The Last of Us – Episode 9 Finale Recap – ‘Look for the Light’

The HBO adaptation finally depicts the concluding events of the video game, with Ellie's original actor, Ashley Johnson, playing a significant role.
The Last of Us HBO

The Season 1 finale of HBO’s adaptation of The Last of Us finally concludes with the depiction of the closing events of first video game. Ashley Johnson, the original voice and motion capture actress for Ellie in The Last of Us Part I & II, also makes her first appearance in the series as Ellie’s mother, Anna – a highly anticipated and lesser-explored character who was only hinted at in the first two games.  

A gritty flashback of Anna and Marlene (Merle Dandridge) is showcased in the cold open of the episode, which provides a brief backstory into their relationship, as well as a clear explanation as to how Ellie (Bella Ramsey) gained her immunity from the Cordyceps virus. 

In the present day, Ellie has been delivered to the hospital that has been taken over by the Fireflies, where she is awaiting invasive brain surgery in an attempt to reverse engineer a vaccine. Marlene explains that Ellie will not survive due to the nature of the procedure, and instructs Joel (Pedro Pascal) to leave the hospital, seeing the journey between him and Ellie, seemingly, reach its conclusion. 

But not before one final action from Joel. 

For further analysis and reading on the HBO adaptation of The Last of Us, you can check out the following articles: 

Episode recaps and analysis: 

Behind-the-scenes podcast recaps:

The Last of Us is now streaming on HBO Max in the US, and Binge in Australia.

The Last of Us – Episode 9 Recap – ‘Look for the Light’ 

Episode 9 was written by Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann and directed by Ali Abbasi. 

Ashley Johnson, the original voice and motion capture actress for Ellie in The Last of Us Part I & II, makes her first appearance in the HBO adaptation during the opening scene of the episode, returning to play Ellie’s mother, Anna.

Anna is seen running through the woods whilst in active labour, as she attempts to reach a safe house in order to deliver her baby. Screams from a member of the infected echo behind her. As she enters the house, she realises Marlene (Merle Dandridge) and other members of the Fireflies have not yet arrived, and barricades herself into a room upstairs with a wooden chair blocking the doorknob. 

As her water breaks, she sits against the wall before hearing a window crash downstairs, indicating the infected has made its way inside the house. She reaches for the switchblade in her jacket pocket – the switchblade that will eventually belong to Ellie – arming herself as the infected runs upstairs and begins bashing itself against the door. 

The infected crashes into the room and quickly crawls towards Anna, who fights it off in a scuffle, eventually managing to stab them repeatedly in the neck. 

Anna hears a cry from her newborn below her as the infected falls dead, and whilst taking a moment to look at her child, she notices that her thigh has been bitten during the fight. She acts quickly, cutting the umbilical cord with the switchblade, and holds the baby to soothe her as she cries. She then gives her a name by saying – ‘You tell them. You fuckin’ tell them, Ellie.’ 

Day has turned to night, and Marlene and the Fireflies have now reached the safehouse, entering through a backdoor upon realising the front entrance has been locked. They inspect the house to discover a broken window, and move tentatively into the room upstairs.

Marlene enters to discover Anna holding Ellie next to the dead body, shining a flashlight to reveal the spreading infection on Anna’s thigh. Marlene is apologetic, explaining they were delayed leaving their zone, but Anna is only focused on Ellie’s safety. She firmly tells Marlene that she had cut the umbilical cord before she was bitten, making a point not to jeopardise Ellie’s welfare due to a possible infection.

Marlene looks at her in disbelief, and Anna repeats herself, locking eyes with Marlene as she tells her to take Ellie to Boston, and deliver her to safety. She places Ellie on the ground, cradled in her jacket, and gently puts her switchblade on Ellie’s chest, saying that Marlene must pass it down to her. 

Anna stands firm as Marlene, through tears, denies the request. Anna reminds her of the friendship the two have cultivated their whole lives. She instructs Marlene to kill her, and tells her once again to take Ellie. Marlene leans over to pick up Ellie, but says she can’t bring herself to kill her. She begins to walk out of the room, but Anna pleads with Marlene.

Marlene stops and makes her decision, as she hands the baby to another Firefly, telling him to cover Ellie’s ears. She quickly paces into the room, pulls a gun from her holster, and shoots Anna, returning to comfort Ellie as she cries. 

We jump forward to the present day, where Ellie (Bella Ramsey) is sitting on the edge of a truck waiting for Joel (Pedro Pascal), still reeling from the events of Episode 8.

Joel returns to show her a can of pasta and a game of Boggle he has scavenged, and tries to make conversation, mentioning he also stumbled on a guitar. He says that he could one day teach her how to play, and Ellie reacts briefly, as the two continue to figure out their route to the hospital. 

Joel attempts to check in with Ellie as they enter a construction site, but it’s clear Ellie doesn’t want to speak about what has happened. She carries on with the goal at hand, climbing atop Joel’s shoulders to deliver him a ladder, but hastily drops it up becoming distracted by something unseen.

Ellie runs up multiple flights of stairs and Joel catches up to meet her, walking through a broken wall that has become overgrown with lush greenery. The pair stand quietly, staring in awe at a giraffe peeking its head through the construction site. Joel hands Ellie a small branch of leaves to feed the animal with.

Ellie laughs as the giraffe scoops its tongue to eat the leaves, then runs through a door to discover a balcony that overlooks an entire field of giraffes. The two take a moment of respite here, and Joel tells Ellie that they have an opportunity to leave their mission behind and return to Jackson. 

Ellie rebuffs this offer, telling Joel that everything they have gone through so far should amount to something, and that they must see things through to the very end. 

As Joel and Ellie leave the construction site, they walk through an abandoned emergency medical camp, which Joel explains had been put in place by the army during the first few days of the outbreak. He tells Ellie he had been put in one of these camps to treat a gunshot wound to his head, and Ellie jokingly references the cause being the ‘guy who shot and missed’ – first referenced in Episode 3 when the two were only just getting to know each other, and Joel was much more closed off.

Joel reveals to Ellie that he himself was the man who shot and missed, explaining that he had attempted to take his own life after the death of his daughter, Sarah. 

He tells Ellie that while he wasn’t afraid, he had flinched before pulling the trigger, and looks at Ellie as he explains that it wasn’t ‘time’ that was responsible for his healing. 

Joel then prompts Ellie to read jokes from No Pun Intended: Volume Too as they continue to walk. As they quibble over the hilarity of each joke, a man in military garb appears in the distance behind them, throwing a smoke bomb at their feet. Joel guards Ellie in the explosion, and three more men emerge. One grabs Ellie and another knocks Joel unconscious. 

Joel awakens in a hospital bed to see a Firefly logo spray painted on a medical container next to him. Marlene welcomes Joel to the Fireflies, showing him gratitude for protecting Ellie thus far, and tells him that she is currently being prepped for surgery. 

She explains that as the Cordyceps virus has grown with her since birth, it has produced a ‘chemical messenger’ which leads the virus to think that she is one of their own. Marlene says their doctors will be able to remove this messenger from her and essentially reverse-engineer a vaccine that can be distributed to everyone. 

Joel comes to the realisation that as the Cordyceps virus grows inside the brain, Ellie will not survive the procedure. He tells Marlene to find another candidate for the operation. Marlene confirms this fact, but calmly states that finding someone else isn’t an option. She also admits that Ellie has not been told what she is undergoing surgery for, but she won’t be in any pain. 

Joel demands to see Ellie and is hit by a guard, before Marlene motions for them to stand down. He quietly pleads with her, but Marlene brings up the duty of care she had promised to Ellie’s mother, noting she has an understanding of the gravity of this loss because she has been with Ellie since her birth. 

Marlene hands Ellie’s switchblade to Joel, and instructs the guards to escort him out of the building. She also tells them to shoot him on sight if he makes any attempts to retaliate.

Joel is ushered out of the hospital, calculating his next move as he is reluctantly escorted down a flight of stairs. Eventually, Joel stops in his tracks, refusing to move. He’s nudged forward by one of the guards, and as he is provoked a second time, Joel swings around to hit and disarm the guard, using his assault rifle to kill the second guard. He shoots the first guard in the knee, demanding Ellie’s location. The guard doesn’t reveal it, so Joel swiftly kills him before re-entering the hospital.

A dramatic score plays as Joel begins walking through the building, mercilessly shooting and killing every armed guard he sees, including one who surrenders his weapon and seems willing to let Joel pass freely. 

He eventually finds the paediatric surgery unit, and enters an operating room to find Ellie unconscious and under anaesthetic as three doctors surround her. He walks in, and orders them to unhook her.

The lead doctor reaches for a scalpel in defence, insisting he will not let Joel take her. Joel immediately shoots him, and orders the remaining doctors to release Ellie, to which they oblige. Joel instructs them to turn around, and removes Ellie from the table.

It’s important to note here, that these doctors are the only people Joel shows mercy to during this sequence. In the video game version of The Last of Us, killing them is left up to player choice. 

Joel flees with Ellie to an underground parking garage, and as he begins to make his way to a parked car, Marlene emerges, armed with a handgun. 

She tells Joel that despite all of his best efforts, Ellie will eventually grow older and he will be unable to protect her from the harsh realities of this world – one that he could have saved. 

While Joel agrees with the sentiment, he says the decision is ultimately not Marlene’s to make, prompting Marlene to ask him what Ellie would have decided for herself. 

She tells Joel that Ellie would want to ‘do what’s right’, and that even after what he’s done, there is still hope they can find a way to salvage humanity by bringing Ellie back inside.

Joel looks at Ellie, pondering the thought. But before his next moves are revealed, the episode cuts to a shot of Joel driving down a country road, as Ellie awakens in the back seat, dazed and still wearing a hospital gown. 

Joel tells Ellie that the drugs are still wearing off, to her confusion, and Joel explains that the Fireflies had to run a number of tests on her. He then fabricates a lie, saying that there are dozens of other immune individuals just like her, and the doctors had given up looking for a viable cure. 

We flashback to Marlene, who lowers her gun, but Joel shoots her as she takes a few steps towards him and Ellie.

Back in the car, Joel explains that raiders had attacked the hospital, and a number of people were hurt. He doesn’t respond when Ellie asks after Marlene. 

In the parking garage, Joel places Ellie in the backseat of a car. He hears that Marlene is still alive, crawling in pain. She puts her hand up in surrender and asks for Joel to let her go. Joel responds, ‘you’d just come after her’. He shoots her again.

Much later, Joel and Ellie are continuing their drive back to Jackson, when their car suddenly breaks down, leading them to carry out the rest of the trip on foot. 

As they’re travelling through the woods, Joel opens up about the hikes he and Sarah used to take together. He says that Sarah and Ellie probably would have gotten along, pointing out the qualities each of them possesses.

They finally land at a hill overlooking the town of Jackson, and Ellie stops Joel before they can continue on. She opens up about the events of Riley’s (Storm Reid) infection – depicted in Episode 7 – and speaks about all the deaths that have followed her, noting Sam (Keivonn Woodard), and Tess (Anna Torv). 

Joel tries to offer comfort by saying she must keep finding something new to fight for, but Ellie stops him.

Ellie asks Joel to swear that everything he told her upon leaving the hospital was the truth.

Joel gives her his word. Ellie looks at him for a few moments before quietly saying, ‘okay.’

Stray Observations and Analysis 

Seeing the hospital sequence play out in live action truly was a much grimmer sight than in the video game – in the game, you become somewhat desensitized from the number of people that Joel has killed. The show really highlights the atrociously large number of Joel is willing to kill in order to reach Ellie, and makes the decision of his to kill the last doctors in the US with high levels of medical knowledge – thus defeating any future opportunities to create a vaccine – feel like a really short-sighted and devastating decision.

Joel has invested so much emotional energy into his relationship with Ellie, and I wonder if in the midst of killing the Fireflies it was almost like a ‘point of no return’ for him. He truly does not know how their dynamic is going to play out post their journey together, and Ellie could have very well grown older and drifted away from him organically if the hospital mission was unsuccessful. Marlene even alludes to this in her attempts to reason with Joel, saying he would be unable to protect her from everything in this world as she ages. It’s valid that the love he has for her is driving his behaviour, but Joel as a character, or at least in the hospital scene, is not at all forward-thinking. 

When The Last of Us Part II was first announced, I remember at the time wondering what story there was left to unpack, as the first game – despite its somewhat ambiguous ending – felt whole to me. 

Obviously upon replaying both games, particularly at different stages in my own life, there was a hell of a lot left to unpack, and I had justified the relationship between Joel and Ellie without thinking about the deeper implications. 

Seeing the way this episode was adapted, particularly the ending, really showcased an entry point for further narrative in the way the first game didn’t initially communicate to me as a player.

So much of Ellie’s life purpose lies in her immunity, and it’s clear in the series that she is already affected by the idea that the existence of her life isn’t going to change the world. Joel has taken any choice away from her because of his own desires, and I think the team did a fantastic job of communicating all of these complex emotions and story beats.  

Emily Shiel is a freelance writer based in Melbourne, Australia who is passionate about all things accessibility, mental health and the indie games scene. You can find her on Twitter at @emi_shiel