What Would You Do For Love?: HBO’s ‘The Last Of Us’ Finale vs. The Game!

The final episode of HBO’s The Last Of Us Season 1 is here and serves as a beautiful, complex end to a fantastic story. Here’s how the finale switched it up from the game that started it all.

Despite the 95th Academy Awards airing the same night, the finale of HBO’s The Last Of Us pulled in 8.2 million viewers, 75% more than the premiere. Another series record to cap off the season!

This finale gave us more than big numbers. It was an emotional gut punch that rivals the original game’s glory. Here are some major differences between the two.

The show introduced a never-before-seen character: Anna, Ellie’s mother, played by Ellie’s voice actress from the game Ashley Johnson. The pregnant woman runs for her life from Infected through a field and into a house players will recognize from The Last Of Us Part II. In yet another tragedy, she’s bitten while she gives birth to Ellie. The infant is played by actual 12-day-old twins, and they crushed their performance.

She’s found with a knife to her neck, stopped from ending her life by her best friend Marlene, the head Firefly we recognize from early in the season. Anna lies and says she cut the umbilical cord before being bitten; this lie beautifully parallels Joel’s decision later in the episode. Her death comes quickly at the hands of a reluctant Marlene.

@mattiececile Having a hard time woeking today im too emo from this show 😭 #tlou #tloufinale #joelandellie ♬ The Last of Us – Gustavo Santaolalla

Back in the present, Joel and Ellie continue their journey to the Fireflies, and there’s not much longer left to go. The two seem to have switched places, personality wise. Joel is joking around and talkative, while Ellie is noticeably quiet and withdrawn, living through her trauma from the previous episode in full force.

The show uses one scene from the game to further demonstrate their newfound disconnect. In the game, players often have to boost Ellie up broken walls and high places, and she’s always there, ready to go. After David, when Joel asks to boost her up and bring him down a ladder (another detail from the game), Ellie is off in her own world. Our hearts break piece-by-piece with every unreciprocated banter and action.

The next scene is torn straight from the game, and I’m so happy they kept it in. A giraffe grazes on wild vegetation, probably escaped from a nearby zoo, and Ellie gets to feed it, a once-in-a-lifetime experience for a child born in the post-apocalypse. Like the infant, the giraffe is the real thing!

After this magical moment, Joel confronts Ellie, letting her know they don’t have to continue their journey and can live a happy life back in Jackson. In dialogue straight from the game, Ellie doesn’t want everything they’ve gone through to be for nothing.

Near the hospital, Joel sits Ellie down and tells her the story of his scar. At the start of the show, we’re told he was shot by a man who missed. In a completely new detail not found in the game, we learn he was the man who missed; Joel attempted suicide the day after Sarah died. It was Ellie who brought life and love back into his heart 20 years later.

@imcreaming “it wasnt time that did it” HBO HAS TO BE STOPPED RN #fyp #joelmiller #tlou #hbomax ♬ original sound – Your audio girl

This moment fully distinguishes Joel from the show and Joel from the game. In the game, Joel is a brutal, rageful survivor, inflicting incredible violence at every turn. In the show, he is a broken man doing what he can to protect those he loves without losing his mind. His violence steadily crescendos as his love for Ellie grows.

The two are soon captured by the Fireflies, and Marlene informs him that Ellie is being prepped for surgery that will kill her, all to save the world. As Joel is ushered out, we learn they didn’t give Ellie informed consent on the procedure before putting her under, an ugly detail that makes our moral dilemma even more complicated. Even so, Neil Druckmann specifies in the “Inside The Episode” segment that Ellie would have wanted to die for the cure, and that’s what viewers should take away.

@floridiangoblin If I was Ellie’s mother I’d rise from the dead just to bring Marlene down with me 😤 #tlou #marlene #tlouhbo #marlenemckinnon #thelastofus #thelastofushbo #joelmiller #elliewilliams #tlous1e9 #tlouseason1 #cordyceps #fyp #foryoupage #tlouepisode9 #thelastofusfinalepisode ♬ original sound – Nico🔮✨

Just as old fans knew he would, Joel unloads on the entire hospital, killing dozens floor-to-floor to get to Ellie. Unlike in the game, where we have to commit this rampage ourselves, this brutality is almost completely drowned out by music. The Fireflies are white noise to Joel, unfeeling obstacles on his way to save who he loves most in the world. He shoots both armed and surrendering men, their bodies shown grotesquely strewn in camera angles that make us wildly uncomfortable.

@cpikoart These next two years are gonna be a slog waiting for Season 2 😭 #TLOU #TheLastOfUs #TheLastOfUsHBO #EllieWilliams #JoelMiller #BellaRamsey #PedroPascal ♬ The Last of Us – Gustavo Santaolalla

In an homage to the game, we see over Joel’s shoulder as he walks down the final hallway to the operating room where Ellie has just been put to sleep. Without a second thought, he shoots the surgeon in the head; the camera lingers on the body with blood and brains sprayed on the floor for an unnerving amount of time. He spares the nurses (a choice you get to make in the game) and takes Ellie away. One of the nurses is played by Laura Bailey, the face model for Abby from The Last Of Us Part II, a character new fans will get to know in the next season.

@bvllaramsey !!TLOU EP9 SCENES!! someone plz revive me after this ep 🙂 #thelastofus #elliewilliams #joelmiller #pedropascal #tlou #bellaramsey #hbomax #bellaramseyedit #elliewilliamsedit #joelmilleredit #thelastofusedit #tlouepisode9 #lookforthelight #wefinishwhatwehavestarted #onemorehour #tameimpala OC @angelasoverlays ♬ original sound – kenz

The final scene from the hospital takes directly from the game. Joel shoots Marlene despite her attempts to convince him to leave Ellie with her. He finishes her off with a deadpan declaration and a headshot, still on autopilot: “You’ll just come after her.”

@spectrexgaming W or L for season 1? #gamingontiktok #thelastofus ♬ original sound – SpectreX Gaming

When Ellie wakes up and asks what happened, Joel lies and says he saved her from a raid on the hospital and that a vaccine would have been impossible. In the final scene, Ellie asks from the bottom of her heart for him to tell her the truth. He pauses before swearing he did.


@vxhoedits THIS SCENE WAS RECREATED PERFECTLY #thelastofus #tlou #pedropascal #bellaramsey #elliewilliams #joelmiller #fyp #viral ♬ original sound – Alan 😈😅

HBO’s The Last Of Us is one of the best video game adaptations of all time, bringing a new emotional perspective to one of the greatest stories about love and family ever created. Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey, along with masterminds Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin, devastated us week-to-week. I can’t wait to see how they adapt The Last Of Us Part II in Season 2 and beyond!

About the Author

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Christopher Ikonomou

Christopher Ikonomou is a 4th year at the University of California, Los Angeles pursuing Communication and Disability Studies. He has a particular interest in the entertainment industry and representation of marginalized people in film and TV. On campus, he is the Editor-in-Chief at OutWrite Newsmagazine, the oldest queer college publication in the United States, and an activist with the Disabled Student Union. He’s a horror superfan and has been featured by Buzzfeed, UCLA College, Bored Panda, and Teen Vogue for his vocal involvement in the fight for better representation of the disabled community on screen and in the genre, particularly those with Marfan syndrome like himself.