[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers through the Season 1 finale of The Last of Us, “Look for the Light.”]
Some HBO season finales stretch beyond the hour-long mark, yet The Last of Us kept things tight for its final episode of Season 1, keeping its focus on Joel (Pedro Pascal) as he and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) reach the end of their quest to find the Firefly lab that might know how to use Ellie’s natural immunity to create a cure for this pesky world-ending plague.
Unfortunately for Ellie (and eventually, the world), doing so will require killing Ellie. Moments before getting tracked down by the Fireflies, Joel had just admitted that, after years of grieving his daughter, Ellie has given him a reason to live. So he’s not inclined to accept that fate for her, and his ensuing rescue/rampage through the hospital is as methodical as it is brutal — Pascal’s performance does an excellent job of selling Joel’s buried rage and terror at the situation.
It might not be a very long episode, but it brings so much full circle in terms of the story being told, especially in the case of the episode’s opening flashback. In the lead-up to the show’s debut, co-creators Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann had teased that the video game’s two key actors, Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson, would be making significant guest appearances in the series. While Baker’s appearance in last week’s episode was a relatively unflashy role, in “Look for the Light,” Johnson shows up to play Ellie’s mother (named Anna in the series) in a flashback to the day Ellie was born.
While the character in the games was not explicitly designed to look like Johnson, Ellie was modeled on “Ashley’s personality,” according to Druckmann in 2012, and the uncanny resemblance between Johnson and Ramsey is hard to deny. As Mazin explained during a virtual press conference last week, devoted to discussing the finale:
“Troy Baker disappears into a thousand roles. I can’t believe he has all the different characters he plays. But Ashley sounds like Ellie, and Ellie sounds like Ashley. So she’s already this quasi-mythological creature to me, and to see her giving birth to herself in a sense, and to create that genetic connection between her performances — Ellie and the origin story of Bella as Ellie — was just profound. I think everybody just felt something beautiful about it.”
The sequence also confirms how Ellie became immune, though for Druckmann, “more importantly than that,” including Johnson as Ellie’s mom also led to a key bit of storytelling, one that brings extra punch to the end of the episode.