The Last Of Us Finale Review: It can’t all be for nothing?

Ayaan Paul
Ayaan PaulMar 14, 2023 | 18:55

The Last Of Us Finale Review: It can’t all be for nothing?

As HBO’s adaptation of the award-winning videogame comes to a resounding close, it seems Monday’s are done being the best of the week for a while. Here’s a quick look at how Ellie and Joel’s devastating journey to the Fireflies comes to an end.

With the traumatic events of the last episode still fresh in memory, the series begins its final chapter building off of the same intensity as we follow a pregnant woman running for her life. In a final touching tribute referencing the source material, players of the videogame would recognise an all-too-familiar face in Ashley Johnson.

The voice actress of the original Ellie is seen rushing through the woods in a yellow dress covering her baby bump. As she hurries into an abandoned house and struggles up the stairs in what surely has to be a clever nod to 2018’s The Quiet Place, the poetic full-circleness of the homage doesn’t seem lost on the showrunners. 

As if the series wasn’t already nerve racking enough, Johnson’s Anna - later revealed to be Ellie’s mother - locks herself in a room when her water breaks, only for an Infected to break into the house. Accosted by a ravenous Runner, Anna is forced to defend herself with a familiar switchblade.

As the momentary terror subsides, Anna pushes the slain Infected off of herself only to find that she had given birth in the process. In a moment of poetry once more, fans of the original game will surely notice the twist that Johnson essentially gives birth to her own video game character. Ashley Johnson walked so that Bella Ramsey could run.

However, the moment of solace is shattered as a bleeding bite mark is revealed on Anna’s thigh. Instincts kick in and she severs the umbilical cord instantly. Faced with the inevitable, she holds herself at knifepoint until help arrives in the form of Marlene.

It's a depressing moment when we learn that Marlene is tasked with taking care of baby Ellie as well as putting a bullet in a lifelong friend. But the sequence serves as a telling reminder to the lengths till which a parent would go to protect their child, even at death’s door, foreshadowing the events to follow. 

As we cut to the present, Joel and Ellie are perched outside Salt Lake City  where they believe they will find a Firefly hospital that can use Ellie's immunity to develop a cure for the Cordyceps fungus.

Bella Ramsey’s Ellie seems a little lost and distant, while Pedro Pascal’s seemingly inert dad instincts kick in as he tries to get her spirits up to no avail. Joel is concerned and nervous - a desperation that is reflected in Pascal’s worried glances towards his forlorn partner. Naturally, it seems Ellie is yet to process the trauma she endured at the hands of the perverted, cannibalising David from the earlier episode.

Though she initially keeps her distance from Joel, her demeanor changes in an instant as she abandons Joel for a sight for sore eyes. Before he’s allowed to reprimand her, Joel finds Ellie marvelling at a majestic giraffe, in a touching frame-by-frame recreation of the scene from the game. Ellie seems like herself again, giggling at the leaf-munching giraffe as Joel heaves a sigh of relief. Its a tear-jerking moment that fully reflects the aesthetic brilliance of the source material.

As the two lean over a rusted balcony, overlooking as a troop of giraffes move through the overgrown landscape, they share a moment to reconsider their options. Despite Joel's suggestion that they abandon their original objective and return to the safety of Tommy's community, Ellie remains determined to see their mission through. “It can’t all be for nothing” she asserts.

As they continue their journey, Joel shares with Ellie the painful truth of his own past trauma, including a suicide attempt following the death of his daughter Sarah, with Ellie attempting to reassure him in the process. The unresolved trauma surrounding Sarah’s death has left him emotionally scarred and unwilling to form deep attachments with others. This trauma explains Joel's reluctance to initially bond with Ellie and his tendency to push people away. It's a first for the two emotionally repressed characters, finally opening up to each other with the acting duo at their very best.

Seeking to ease the emotional tension, Joel asks Ellie to read them some of her infamous shitty puns but their moment of respite is abruptly interrupted when they are suddenly ambushed by Firefly soldiers. In the ensuing chaos, Ellie is captured by their assailants, while Joel is left unconscious. This next segment is a crucial turning point in the original videogame's storyline. It is where the game's central themes of survival, sacrifice and excruciating moral dilemmas that arise in a post-apocalyptic world reach a shocking climax.

The series reintroduces Marlene, the leader of the Fireflies, who reveals that the only way to develop a cure is to extract Ellie's brain tissue, which will kill her in the process - a revelation that sets up the central conflict of this final Salt Lake City arc - Joel's moral dilemma of whether to sacrifice Ellie for the greater good or save her at all costs. As Joel is being escorted off the premises, we are put in Joel's shoes and forced to grapple with this decision alongside him.

Throughout the series, Joel's actions are often controversial and have put the morality of his decisions under scrutiny. He has always been a morally complex character, motivated by love and a desire for self-preservation in a world ravaged by a fungal infection. His newfound love for Ellie is the primary motivation for his actions which culminates in what’s to follow.

As the resentment fills up Pascal’s eyes, the inevitable occurs. Joel battles his way through the hospital, John Wick-style, mercilessly slaughtering anyone who stands in his way. All ambient sounds drone out, emulating Joel’s unflinching resolve to rescue Ellie. For the first time, Pascal makes his character seem remorseless to the point of stripping away his humanity.

The arc's tension builds as Joel inches closer to ‘Paediatric Surgery’, almost in a trance-like stupor. As he reaches the operating room where Ellie is to be sacrificed, Joel kills the surgeon before carrying Ellie out of the hospital.

Marlene confronts them in the parking garage and urges Joel to reconsider when Joel unsurprisingly responds with violence, shooting and killing Marlene - a moment that contrasts Joel's inability to protect Sarah in the pilot. When Ellie regains consciousness, Joel fabricates a false story for her benefit, claiming that the Fireflies had already found other immune individuals and were unable to develop a cure before the hospital was attacked by dangerous raiders.

This moment exemplifies all the series has been alluding to from the very beginning, cementing Joel's character as a flawed and complex protagonist. His violent rampage to save Ellie at all costs is not a heroic one - it is a selfish and morally ambiguous one. 

His love for Ellie is a testament to his humanity, and his willingness to do whatever it takes to keep her safe is a reflection of the harsh and unforgiving world he inhabits. However, despite his motivations, Joel is ultimately a character whose actions stem from self-serving desires, but we can’t help but sympathise with him given the bond he has formed with Ellie and the loss he has already experienced in his life.

After all we have been through together with these two characters, it feels unbearably frustrating to be left in this complex moral dilemma, questioning our principles - a final demonstration of the series’ remarkable writing. The finale's final moments are set to Gustavo Santaolalla’s dreamlike Ronroco, as Joel and Ellie make their way back to Tommy's settlement, where they resume their relationship. However, the bond between them is for better or for worse already irrevocably altered.

Ramsey brings to the fore Ellie's survivor’s guilt, while Joel seems unfazed by what had just transpired. At her insistence, Joel swears his story about the Fireflies is true. And as the music swells towards one of the most unforgettable closes in videogame history, HBO’s The Last Of Us comes to an end in Ellie’s belief of a lie.

The Last of Us presents a nuanced and realistic portrayal of a flawed but sympathetic protagonist, and Joel's character arc embodies the power of the videogame’s storytelling - now incredibly well realised in the series. “Look For The Light” builds upon the themes and motifs established in the preceding chapters and delivers an emotionally impactful conclusion to Joel and Ellie's journey, that leaves us feeling the slightest bit uneasy and hungry for more. 

If you thought this first adaptation was traumatic, HBO is probably going to need to owe its viewers complimentary therapy for the events to follow in its anticipated second season.

Last updated: March 14, 2023 | 18:55
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