If you’ve been seeing a lot of buzz about the ending of The Last of Us, you might be wondering what it’s all about. We’ve got your back: today, we’re breaking down everything you need to know about the show’s explosive final episode.
After trekking across the entire continental US and surviving a harrowing gauntlet, Joel and Ellie make it to the Firefly hospital in the final episode of The Last of Us. Ellie’s immunity to the cordyceps fungus makes her the perfect candidate for the Firefly research into a cure to the virulent plague that has effectively ended human civilization.
But, tragically, this fate isn’t in the cards for the bleak world of The Last of Us. Joel makes a critical choice in this final episode that completely recontextualizes his relationship with Ellie. Let’s get into the ending of The Last of Us and explain the mindset that Joel must be in to make the choices he does. Before we can dig into the ending, though, let’s recap a few important things the characters learned before they reached the end of their long trek.
When Joel and Ellie visited Bill and Frank’s place early in the season, they found that Joel’s friends had died. Frank got sick, and Bill couldn’t live without his husband. Bill left a note for Joel explaining that, while Bill never liked him, he understood that Joel was a protector. The two shared that in common.
Later, Joel and Ellie meet another reflection of themselves in brothers Sam and Henry. When young Sam gets infected with cordyceps, Ellie tries to save him with her “immune” blood, but he still turns by sunrise. Now fully infected, Sam tries to kill Ellie, and Henry has no choice but to take out his brother. This act mentally crushes him, though, and he takes his own life rather than live with the weight of what happened.
Finally, Joel fully maps his grief over losing his daughter Sarah onto Ellie when he finally finds her at the resort David’s cult used as a hideout. After Ellie fights her way free from captivity, thoroughly freaked out by her encounter with David, she panics at Joel’s touch. He quietly reassures her that things will be okay, even calling her “baby girl.” That’s the same sweet epithet he once reserved for his biological daughter, Sarah.
Meanwhile, Ellie has a bad case of survivor’s guilt. We learn that she and her friend Riley got infected simultaneously, both being bitten by a cordyceps carrier in an abandoned mall back in Boston. However, while Riley slowly lost her mind and succumbed to the fungal infection, Ellie was stunned to discover she was immune to the disease. A freak accident at the moment of her birth conferred a rare immunity to her – one that she’s eager to share with the world.
Ellie loves comic books and superheroes, sharing Sam’s nerdy affection for all things heroic. As such, it makes sense that she’d see herself as a savior. She’s the one person who might have what it takes to save the world from cordyceps. That’s why she’s pushing so hard to make it to the Firefly hospital on the West Coast.
In some sense, Ellie feels that she can make up for failing to save Riley and Sam by offering her blood up as a vaccine, or even a cure, for cordyceps. But she has no idea that the Fireflies will need to kill her for their research to yield any results. And, critically, they never even give her a choice. But then again, neither does Joel.
The duo finally arrives in San Francisco, but Fireflies ambush them before they can calmly approach the hospital. Joel is knocked unconscious, and Ellie is rushed into surgery so they can synthesize a cure as soon as possible. When Joel comes to, he finds Marlene, somehow healed after her nasty-looking gunshot wound. Marlene explains that Ellie is already in the operating room and asks Joel to leave without incident.
Joel puts things together and realizes that the procedure Marlene suggests will kill Ellie. Clearly remembering how he failed to protect Sarah twenty years prior, Joel flies into a rage. He loves Ellie more than the world in a literal sense. Joel would condemn the human race to a future wracked by cordyceps before letting doctors kill Ellie to find a cure.
Joel brutally battles his way through the Firefly defenders in the hospital, even executing unarmed guards who surrender. It’s the most vicious sequence in the show, finally giving TV audiences a taste of the violent man that players of the game already knew. Critically, though, the TV version of Joel only kills the head surgeon when he rescues Ellie and leaves the nurses alone. However, just like in the game, Joel kills Marlene before leaving the hospital.
In its final moments, The Last of Us’s finale shows Joel and Ellie traveling back to Tommy’s home in Jackson. When Ellie wakes up, she’s confused. She’s still in a hospital gown, but it’s just her and Joel in the car. Joel spins a lie, telling her that she’s not the only person with immunity and that the Fireflies have already given up looking for a cure. He claims they’ve tried to make a cure before and that it’s failed every time.
When Ellie asks why she’s still in her hospital garb, Joel quickly invents another lie and says that raiders attacked the Firefly base, forcing them to flee. Ellie seems apprehensive but stops questioning Joel’s version of events.
Later, while the duo makes their final approach to Jackson, Ellie asks Joel to swear to her that he’s telling the truth about the hospital. Joel pauses and considers her words before confidently lying and saying he’s been honest. Ellie’s expression is stoic, but she bluntly says, “okay,” before the screen cuts to black. The exact nature of her reaction is left to the audience to puzzle out.