Look for the Light: The Last of Us, Episode Nine

Look for the Light: The Last of Us, Episode Nine

Well, here it is. The final episode. I didn’t really want to get here for two reasons. One, it’s the end of a most excellent season of a most excellent show. Two, I have absolutely no idea what my next article will be about. There was some comfort in having an article already decided two weeks before it must be written. But enough of the pity party. C’est parti!

First off, welcome back to the pre-credit intro. I was incredibly stoked to see Ashley Johnson, who voiced Ellie in the game. Mind you, it’s incredibly weird hearing game-Ellie’s voice coming out of… not game-Ellie. I’m so glad she’s in, though, and how wonderful it is that she gets to play Ellie’s mom; a literal passing of the torch.

The face which was the voice of Ellie

This scene (and the one that immediately follows the opening credits), showing the heartbreaking manner in which Ellie came to be immune (can I just say how absolutely terrifying I found the footsteps coming up the stairs and the bashing on the door here), acquired her knife and how she ended up in Boston is entirely new for the show. We don’t get this in the game, and how exactly Ellie ended up in Boston, acquired her knife, and how she became immune are unknowns in the game.

The birth itself is heartbreaking. I might have sobbed a little when Anna held her crying newborn and said, “You fucking tell them, Ellie.”

After the opening credits, we find a younger Marlene and small group of Fireflies enter the house to find Anna about to kill herself, holding her child. I can imagine that it would be such a hard thing, to be asked to kill your friend, even if she was changing into a fungal-monster before your very eyes. I think I’d have been the same way as Marleen here, and forever changed by it.

I’d also like to point out that the man who Marlene gave temporary care of baby Ellie to is terrible at following directions. Way to cover her ears, dude.

The show then cuts to Ellie today, absolutely traumatized by her time with David, and poor Joel trying so hard to bring her back. It’s cute and awful at the same time. It also parallels the game, though I feel in the game, Joel is still a little distant at this point. There’s one more trial he has to face before he really lets himself know what we all already know (that he loves Ellie). In the show, he puts in a great deal more patient effort than in the game.

I do enjoy how much time the show gives to showing Joel trying hard to be a comforting presence for Ellie. In the game, there’ s a lot more shooting and just trying to survive. Eat my shrapnel bomb, Clickers!

The beautiful scene with the giraffes is right out of the game; but the game version feels deeper somehow. They made it abundantly clear in the beginning of the game in a way they didn’t in the show (that I spotted) that giraffes had a special meaning for Joel and his actual daughter. I do have to say, Joel taking pleasure in Ellie’s delight is more evident in the show, though, and it’s so very sweet… without being saccharine, which is not an easy thing to pull off.

Game vs Show

I loved the callback to the first real conversation Ellie and Joel had from a high vantage point earlier in the show (episode two, as I remember it). The conversation that follows is also touching, but it’s making it pretty clear where Ellie stands on the issue of finding a cure, which makes what’s coming up such an interesting topic of debate.

While there are a lot of scenes taken right out of the game, one of the things I admire about the show is how it adds new things without giving up the feel or spirit of the game on which it’s based. Like the pre-credit scenes all through the show, the extra scenes with Sarah and Joel at the beginning of the series, etc. Joel’s suicide confession, for example, doesn’t happen in the game. It’s new for the show, but it does a good job of showing who Joel is, where he stands, and how he feels about Ellie, which makes what’s coming up an interesting topic of debate.

(I sense another article.)

The show doesn’t always hit the mark, though. The manner in which Joel and Ellie are found by the Fireflies is vastly different in the game, and I was hoping the show would be closer to the game — having the payoff for Ellie mentioning that she can’t swim early in the show. I suppose it works better in the game because you are playing Ellie’s guardian, and because of how frantic Joel is; how he ignores everything that survival requires in the terrified search for help to get Ellie breathing again… which in turn made me, as the player, as frantic as Joel.

I couldn’t find a convenient gif of the in-game version, so here is a TikTok of it.

The revelation that the Fireflies are going to kill Ellie in order to create a cure is really something… and I adore the way they handled Joel’s quest to stop them.

In the game, you fight like hell. It’s hard, it’s frantic, and I, for one, only cared about saving Ellie. In the show, the way they slow everything down, dull the sounds and layer emotional music over the slaughter gives it a pathos I did not feel while playing. It’s almost like you can see Joel disassociating as he does what he needs in order to protect the one he loves.

There was a wonderful bookend in the game and in the show; the way he carried his daughter when her leg broke — to her death — is the same way he carries Ellie away from surgery — back to life. It’s poignant and beautiful, whether you agree with what Joel did or not.

It starts and ends in mirrored reflections

And here is where there has been considerable debate amongst my friends. Was Joel right or wrong? To be frank, I think Marlene was absolutely right about what Ellie would choose. But Ellie was still recovering from a pretty severe trauma, not to mention survivor’s guilt. I’m not convinced Marlene herself believed Ellie would choose to die to possibly find a cure, else she would have told Ellie what it was they had to to. She would have let Ellie decide.

It has been confirmed by the writers/show runners that had Ellie died at the hospital, the cure would have likely been found. However, all the maybes and ifs (made all the more maybe-ish and iffier in the game), and the fact that he had not been able to hear Ellie say it herself, makes the trade simply not worth it. I, personally, take serious issue with how the Fireflies didn’t tell her and didn’t let her decide for herself. Informed consent, y’all. Also, so many ethics violations I don’t know where to begin.

I have friends that fall either side of the ‘Was Joel Right?’ debate. I can definitely see both sides. But I also know myself, and I know that I would have done exactly what Joel did. I would have fought like hell to save my baby girl. Would I be right? Would it be the moral choice? I cannot answer that.

In the show and in the game, Joel lies to Ellie about what happened at the hospital. The raiders part of the lie is new to the show, I think, and does fill in a gap that the game did not. I also love that they show how much Joel has healed; how easily he now speaks of his daughter, and in the past tense as well. This was a feature of the game also, and I absolutely loved that about Joel’s character arc.

He stays fundamentally the same kind of man he was at the beginning — protective and selfish. That does not change. He fundamentally does not change. What changes is how Joel heals from his daughter’s death. It’s a brilliant piece of character writing that I have long gushed about.

The final lie, where he promised he was telling the truth about what happened at the hospital plays the same in show and in game, and in both, you understand that Ellie knows he is lying. And that is how both the show and the game end.

She knows, Joel

While not perfect, The Last of Us is a masterclass of how to do a video game adaptation (and also, perhaps, in selecting which games to adapt). There are enough elements of the source material to keep folks like myself, who have played and loved the game, and enough new and added material to keep folks like myself, who know the story so well, interested in the show. The focus of the show is just different enough from that of the game to keep it fresh.

While I am disappointed in the lack of fungal-zombie hordes, the show made the right decision, in my mind, to focus on the characters and their journey, rather than on the more brutal survival elements of the game. This necessitated the sacrificing of zombie hordes. It was the right move.

I am very impressed with what was done, and I look forward to other folks trying to make these kinds of adaptations taking a leaf from this team’s book.

Nicely done, everyone.

Other articles in this series:

When You’re Lost in the Darkness: The Last of Us, Episode One
Infected: The Last of Us, Episode Two
Long, Long Time: The Last of Us, Episode Three
Please Hold My Hand: The Last of Us, Episode Four
Endure and Survive: The Last of Us, Episode Five
Kin: The Last of Us, Episode Six
Left Behind: The Last of Us, Episode Seven
When We Are in Need: The Last of Us, Episode Eight
Look for the Light: The Last of Us, Episode Nine

When S.M. Carrière isn’t brutally killing your favorite characters, she spends her time teaching martial arts, live streaming video games, occasionally teaching at the University of Ottawa, and cuddling her cat. In other words, she spends her time teaching others to kill, streaming her digital kills, teaching about historical death, and cuddling a furry murderer. Her latest novels are SkylarkDaughters of Britain, and Human.

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Eugene R.

I was leery going into the series as most game-based fiction adaptations are pretty pedestrian, since they lack the immediacy of the game experience where the tension is direct, the dice/controller/cards are in your hands. But I did trust Craig Mazin after watching Chernobyl. And I learned to trust good creators from my experience with micro-brewers, where I tried a lot of styles and “experiments” that were outside my usual beer “comfort zone”, because I knew they did good work.

I landed on the Joel is Right side of the fence, partly for character reasons (again, a matter of trust), but also for a basic issue with any experimental method that involves the death of the subject, which is that it is a one-time-only procedure. And the Fireflies had no guarantees that they would have a cure, so killing the only source of a cure seemed way too drastic a decision. I suppose if the Clickers were banging on the doors, maybe. But they have been surviving for 20 years, so the threat was not short-term/immediate. Experiment, yes. Keep Ellie imprisoned … umm, “protected”, yes. But kill her? For a roll of the dice? Lock and load, Joel, lock and load!

S.M. Carrière

I feel the exact same regarding Joel’s actions. And I’m so glad that the show was so good an adaptation. I love the video game with a fierce passion (one day, when I can afford a PS5, The Last of Us is one of four games I would port over). The show did it justice, and I’m happy.

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