The last episode of the season proves to be the best in HBO’s adaptation of the hit PlayStation game – and, despite the runtime, delivers a perfect adaptation while expanding on an already known and beloved story. The episode opens with a flashback of pregnant Anna Williams (Ashley Johnson) in distress, fleeing one of the infected looking for help but unable to find it. Like her daughter, she protects herself, but at a cost.
Ellie (Bella Ramsey) is the protagonist of the story, and her immunity moves the story forward. The scenes dive deeply into her character by exposing how she came into the world. We see the same fierceness in Anna that we have seen in Ellie throughout the previous eight episodes. They share a fighting fierceness faced with choices that shape the people around them and are excellently, heart-breaking performed by Ashley Johnson. The creators of the series found a way to include voice actors from the game, and it seems perfect that Johnson, once again, brings Ellie into the world. With that expansion of Anna, there is a closer look at Marlene (Merle Dandridge) and their relationship to explain why she is over-protective with Ellie and would prefer her in the safety of FEDRA rather than the unpredictable and dangerous fight of the Fireflies. Yet when Marlene first encounters Ellie, she is grief-stricken at the revelation that her closest friend is soon to die. Johnson and Dandridge give weighted emotive performances as their characters, calling on their relationship for Marlene to mercy-kill her oldest friend. Marlene is not the hardened leader we have come to know thus far – as she struggles with Anna’s request but once that request is filled, we get a glimpse at the Firefly leader she comes to be that cuts straight to present day Ellie as she struggles with the weight of recent events.
Ellie is struggling with the events of the previous episode, but in that struggle, we see Joel (Pedro Pascal) do everything he possibly can to provide some levity to her, some enjoyment. The series was never about the infected, but about Joel and Ellie’s journey. The final episode shows how close the two have become, and how much they care for one another. We sense a universal story about humanity and survival, about a found family, and exploring the lengths we go for the people we care about most when facing immense loss. Performances from Bella Ramsey have been exceptionally nuanced and delivered perfectly at every moment, with the final episode highlighting even more of their range. Ellie is stoic, withdrawn and not the feisty character we have all come to know and love. There is a moment of peace – we join in her serenity and joy – as Ellie sees a giraffe and feeds it with Joel looking on, smiling, at the person he is closest to. The way he cares for her and watches over is a treat to watch as they talk about what happens, and Joel gives Ellie another choice: to forget the cure and just live. Consistently, Joel has given Ellie a choice – an important decision that makes his own choices all the more impactful when the episode climaxes and reaches its end.
With any adaptation there are changes and cuts. There is no watery action sequence with the two heroes rescued by Fireflies instead making way for a quick confrontation – but before that, Joel opens to Ellie in the most vulnerable way, disclosing a suicide attempt on the second day of the Cordyceps outbreak. There have been some complaints about the TV adaptation “softening” Joel, but what those viewers forget is emotional strength is just as impactful as physical. With Pedro Pascal there has been a deeper Joel shown; he is just as traumatised as his game counterpart and just as strong. Showing his emotional scars makes for a stronger performance; we see Joel’s trauma and how he has lived with it, but we see him heal and seek support from Ellie and opening up to Tommy. When Joel discloses his suicide attempt, it is awkward between him and Ellie, but ultimately proves the depth of their bond and how far the two have come. The two have a connection, and Joel discloses that he tried to kill himself. Although it is unspoken between them, Ellie knows why he is telling her. Showing the emotion before the strength makes for a great payoff when we see Joel become the protector for Ellie.
We’ve seen glimpses of Joel’s brutality from the onset of the series when he beat up a FEDRA officer, killing one of Kathleen’s men. On top of that, we have seen his strength when he fought to find Ellie in the previous episode against David’s men – several testaments to his strength throughout the season, alongside the trauma. This episode sees Joel unleash all of that anger, all of that trauma, combined with one goal: to protect Ellie. In what is one of the most satisfying scenes of the entire series – Joel charging through the hallway and decimating the Firefly soldiers. Accompanying Pedro Pascal’s cold, determined, and angered Joel is one of the best pieces of music. Nothing stops him, and he does not hesitate to gun down anyone. The score accompanied by Gustavo Santaolall captures the mood and heightens the icy viciousness of Joel in that moment as The Last of Us (Vengeance) plays over the haunting montage until he finds Ellie in the operating room and does what it takes, again, to save her life.
The entire series of The Last of Us is a masterful example of how to treat a beloved source material with respect and adapt it to deepen and expand the story. Despite its short run time, Episode 9 delivers the emotion and violence that hooked people to the first game and will leave game fans thrilled at a marvellous adaptation – and new fans eager to find out what happens in Season 2.
The MVC for this episode is Joel for a complex performance by Pedro Pascal. He creates a vulnerable Joel that is unafraid to show emotion and pain but showcasing the violence, he will go to protect the people that he cares for. The MVC for the series is awarded to Ellie. Not only does Bella Ramsey capture the essence of the video game counterpart but they make the role their own, showcasing an immeasurable amount of talent that makes them perfect for Ellie and showing off their journey.