While fans of the 2013 video game have been well aware of Joel's decision for around a decade, that knowledge didn't make the moment any less difficult to process as live-action Joel (Pedro Pascal) made the same call in last night's finale to protect Ellie (Bella Ramsey) from her fate.
The 43-minute episode kicks off with a flashback to Ellie's mother Anna (original "Ellie" actress Ashley Johnson), who is very pregnant, and on the run from an infected. As she barricades herself in an abandoned house, Anna goes into labor and before she can even process what's happening, the door flies open, and the infected woman attacks. She does manage to kill her assailant and gives birth almost immediately afterward, but then realizes that she's been bitten.
She cuts the umbilical cord quickly, but knows her clock is now ticking and spends as much time with baby Ellie as she can. Marlene (Merle Dandridge) arrives shortly thereafter and Anna lies to her friend, claiming the attack was post-delivery. Following a brief chat, Anna asks her childhood bestie to kill her and take baby Ellie to Boston, something the Firefly leader reluctantly accepts.
Cut to present day, and we catch up to Joel and Ellie on the final leg of their journey. The teenager still isn't quite herself after last week's harrowing ordeal, but Joel is in full dad mode and doing his best to cheer her up by offering guitar lessons. As they make their way through tunnels and buildings - and cross paths with a giraffe - they continue to banter before Joel reveals the truth behind his bad ear: a botched suicide attempt that saw him spend time in an emergency medical camp.
He confesses to Ellie and tells her more about Sarah (Nico Parker) as they share a moment that cements their surrogate father-daughter relationship. However, things take a turn when they find themselves on the wrong end of a flash grenade.
Joel awakens in the hospital and is greeted by Marlene, who tells him that Ellie is safe. But, while that part was good news, the rest of her update isn't. As it turns out, due to Anna having been pregnant while delivering Ellie, the doctors believe that Ellie has had Cordyceps in her since birth, which means “It makes normal Cordyceps think that she’s Cordyceps. That’s why she’s immune.”
Marlene continues and tells more about how the doctors believe they could multiply those cells and create a vaccine that could save the world. However, Joel knows Cordyceps grows inside the brain and it doesn't take him long to come to the devastating realization that the only way to harvest those brain cells would be to kill Ellie - something he's obviously not onboard with.
Marlene rationalizes her decision to him and tells him she understands before making the mistake of leaving him alive, opting to leave him at the gates. As her armed guards escort him out, he waits to make his move and after taking out the first two, he grabs an assault rifle and goes absolutely scorched earth grim reaper on everyone who steps in his path.
Showing no mercy, he makes his way to the pediatric wing and finally, to the surgery table, where he finds a sedated Ellie with a few medical professionals. When the doctor refuses to hand her over, he delivers a headshot - a move that seals his fate - and scares the nurses into preparing her for departure. He then heads for the garage.
He's confronted by Marlene, and they have a talk, with Marlene stressing that the cure would change everything and set everything right. But, then, cut to black and we find ourselves on the road with Joel and Ellie, who is sleeping in the back seat. When she asks what happens, he lies and tells her that there were a lot of people that were immune, but so far, there hadn't been any successful attempts at finding a vaccine, so the Fireflies had given up. Raiders attacked and they made a narrow escape.
It's not an unbelievable story, but Ellie can tell something doesn't add up, and even though she can't place her finger on it just yet, it's something we know she won't let go of. When she asks about Marlene, the truth is revealed and we see Joel shoot the Firefly leader and then finish her off when she begs for mercy.
Their car breaks down a short distance from Jackson and on the hike home, Joel tells her more about Sarah and how she would've gotten along with Ellie. But Ellie is distracted and tells him the truth about what happened to Riley and how she was her first kill. She also expresses guilt about Tess and Sam, as Joel attempts to comfort her, and ultimately asks him to tell her whether the story he told her was true, and when he swears it was, she ends the season with the fateful words...
Watch the featurette for episode nine below:
The Last of Us features Pedro Pascal as Joel, Bella Ramsey as Ellie, Gabriel Luna as Tommy, Anna Torv as Tess, Nico Parker as Sarah, Murray Bartlett as Frank, Nick Offerman as Bill, Storm Reid as Riley, Merle Dandridge as Marlene, Jeffrey Pierce as Perry, Lamar Johnson as Henry, Keivonn Woodard as Sam, Graham Greene as Marlon, Elaine Miles as Florence, and Ashley Johnson and Troy Baker.
THE LAST OF US story takes place twenty years after modern civilization has been destroyed. Joel, a hardened survivor, is hired to smuggle Ellie, a 14-year-old girl, out of an oppressive quarantine zone. What starts as a small job soon becomes a brutal, heartbreaking journey, as they both must traverse the U.S. and depend on each other for survival.