'The Last of Us' finale recap: It can't be for nothing (2024)

A breathless woman sprints through the woods, breaking from the trees into an open field that leads to a weathered farmhouse. Infected snarl nearby, hot on her trail. The woman, who we can now see is pregnant, rushes into the house and locks the door behind her. "It's me," she says, but no one's home. Frantically, the sounds of Infected in the distance, she runs upstairs. A grimace of pain. Her water breaks. The baby is coming. Inside an empty room, she props a chair against the door, grits her teeth, and pushes through the contractions. But a monster is coming.

She readies her switchblade as the door bursts open and a shrieking creature tornadoes in. They wrestle as the baby pushes out of her body, and the woman is able to kill the thing with a stab to the side of its head. In the silence, we see the baby has arrived in a mess of blood and amniotic fluid. She cuts the umbilical cord with her blade, then picks up the the crying child. "Yeah, you tell 'em," she whispers. "You f---ing tell 'em, Ellie."

'The Last of Us' finale recap: It can't be for nothing (1)

Yep, the baby is Ellie. Her mom is Anna (Ashley Johnson, who played Ellie in The Last of Us game). Later, Marlene (Merle Dandridge) arrives at the farmhouse with other Fireflies in tow. Marlene finds Anna in the same spot, cradling Ellie next to the body of the dead Infected. "I didn't wanna nurse her," Anna says, revealing a nasty bite on her leg. She's going to turn and she wants Marlene, who we learn is a lifelong friend, to take Ellie to Boston and "make sure she's safe." (Interestingly, she lies and says the umbilical cord was cut before she was bitten.) She has two more requests: that Ellie is given her switchblade, and that Marlene be the one to kill her.

Marlene hands the baby off to one of the other Fireflies and tells them to "cover her ears." But Ellie still cries when Marlene shoots Anna.

That brings us to the present. Ellie (Bella Ramsey) and Joel (Pedro Pascal) are navigating an abandoned highway. The hospital where the Fireflies are residing is nearby. Joel is as warm as we've ever seen him, cracking jokes and dusting off an ancient Boggle set ("If you wanna beat me at something, it would be this"). He muses he should find a guitar and teach her how to play. But Ellie is quiet and distant, and he's concerned.

While cutting through a building in Salt Lake City, they enjoy a moment of unexpected beauty when stumbling upon a free-roaming giraffe that's munching the vegetation growing around a blown-out portion of wall. They feed the giraffe and Joel is thrilled to see Ellie smiling again, a sign that the goofy, headstrong kid he grew to love is still there.

He doesn't want to lose that version of her. He knows the horrors they've endured are taking their toll. As they stare out over the city, he tells her they can "forget this whole damn thing" and go back to Tommy and Maria in Jackson.

"After everything I've been through? Everything I've done? It can't be for nothing," she says, the memory of killing David no doubt fresh in her mind. She says when they're done at the hospital she'll follow him wherever he goes. "But there's no halfway with this," she says. "We finish what we started."

He accepts this, but a melancholy persists. They both can sense an ending is near.

They walk through an old emergency medical camp that was set up in the days following the cordyceps outbreak. Joel reveals he was in one following the death of his daughter, and that the scar on his head, the one he previously told her came from someone who shot at him and missed, came from himself. "Sarah died. I couldn't see the point anymore, simple as that," he explains. Still, he flinched when he pulled the trigger.

'The Last of Us' finale recap: It can't be for nothing (3)

"So time heals all wounds," Ellie says. "It wasn't time that did it," he replies, staring at her in a way that moves Ellie as much as it troubles her.

They lighten the mood with puns as they resume their journey to the hospital, but their good time is interrupted by a gas bomb. As Joel flails in the fog, someone emerges and knocks him unconscious with the butt of their rifle.

He wakes to the face of Marlene. She apologizes: "Patrol didn't know who you were." Looks like they found the right hospital. Joel asks after Ellie and Marlene informs him she's being "prepped for surgery."

Because of the unique circ*mstances of Ellie's birth — remember that her umbilical cord was attached still when Anna was bitten — the cordyceps has been with her her entire life. This is why she's immune, Marlene explains, saying that their doctors believe they can remove it and multiply the cells in a lab, thus producing a cure. The problem is this: cordyceps grows inside the brain, meaning that removing it will result in Ellie's death. "Find someone else," Joel says, but Marlene says there is no one else. "There will be no pain," she promises.

'The Last of Us' finale recap: It can't be for nothing (4)

When Joel says she doesn't understand their bond, Marlene shuts him down, revealing how she promised Ellie's mom that she would protect her daughter. It's an impossible decision, she acknowledges, but there's no other choice. She orders her Firefly soldiers to escort Joel out. "He tries anything, shoot him," she orders, giving Joel Ellie's switchblade, the one left to her by her mother, as a parting gift.

Unsurprisingly, they're not even out of the building before Joel fights back, killing his escorts and going on a rampage. Using their own assault rifles against them, Joel kills what seems like a dozen or more Fireflies before storming into the operating room. Ellie is still alive, but unconscious and stuck with an IV tube.

"Unhook her," he demands. When the doctor says he won't let Joel take her, Joel shoots him in the head. The terrified nurses unhook her and Joel picks her up, carrying her to the elevator and the parking garage below them.

'The Last of Us' finale recap: It can't be for nothing (5)

Marlene is waiting for him there. "You can't keep her safe forever," she says. "No matter how hard you try, how many people you kill." She asks, "How long until she's killed because she lives in a broken world that you could've saved?" Marlene says Ellie wouldn't want the future Joel is giving her. Ellie would want to do "what's right."

Joel looks down at Ellie, then we're thrust forward in time. Joel is driving down a fir-lined highway. A groggy, confused Ellie wakes in the backseat. When she asks what happened, Joel tells her they ran tests on her but the doctors "couldn't make any of it work." There's a "whole lot more like you who are immune, dozens of 'em," he lies. "They've stopped looking for a cure."

We flash back to the parking garage, where Joel shoots Marlene. We see him load Ellie into a car as Marlene begs for her life. "You'd just come after her," Joel says, delivering a kill shot.

Back in the car, Ellie looks skeptical when Joel tells her raiders attacked the hospital and they "barely" got her out. She asks if Marlene is okay and Joel dodges, replying, "I'm taking us home." He says he's sorry, but we know he's not.

'The Last of Us' finale recap: It can't be for nothing (6)

In Wyoming, not far from Jackson, their car breaks down. They're about a five-hour hike from the settlement. Joel is chipper again, while Ellie remains withdrawn. He recalls he and Sarah hiking together and muses about how they would've been friends. Sarah was "more girly" than Ellie, but Ellie would've made her laugh. "I bet you would've liked her back," he says.

With Jackson in sight, Ellie takes a deep breath and opens up about Riley. "Back in Kansas City you asked about the first time I killed someone," she says, going on to detail the story of she and Riley getting bit and having to watch her turn before killing her, an outcome we didn't see but knew to be true.

Ellie pivots from Riley to Tess and Sam, others killed by cordyceps. Joel tries to deflect, telling her that it's important to "keep going" and "find something new to fight for."

Ellie, who clearly suspects that Joel is lying to her about what happened to her in Salt Lake City, doesn't want to believe she could've helped end cordyceps but was spared against her will. "Swear to me that everything you said about the Fireflies is true," she says.

Joel swears.

Ellie wants to believe him, but her face is filled with doubt. "Okay," is all she can say.

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Related content:

  • The Last of Us game star Ashley Johnson on playing Ellie's mom: 'It's surreal and bizarre'
  • The Last of Us finale ending: How the creators tackled Joel's 'difficult choice' for TV
  • Troy Baker, the original Joel in The Last of Us, embraces a different character from the game
  • The Last of Us recap: Ellie's violent heart
'The Last of Us' finale recap: It can't be for nothing (2024)

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