Title: The Last of Us S1.E09 “Look for the Light”
Released: 2023
Series:  The Last of Us

Previously: Ellie ran into some culty cannibals who traded her a deer for medicine for Joel, but then they came back and kidnapped her to be David’s child bride. Ellie said no thanks and after a cat-and-mouse chase through a burning building, she unalived David a lot…like, a lot a lot. A barely-conscious-but-finally-upright Joel arrived in time to comfort his baby girl after a very traumatic few weeks.

We have come to the end of season one, and what a ride! I did not expect for the show to get as popular as it has, but I’m glad that we were all able to go on this journey together. The game certainly wormed its way into my psyche more than I expected, so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that a well-done TV adaptation would do the same.

Before we dive in, let me answer Mandy W’s question from last week: I feel like my care package to Ellie would have to include some kind of e-reader uploaded with every book we could possibly stuff in it (including some non-fiction works about, like, field dressings and safe-to-eat wild plants) along with a solar-panel charger to keep it going. Because in between all that running for your life…the apocalypse looks boring AF, and we know Ellie enjoys a good story.

From Cargo To Daughter

Ellie’s origin story is a tragic one: her mom, Anna (played by game-Ellie’s voice, Ashley Johnson), is bitten while giving birth (apparently you barely notice you delivered while you’re literally fighting off an attacker) and in the thirtyish seconds it takes her to realize it and cut her umbilical cord is when Ellie is given some sort of immunity. Anna’s childhood BFF, Firefly Marlene, shows up later and (somewhat reluctantly!) agrees to take baby Ellie to safety before putting Anna down before she turns. It’s so brutal.

Back in present day, Ellie and Joel have finally arrived in Salt Lake City, but Ellie is still feeling the effects of the trauma she endured with David, and Joel is worried he can’t snap her out of this daze. That changes when Ellie spots a giraffe and finally laughs and smiles, and Joel is so relieved. He tells Ellie that they can turn around right now if it’d make her happy—obviously that’d make HIM happy—but she wants to see this thing through. As they walk, Joel keeps opening up and reveals he tried to kill himself after Sarah died, but he couldn’t go through with it. But time didn’t heal that wound; meeting Ellie and finding a new daughter in her did. Unfortunately, right after that reveal they’re hit with a flash bang by Firefly patrols who don’t know who they are.

When Joel wakes up in the hospital, Marlene is there and, frankly, shocked they managed to survive the just two of them all this way (us, too, Marlene). But since they did, Ellie’s now being prepped for surgery so they can get those special cordyceps out of her brain and synthesize a cure, and yeah, that means Ellie is dead meat, but she’s sacrificing herself for the greater good! (Not that Ellie is aware since they didn’t tell her this.) Joel begs and pleads to see Ellie but Marlene refuses, giving orders to kick him out and shoot him if he doesn’t comply. Instead, a broken Joel proceeds to go on a killing spree until he finds Ellie’s operating room, shoots the doctor in the head, and brings an unconscious Ellie with him to the parking garage to escape. Marlene pops out from behind a pillar for one last chance to convince Joel to stop what he’s doing, but he can’t see a future without Ellie, so he kills Marlene and drives off.

As they arrive back to Jackson, Ellie asks Joel if everything he told her was true—that there were dozens of immune people like her but the Fireflies couldn’t make a cure—and he lies to her face and says yes. Ellie doesn’t look completely convinced, but she lets Joel have this one as we fade to black and the season ends.

Best Joel/Ellie Moment

So many to pick from in an episode where they’re aiming to rip our hearts out! I loved all the little callbacks the characters said to each other (“can’t deny that view” “just a five hour hike, we can make that”). The moment with the giraffe is always heartwarming and most fans’ favorite from the game, but I loved when Joel opened up and basically told Ellie that he loves her and she is what made him start living again. It’s such a raw moment for them both.

Survivor of the Week

Yeesh, I mean, WHO’S LEFT, JOEL?? I guess by default this one goes to Ellie, who was minutes away from death. Or perhaps those nurses that Joel (THANKFULLY) left alive. In the game, you have no choice but to shoot the doctor, but you can leave the rest of the operating team alive, and I felt SO bad the last time I did a playthrough and I accidentally shot one of them as I was leaving out the side door. My finger slipped!

Pour One Out For

Marlene, the doctor, and what felt like dozens of lackey Fireflies. WHEW. I get humanity is on the line here, and Marlene obviously had no way of knowing that an asshole like Joel would become a girl dad by the time she met back up with them, but I can’t help but wonder if things would’ve turned out a leeeetle bit differently if they’d taken the time to explain to Ellie what her sacrifice would mean and if she then was able to ask if she could say goodbye to Joel / explain it to him instead of just separating them and putting her under.

Best Time To Cover Your Eyes

I gotta say, it hit different when you’re playing as Joel going through that hospital trying to also not get shot than it does just watching the violence unfold. Suddenly he’s Mr. Doesn’t Miss A Shot and, paired with the music, it gets tough to watch, both for the violence and for Joel’s mental state, as we are in the process of watching a man in the middle of an emotional break.

We Must Adapt To Survive

  • This was a pretty faithful game-to-television recreation of moments like the giraffe and wandering the highway, and the shoot-out in the hospital and how Joel lies to Ellie at the end. There’s two major differences:

  • Ellie’s origin story is never told, and Anna and Marlene’s connection is never revealed to that extent in the game, and

  • The biggest thing they cut completely was a long gaming section where they must get through a watery tunnel to reach the hospital and kill multiple bloaters, clickers, and runners. Ellie also nearly drowns, and that’s right when the Fireflies turn up and just knock Joel out instead of letting him know if she’s okay, so when he wakes up later he’s already on extreme edge. Communication saves lives, people!!

Graffiti On The Wall

  • Mandy W and I had some long talks after the first episode about those twenty years Joel lived after Sarah and his mindset in the aftermath of her death, being that even twenty long years later he’s still living a half-life, almost a zombie himself without her. I kinda felt surprised that someone who loved Sarah as deeply as he did and with an apocalypse looming would even have the capacity to go on, and then also knowing what he did (or didn’t really do) with that time. So all that to say, when he reveals he DID try to kill himself but wasn’t able to, I felt a bit vindicated.

  • Joel is absolutely the villain in his own story. His action to save Ellie and doom humanity isn’t the “heroic” one, but it is completely believable and understandable based on everything we’re shown about him and how he operates throughout the entire show. We are selfish creatures, and these people have survived twenty years in a cruel, selfish, apocalyptic world. I completely sympathize with Joel, even if I can’t completely agree with him. But also, can I say that I wouldn’t do the same? Especially in video games, we’re often playing the hero who makes the hard sacrifices, who is special because they can put aside their own desires, and, often, through luck or magic or plot, they get rewarded for that choice. But if I were Joel, who is definitively a killer, and someone had just informed me they were about to kill my loved one without letting me say goodbye…could I just let that go?

  • It’d be one thing if Joel’s decision was the only thing at play here, but what makes it extra complicated is Ellie’s desires. She DOES want to be the hero and save humanity, especially after all the people she’s had to watch die. Yes, she doesn’t realize that would cost her her life, but I think we (and Joel) know that she would be that hero and make that sacrifice if offered the choice. So to watch Joel do something so awful out of his pure love for her, something against Ellie’s wishes, but also understand he is a broken man, a product of all the trauma from his past just like she is…I just love that there’s no “right” answer here, and every outcome is a tough one.

  • On a lighter but still bittersweet note, I loved how during their hike back to Jackson, Joel is able to talk about Sarah and share happier moments with her, and how he fumbles through trying to compare them in a way that’s fair to them both—a dad trying not to play favorites. I’m sure it would not be a surprise to know I teared up multiple times during this episode.

  • Is it any wonder Ellie is such a badass with a mom like that?! Did I also tear up when we see Anna’s been sitting there cradling Ellie the whole time with her knife to her throat waiting to turn? Yoooou betcha. Also that’s her mom’s knife Ellie holds on to so dearly? 😭 My heart.

My final question(s) of the season are for ALL OF US (heh heh): What did you think of the finale? How did it work in the overall story for you? What do you think of Joel’s choice to save Ellie at the expense of a possible cure for humankind? For those non-gamers who haven’t played Part II, where do you think Ellie and Joel’s story will go? Tell us everything in the comments!

Also, stay tuned later this week for our wrap-up post about the entirety of season one and cast your votes for the best moments!


Stephanie (she/her) is an avid reader who moonlights at a college and calls Orlando home. Stephanie loves watching television, reading DIY blogs, planning awesome parties, Halloween decorating, and playing live-action escape games.