How HBO’s The Last of Us Already Foreshadowed the Second Game

An important scene from HBO's The Last of Us reveals a lot about Joel and Ellie's future and the lengths they'll go to defend each other.

Pedro Pascal as Joel Miller in The Last of Us
Photo: Liane Hentscher/HBO

This article contains spoilers for The Last of Us Part I and Part II

In the series premiere for HBO’s The Last of Us, we see a scene toward the end of the episode that plays out slightly different than it does in the game. As Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Tess (Anna Torv) try to sneak out of Boston with Ellie (Bella Ramsey), they are stopped by a FEDRA patrol guard. Even though Joel has a drug-dealing relationship with this guard, they aren’t able to bribe him to let them pass and he begins to test them for Cordyceps infection, as per his protocol. Not wanting her immunity to be discovered, Ellie lashes out and stabs the guard in the leg causing him to lash out violently. Joel then rushes to Ellie’s defense, beating the guard to death as Ellie watches, almost frozen in place. 

In the game, there are two guards. Joel tackles one of them before shooting them in the head while Tess shoots the other. It’s a rapid action sequence that leaves Ellie slightly shaken, but doesn’t do much more than propel the player into the next stealth and exploration sequence. Now this may seem like only a minor, unimportant change that would naturally come from a video game adaptation, but thanks to HBO’s Inside the Episode, we discover that this moment is more important to Ellie and Joel’s future relationship than we may have initially realized. 

In this behind the scenes video, series creators Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin talk about the emotional intricacies of this scene and what it means for Joel and Ellie. Druckmann says “In the final moments of this episode Joel forgets that the girl standing behind him is not his daughter. Primitive instinct takes over, he can’t help but act. Something else took control of him in a similar way to how the Cordyceps does, except for him it’s a version of love.”

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Mazin then goes on to talk about the parallels between this scene and an earlier scene with Joel and his daughter Sarah (Nico Parker), saying “The most remarkable thing about that moment is that when Ellie watches him beating a man to death, she is activated. Earlier in the episode, when Sarah see him killing this old woman who’s infected who he has to kill, she cries. Ellie doesn’t cry. Ellie likes it, she likes the idea of someone defending her like that, and she likes the idea of that guy being punished. And this is where you begin to see the problem, but also the deliciousness of the pairing. These two are meant to be together, but look out.”

While Ellie has learned how to defend and take care of herself, she has also grown up without parental figures in her life or really any adults that she can truly rely on. Sure, Marlene (Merle Dandridge) has done her best to watch out for her when she’s not trying to run the Fireflies, but this is likely the first time that Ellie has had an adult go to such extensive and violent lengths to protect her. Watching Joel in that moment seems to fill a void that she’s been missing in her life, but it also starts to reinforce the idea within both of them that this is a healthy way to express love.  

The story of The Last of Us Part II video game can’t exist without the idea that standing up for your loved ones through violence is the only way to show how much you care in this world. Joel’s decision to save Ellie at the end of Part I doesn’t come without its consequences. After learning that Ellie has to die in order for a vaccine to be created, Joel does whatever it takes to stop the Fireflies from killing her – including killing the only known doctor capable of creating the vaccine.

After Ellie finds out in Part II that Joel lied to her about what happened in the hospital, their relationship becomes slightly strained. However, after Joel dies violently at the hands of the doctor’s daughter not long into the game, Ellie decides that the only path forward is to enact her own revenge on Abby. Just as this version of Joel in the HBO series has punished the guard for threatening her, she now has to punish Abby and everyone she cares about for taking Joel away from her. Even though she knows that Joel wasn’t innocent, Ellie also knows that Joel has done whatever he had to to protect her – so it’s only right that she does the same. 

This cycle of violence is part of what makes both of these games so compelling – the idea that we’re all the heroes of our own story, doing whatever it takes to protect the ones we love. Having both Abby and Ellie as playable characters and protagonists in Part II further emphasizes this, and I hope we get to see their story translated into the series. Knowing that Mazin and Druckmann are already subtly foreshadowing the violent nature of Ellie in the second game is more than just an Easter egg for fans, it’s important character building that shows just how much these two understand this world and the characters within it.

It’s clear that telling the entire story of these characters is important to Druckmann and Mazin. Even without an official renewal, they’re ensuring that we see the full picture of who these characters are and who they will become rather than just brief snapshots into their psyche. Joel and Ellie’s violent love language may not be the healthiest, but that’s part of why their relationship is so compelling to watch. As Mazin said, the two are made for each other, and it’s their unrelenting dedication to protecting each other that makes it hard not to root for them in the end.

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