‘The Last of Us’ ending explained: Did Joel make the right choice?

Do not let the shorter runtime of The Last of Us’s Season 1 finale idiot you. Like the eight episodes earlier than it, “Search for the Gentle” delivers thrills, tears, and horror in diverse quantities — a lot of these coming because of this of Joel’s (Pedro Pascal) cataclysmic closing alternative.

“Search for the Gentle” sees Joel and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) lastly attain Salt Lake Metropolis. There, they discover Marlene (Merle Dandridge) and the Fireflies, who plan to make use of Ellie’s immunity to develop a remedy for the infectious Cordyceps fungus. Nonetheless, Marlene reveals to Joel that to entry the uncooked materials wanted to synthesize this remedy, Ellie must die. When given a alternative between saving the world and saving the individual dearest to him, Joel chooses to save lots of Ellie, killing everybody in the hospital in the course of.

It is a devastating sequence. In any case, Joel is destroying the solely shot the world could have at a remedy. However at the identical time, it is a alternative that The Last of Us has been constructing to for the whole season, and particularly this episode. Let’s break down the occasions of “Search for the Gentle” — and what they inform us about Joel’s determination.



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The Last of Us reveals Ellie’s origin story.

Ashley Johnson in “The Last of Us.”
Credit score: Liane Hentscher/HBO

The Last of Us gave us a peek into Ellie’s previous with its “Left Behind” episode, however “Search for the Gentle” reveals us the very second she got here into the world — and the motive why she’s immune in the first place.


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Ellie’s mom Anna (performed by authentic Ellie actor Ashley Johnson) offers delivery to Ellie right after being bitten by one of the Contaminated. Since child Ellie was nonetheless linked to Anna by her umbilical wire, the an infection traveled to her. Her immunity is because of the incontrovertible fact that the Cordyceps has grown together with her, in her mind, since delivery.

The worst half of this sequence comes later, when Anna begs Marlene to kill her earlier than she will be able to flip. Marlene refuses at first, however finally she relents and shoots Anna. As heartbreaking as this second is, it is also extremely telling: Marlene isn’t any stranger to creating exhausting selections, even in relation to hurting these near her. If a painful loss of life can present mercy, she’ll grant that to somebody. And if the loss of life of a toddler she was chosen to look at over can carry hope to the world, Marlene will make that decision as nicely.

The Last of Us cements Joel and Ellie’s father-daughter bond in “Search for the Gentle.”

A man with a gun over his back stands next to a teenage girl in a ruined city.

Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey in “The Last of Us.”
Credit score: Liane Hentscher/HBO

After Joel referred to Ellie as “child woman” — his nickname for late daughter Sarah (Nico Parker) — in episode 8, it is abundantly clear that he thinks of her as extra than simply his cost. He views her as a daughter. A dialogue between the two as soon as they attain Salt Lake Metropolis cements this transformation of their relationship.

Joel opens as much as Ellie about the scar on his temple, the one he claimed was left by a person who shot and missed. Seems, he was the man who shot and missed, having tried to die by suicide after shedding Sarah. It is a reveal that carries an infinite quantity of emotional weight: There is no method the Joel who knocked Ellie to the floor in episode 1 would have trusted her with a fact of this magnitude.

Ellie receives this information with the correct quantity of solemnity and respect, listening to Joel as he speaks. “So, time heals all wounds, I assume,” she remarks.


“It wasn’t time that did it,” Joel responds. The true that means of that assertion — that Ellie healed him — stays unstated, however the two seem conscious of it simply the identical. As the pair of them forge onwards with the assist of some horrendous puns courtesy of Will Livingston, it is easy to see that their relationship has by no means been stronger.


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The Fireflies threaten to remove the individual Joel loves most — however would Ellie have wished to undergo with it?

A teenage girl sits in the back of a pick up truck.

Bella Ramsey in “The Last of Us.”
Credit score: Liane Hentscher/HBO

The Fireflies ambush and separate Ellie and Joel, leaving Joel to talk with Marlene. She reveals why Ellie is immune, and he or she explains that the Fireflies’ surgeon might want to lower into the Cordyceps inside Ellie’s mind to provide a remedy. Joel refuses to lose one other daughter and goes on a lethal rampage by the hospital to get to Ellie in time. If you happen to thought the interrogation scene in episode 8 was brutal, this sequence reveals a complete new degree of what Joel is succesful of.

Joel saves an unconscious Ellie earlier than her surgical procedure can start — observe how he carries her in the identical method he carried an injured Sarah in episode 1. Earlier than he can go away, although, Marlene confronts him.

“You possibly can’t maintain her secure ceaselessly. Regardless of how exhausting you strive, regardless of how many individuals you kill, she’s gonna develop up, Joel,” she says. “And then you definately’ll die, she’ll go away. Then what? How lengthy earlier than she’s torn aside by Contaminated or murdered by raiders as a result of she lives in a damaged world that you may have saved?”

“Perhaps,” Joel responds. “However it is not so that you can determine.”

“Otherwise you,” Marlene says. “So, what would she determine? As a result of I feel she’d wanna do what’s right.”


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Marlene’s phrases elevate an fascinating level, one which lingers lengthy after Joel has killed her and drives Ellie again to Wyoming. Earlier in the episode, Joel tells Ellie that they might very nicely flip round and head again to Jackson, however she refuses.

“In any case we have been by. All the pieces I’ve completed. It might’t be for nothing,” she tells him. All through the opening of the episode, we see a extra subdued Ellie, one who has been traumatized by her cross-country journey and particularly by her encounter with David (Scott Shepherd). These occasions have made her extra decided than ever to see this by. As she reminds Joel, “There is no midway with this. We end what we began.”

So, when Joel lies to Ellie about the Fireflies being unable to discover a remedy, and about raiders attacking the hospital, it is a devastating blow to her. Each trauma she’s skilled, each loss of life she’s witnessed — in her thoughts, they have been all for naught. She opens up about her survivor’s guilt to Joel, telling him about Riley (Storm Reid) and reminding him of Tess (Anna Torv), Henry (Lamar Johnson), and Sam (Keivonn Woodard). Her immunity may have given their deaths that means, and primarily based on her insistence that she and Joel end their mission, it is extremely probably that she would have been keen to sacrifice herself in an effort to do this.

Joel acknowledges this and swears that he is telling the fact, and Ellie, who has beforehand said that she’d comply with Joel wherever post-Fireflies, merely says, “OK,” seeming to imagine him.

Joel’s alternative has been foreshadowed by virtually each character we have met this season.

A half-smiling teenage girl.

Bella Ramsey in “The Last of Us.”
Credit score: Liane Hentscher/HBO

As controversial as it’s, Joel’s alternative ought to come as no shock. All through the season, The Last of Us has been exploring how love impacts our actions in the direction of others, even pushing us to extremes.

In the case of Invoice (Nick Offerman), we noticed how his love for Frank (Murray Bartlett) gave him one thing apart from survival to struggle for in the apocalypse. And whereas his love could have softened his defenses in the direction of outsiders like Joel and Tess, it additionally hardened his resolve to maintain Frank alive. “There was one individual price saving,” Invoice writes in his suicide letter to Joel. “That is what I did: I saved him. And I protected him. That is why males such as you and me are right here: We’ve got a job to do. And God assist any motherfuckers who stand in our method.”

All through the season, Joel’s “one individual” turns into Ellie, and the finale sees him comply with in Invoice’s footsteps and struggle like hell to maintain defending her. And God assist the Fireflies who stand in his method.

Whereas Invoice and Frank’s love is introduced as hopeful and nurturing towards the bleak backdrop of the apocalypse, The Last of Us presents us with some examples of love which have disastrous penalties regardless of the loving intentions behind them.

The primary is Henry’s love for Sam. When Sam received sick, Henry gave up the chief of the Kansas Metropolis resistance motion to FEDRA in change for drugs. But regardless of saving Sam’s life, Henry additionally feels some guilt over his actions. “Am I the dangerous man?” he asks Joel. “The answer is straightforward. I’m the dangerous man as a result of I did a nasty man factor.” Nonetheless, given Henry’s deep love for Sam, you realize that he would do it another time in a heartbeat in an effort to save him. The identical goes for Joel, whose actions at the hospital are undoubtedly terrible. However once more, simply as Henry would do something to save lots of Sam, so would Joel do something to save lots of Ellie.

Then there’s Kathleen (Melanie Lynskey), whose brother was the resistance chief turned in by Henry. Her love for him festers into an intense and damaging quest for vengeance, one which results in numerous brutal deaths of each FEDRA troopers and their collaborators. Her refusal to forgive or compromise is borderline sinister — nonetheless, you realize she’s coming from a spot of love and grief. So, too, is Joel as he goes on his killing spree all through the hospital. He is committing a monstrous act in the identify of love.

The Last of Us always presents us with examples of love in the time of Cordyceps, every with an unasked query lurking behind it. What type will Joel’s love for Ellie take? What about her love for him? And in the finale, we get the reply to the first query. Joel’s love is an amalgamation of Invoice’s, Henry’s, and Kathleen’s: He has a fierce need to guard, one which pushes him to commit horrific acts that he must stay with ceaselessly. But you realize, as he tells Ellie about Sarah on the hike to Jackson, that he would not change his actions.

So, did Joel make the right alternative?

A man standing next to a highway.

Pedro Pascal in “The Last of Us.”
Credit score: Liane Hentscher/HBO

Clearly, it is a loaded query. From a utilitarian perspective, Joel is totally in the incorrect. Assume of the finale of The Last of Us like a fungus-encrusted trolley drawback: Joel selected to sacrifice the world for the life of one individual. He then lied about it to Ellie, robbing her of any say she may need in the matter.

To be truthful, the Fireflies did the identical factor. They stripped away Ellie’s company by failing to inform her about the true nature of the process she was about to bear. Marlene assumes that Ellie would have wished to undergo with the sacrifice, and primarily based on Ellie’s actions earlier in the episode, it is probably she would have wished to as nicely. However the Fireflies by no means give her the alternative, an motion that’s in itself alarming.

If you wish to make the case for Joel, you’ll be able to cite that he was appearing out of love — though you’d then need to reckon with whether or not Henry’s and Kathleen’s actions are “right” as nicely. The matter stays that Joel worn out a giant chunk of the Fireflies and disadvantaged the world of a possible remedy in a single fell swoop.


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However does the world even want a remedy? All through this primary season, The Last of Us has proven that it’s completely attainable to stay a satisfying life on this new, post-apocalyptic world. Assume of Invoice and Frank’s cozy settlement, or the remoted couple in Wyoming, or the commune out in Jackson. These individuals are in a position to thrive and not using a remedy.

Nonetheless, simply because one thing is sweet doesn’t suggest it may possibly’t be higher, and the remedy for Cordyceps would undoubtedly higher the world. It may assist folks in the QZs get out from below the fascistic thumb of FEDRA and cease them from dwelling in a lot concern of the virus. It might be the key to a extra hopeful future. Joel destroyed that future, and he destroyed any position Ellie could have had in creating it.

There isn’t a straightforward reply right here. The Last of Us makes it so you realize the place Joel is coming from, nevertheless it additionally acknowledges that he has dedicated an atrocity. It additionally places us in an uncomfortable spot. We could condemn Joel, however what if it was one of our family members on that working desk? What then? Would we be capable to stay with the penalties of both determination? And as we head into Season 2, the query stays: Will Joel?

Season 1 of The Last of Us is now streaming on HBO Max.(Opens in a brand new tab)

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