good for Ellie. To try and calm Joel, Marlene proceeds to outline the doctors’ understanding of the circumstances of Ellie’s immunity to Cordyceps. It’s something that has been infused into her brain and bloodstream from the time of her birth. Ellie’s unique physiology communicates a chemical signal to other Cordyceps and identifies her as one of their own to keep them from having an effect. The more Joel listens, however, the more disquieted he is at the thought of what will become of Ellie in the process. The chemical signal that Ellie’s brain transmits is what the doctor plans to extract, multiply in the lab, and use as a weapon against the disease. Marlene isn’t attempting to mask the fact that Ellie will lose her life to contribute to the creation of a vaccine that will save the remaining mankind and birth a new world. She does, nonetheless, try in vain to comfort Joel with the consolation that Ellie isn’t conscious and that she won’t feel a pinch.

‘The Last Of Us’ Episode 9: Ending Explained: Why Does Joel Massacre The Hospital? Is Marlene Dead?

Marlene isn’t aware of how close Joel and Ellie have gotten. She doesn’t even know that Joel is capable of caring about someone other than himself. It comes as a shock to Marlene when Joel asks them to find another person immune to Cordyceps and let Ellie go. She attempts to convey that it isn’t just Joel who wouldn’t feel good about sacrificing a little girl for the reward of a changed world. Oblivious to just how much Joel loves Ellie, Marlene believes that the awfulness she feels for breaking the promise she once made to her friend is synonymous with Joel’s plight at the possibility of losing Ellie. When Joel is adamant in his resolve to rescue Ellie, Marlene asks her associates to carefully escort him out and kill him if he doesn’t comply. The Joel that took up the responsibility of transporting Ellie would’ve walked away with no hard feelings from this circumstance. But the Joel that Marlene sees before her now has long been transformed into a father who would do just about anything to protect the little girl he has come to love as his second daughter after Sarah. Joel abides—for a while. At least until the rifles pointed at his back begin to slack off a little. The confined space of a staircase landing offers Joel the perfect opportunity to make the man behind him keel over. As he shoots down the two and rampages around, causing a bloodbath in the hospital, we see what is one of the most visually and audibly poetic instances of a fiery annihilation of human life ever to have gloriously bloodied the screen of the TV. He bursts through the door to the pediatric surgery room and allows but one chance for the doctor to back off.


Showing zero patience for his reluctance, Joel shoots down the doctor, takes Ellie in his arms, and walks off as the nurses shudder in terror. Joel and Ellie’s passage to the car that would lead them out of there isn’t going to be a smooth one as long as Marlene is alive. Stopping Joel from walking to the car, Marlene pleads with him to understand the tremendous urgency of the situation that is compelling her to make the difficult choice. If it’s one life against the very existence of mankind, Marlene is bound to sacrifice it for the sake of the greater good. This one life—the life of Ellie—however insignificant to the rest of the world, is worth the entire world to Joel. If saving Ellie connotes the fortification of doomsday, so be it. There’s no world without Ellie for Joel. And as he guns down Marlene and sees her take her last, gasping breath on the ground, Joel knows that he has made a morally ambivalent choice, and yet there’s no regret in his heart. He lays an unconscious Ellie down on the backseat and drives out. By the time Ellie regains consciousness, Joel has made up his mind about lying to her. It’s a long shot to expect an understanding nod from Ellie if Joel is to come clean about the innocent(?) lives he has just taken to save her. So he concocts a tale where crowds of immune people were tested out by the Fireflies doctor, only for him to come to terms with the fact that he can’t make a vaccine.

Joel underprops his fiction with another lie about a raider’s attack that ended with everyone, including Marlene, losing their lives. The vapid look on Ellie’s face is telling of the disillusionment she is facing at the thought of being of no use. It is also reflective of her wretched acceptance that she doesn’t have a better future ahead of her. As they hike up the steep woods and we hear Joel talking about his first daughter to his second, we know that the smile on his face isn’t insincere. He is relieved to have been able to save Ellie, and in some way, accomplishing the perplexing rescue masks the pain of Joel failing to save Sarah. But Ellie’s mind is distraught with the thought that Joel may not be telling the truth about what went down at the hospital. She knows that Joel would attempt to upturn the world if it meant that Ellie could be safe. On their way to Wyoming, Ellie stops to ask for reassurance that he has told her the truth. Joel’s predicament is that of a parent lying to protect their child from knowing the nefarious extent they can go to for the benefit of their little one. He doesn’t blink as he swears to Ellie that everything he has told her is the absolute truth. Ellie chooses to believe him. Not that she has much of a choice either way. As she bares the truth about her first time killing a person, it is almost as though Ellie acknowledges the disturbing choices one has to make when faced with a choice between a rock and a hard place.


Lopamudra Mukherjee
Lopamudra Mukherjeehttps://muckrack.com/lopamudra-mukherjee
Lopamudra nerds out about baking whenever she’s not busy looking for new additions to the horror genre. Nothing makes her happier than finding a long-running show with characters that embrace her as their own. Writing has become the perfect mode of communicating all that she feels for the loving world of motion pictures.

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