TV Review: HBO’s The Last of Us Season Finale, ‘Look for the Light’

On March 12th, 2023, HBO’s adaptation of The Last of Us Part I aired its season finale. Ali Abbasi returns as the director, and we see a familiar face make a cameo as Ellie’s mother, Anna. What happens when Joel and Ellie reach their final destination? Let’s find out.



Flashbacks make a return in episode nine as we see a woman named Anna (Ashley Johnson) pursued by an Infected. It becomes apparent rather quickly that she is pregnant. When she reaches a house, she calls out for the people she’s supposed to meet there; however, Anna is greeted by silence. As she climbs the stairs, Anna’s water breaks. She barricades herself in what used to be a nursery and pulls out a knife. An Infected rams through the door, but Anna fights it off the best she can while giving birth; she eventually stabs and kills the Infected.

Image Credit: HBO Max via IMDB

A baby’s cry rings through the night air. Anna admires new newborn; however, her gaze drops to a bite on her thigh. Anna chooses to appreciate her final hours.

Yeah. You tell em. You fuckin’ tell em, Ellie.

-Anna speaking to her baby girl, crying for the first time, The Last of Us

Marlene and another Firefly arrive. The infection is spreading up Anna’s thigh, but she pleads with Marlene–someone she’s known their whole lives–to take Ellie back to the Boston QZ, who claims she was bit after giving birth. She also begs Marlene to end her life, which took Marlene eventually honors after a few moments of hesitation.

Image Credit: HBO Max via IMDB

Baby Ellie cries when the gun fires.

We jump back to the present where Ellie is sitting, distracted. Despite Joel’s best efforts to converse with her, Ellie can’t focus. They arrive at Salt Lake City, and Joel decides to get a better view of where to go by ascending the tallest building.

Image Credit: HBO Max via IMDB

Ellie briefly snaps out of her funk when she spots a wild giraffe. This touching moment focuses on Joel and Ellie feeding the animal. Ellie smiles and is filled with child-like laughter. The levity is brief, and the two gaze out into the cityscape. Joel falters, and he says that they could always just turn around and head back to Tommy’s.

You don’t have to do this. I just want you to know that.

-Joel, The Last of Us

After all we’ve been through. Everything I’ve done. It can’t be for nothing. I know you mean well. I know you want to protect me. You have… I’ll follow you anywhere you go. But there’s no halfway with this. We finish what we started.

-Ellie, The Last of Us

The two work their way deeper into the city, and here, Joel confesses how he actually got the scar on his face. Not long after his daughter was killed, Joel attempted suicide and missed. Ellie writes it off as his way of explaining time heals all wounds, but Joel implies he had found a reason to keep living (which is her). Joel continues to express how much he loves and cares for her in a round about way by asking for some bad puns from her joke book.

Joel and Ellie are ambushed, and what appears to be a smoke bomb rolls their way. After losing consciousness, Joel wakes up in a hospital bed. Ellie is nowhere to be found, but Marlene is there to greet him. All Joel wants to do is find Ellie, but Marlene won’t allow him because she is being prepped for surgery. It dawns on Joel the lengths the Fireflies need to go to extract what they need for a cure, and Joel commands Marlene to find someone else. Marlene states that she understands what Joel is going through by sharing that she knew Ellie since the day she was born.

Marlene then orders two men to escort Joel to the highway with his things and Ellie’s knife. If Joel resists, shoot him. Joel makes it to the stairwell before he snaps, grapples for a firearm, and kills the guards. From there, a sequence plays out to slow and sad music, as Joel kills everyone on his path to the operating room.

Joel sees Ellie on the table in a medical gown. The surgeon grabs a small blade, and Joel shoots without hesitation. As soon as the nurses remove the IVs, he carries her out of the room, down the elevator, and into the parking garage when he spies a working vehicle.

Image Credit: HBO Max via IMDB

FUN FACT: Laura Bailey plays one of the two nurses. She is the voice actress of Abby, one of the main characters in The Last of Us Part II.

Appearing from the shadows, Marlene confronts Joel. She insists that his actions would lead to nothing in the end.

How long till she’s torn apart by infected or murdered by raiders? Because she lives in a broken world that she could have saved…I think she’d want to do what’s right. And you know it.

-Marlene, The Last of Us

Even then, she bargains with Joel, and says it’s not too late. Marlene knows Ellie would want to sacrifice herself, and she calls Joel out for his selfish choice.

The scene abruptly changes to Joel driving as Ellie slowly regains consciousness. He recounts the moments where he killed Marlene as he lies to Ellie. He tells her there are several people like her, and the Fireflies stopped looking for a cure.

Eventually, the car breaks down, and the two must hike until they reach Jackson. Ellie struggles to open up to Joel about the people she’s lost, like Riley, trying to dance around the point:

Swear to me. Swear to me that everything you said about the Fireflies is true about the Fireflies

-Ellie, The Last of Us
Image Credit: HBO Max via IMDB


That was HBO’s adaptation of Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us Part I. This season finale was one of the most faithful adaptations to the video game, and even Craig Mazin confirmed this on The Last of Us Podcast, citing the the ending was most important to honor since it was so well written. It also was the perfect episode to insert the story of Ellie’s mom because he wanted us to get to know Ellie as she travels with Joel.

The cold open of Anna’s birth to Ellie was powerful in many ways. Firstly, the woman who voice acted Ellie in the game, Ashley Johnson, plays as Anna. It is a symbolic passing down of Ellie as a character. Both are strong-willed and tough as nails. Anna recognizes how tough baby Ellie is and cherishes the few hours she has with her. We also see Anna pass down the switch blade for Ellie.

It’s heart wrenching to witness such violence intertwined with what otherwise would be a wonderful life event. Giving birth is such a joyous thing, and yet it seems that Ellie has been surrounded by violence since day one. It’s a tragedy that provides foreshadowing of who Ellie becomes.

The rest of the episode leading up to Joel’s brutal ‘rescue’ is also riddled with such emotional complexity. Ellie is emotionally withdrawn and distant–something we haven’t witnessed in her before. It’s almost a role reversal of the two personalities where Joel is chatty and almost upbeat, and Ellie is the non-responsive one. Ellie is still processing what she has gone through, especially with what happened with David. This is why Ellie holds her resolve after the giraffe scene. Even though Joel is providing an out, she is insistent on seeing this until the end.

Several people have died in Ellie’s life: her mother, Riley, Tess, Sam, and much more. Loss compounds into more loss as the two journeyed across America, and Ellie doesn’t want it all to be in vain. On the flip side, Joel has grown so attached to Ellie. After witnessing the spark of happiness that still resides in her when she fed the giraffes, Joel’s paternal instincts kick in. These are the same instincts that he acts on later, and it is up for debate as to whether he made the right decision or not.

This leads to the discussion on the differences between Marlene and Joel. Both have a special relationship with Ellie. Marlene was best friends with her mother and made a promise to ensure she’d be raised and protected. Joel spent time with Ellie during this cross-country trek, and both have bonded through the horrible events they suffered along the way. The two have grown to care for one another like a father and daughter.

Marlene has a utilitarian view point. She kept her word and ensured Ellie’s livelihood in the Boston QZ by leaving her with FEDRA. Yes, those are the Fireflies’ adversary, but Marlene knew she would be safest there. Upon discovering Ellie’s immunity, she recognized the empirical good it could do. Ellie’s one life could save thousands and possibly put the Earth in a trajectory back to normalcy.

Joel is placed into a fatherhood situation after after losing Sarah. In fact, we learn he lost the will to live after losing Sarah, and Ellie became his new purpose. His new reason to live. He genuinely cares for Ellie, and he refuses to fail like he failed Sarah. Joel doesn’t care about everyone else in this world, and he only cares about Ellie and keeping her alive. Love, as we learn, can drive us to do anything, especially violence, as Joel mercilessly slaughters Firefly guards.

I wanted to point out one more interesting thing mentioned in The Last of Us Podcast. Neil Druckmann and the team at Naughty Dog polled those that tested the game, asking them if they agreed with Joel’s decision at the end. For those that were not parents, the results were mixed. All testers that were parents agreed that they would have done what Joel did.

Finally, we focus on the last lines of the episode. Ellie is still trying to comprehend the events at the hospital since she was unconscious at that time. I’m sure it was jarring for her to wake up in a hospital gown in a car only to be told the Fireflies gave up on a cure. Ellie is a smart girl , and \ she struggles to believe Joel. Bella Ramsay does an incredible job expressing her disbelief without words. Even after Joel swears he is telling the truth, it is debatable by Ellie’s “okay” as to whether she buys the lie, goes along with it, or refuses to believe the truth because it is too horrible. It could even foreshadow their relationship in the future.

Final Score

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Everyone’s acting was top tier in this season finale of The Last of Us. The pain, the desperation, the loss, and much more were equally felt across Pedro Pascal, Bella Ramsay, and others. The story beats were also tight, and I appreciate how faithful HBO was to the game for the final hour. What leads to the slight disappointment was how the last eight episodes led to this.

HBO’s The Last of Us could have used a few more episodes. To me, this series suffered from zero fluff, and I argue it could have used more so I could feel the weight of episode nine like it deserves. The action sequence where Joel battles his way to Ellie seemed too short for its own good. The Last of Us series already had minimal action sequences. By no means am I looking for gratuitous violence, but this sequence highlighted that HBO could have afforded to give us a little more. There was so much emotion to be felt here, but I didn’t grow misty eyed for a second, and I believe it could be because HBO still left me hungry for Joel and Ellie’s story. I felt the journey was so quick, hitting all major points from the game and nothing more.

The episode was still well done. The series was well done. However, I hope that HBO will consider giving viewers more to digest when filming season two.

What did you think of the season finale? Please share your thoughts with us on our Boss Rush Facebook Group or our Boss Rush Discord.

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