The Last of Us has officially come to a close with episode 9, and after witnessing this past season, I think it’s safe to say that this is hands down the best video game adaptation there is. Joel and Ellie’s journey has been satisfying to see, and the story leaves us with a conclusion that’s sure to leave viewers shocked. The show has had many wonderful moments and gems throughout it’s run, and has served up some outstanding performances, emotional storytelling, and some thrilling action sequences.
Spoilers ahead (episode 8 and 9 will be combined in this review)
“When We Are in Need“
In episode 8 of The Last of Us, we’re thrown right back into the mix with Ellie aiding Joel and his life threatening injury. They hide away in a nearby abandoned shed, where Ellie tries her best to seek out supplies, food and anything she can use to help take care of her and Joel as he recovers. A major threat shakes things up as Ellie is separated from Joel by a cannibal cult and it’s violent perverted leader; David. The episode does well to highlight the strong bond between Joel and Ellie. Joel stops at nothing to find Ellie, and Ellie goes into survival mode as she fights her way free. The stakes are always high, and once again, the threat isn’t only the infected, but also other survivors who will do anything to get by.
Bella Ramsey proves once again what a talented actress they are as they show an even more brutal side of Ellie who does everything in her power to escape David. Pedro doesn’t stay behind either with another strong performance from him as he shows just how far Joel is willing to go to get Ellie back. The penultimate episode is thrilling, and downright terrifying while also giving us a faithfully adapted villain in the character David, played by Scott Shepherd who does a terrific job at making our skin crawl. His scenes with Ellie are very intense, and brutal, and they don’t pull back on the evil of the world or its subject matter. What’s more horrifying than a self righteous ex-teacher turned cult leader/pastor? You have your answer here.
There are many highlights to this episode including the tension, the shock, the grittiness of it’s tone and nature, but another thing I have to point out yet again is the powerful chemistry between Pedro and Bella. Their characters reunite again at the end of the episode and we get a powerful and touching moment where Joel calls her “baby girl” which was a term of love and endearment he used to use for his daughter. Joel has finally opened up his heart and allowed himself to love again and Ellie confides in Joel so much, their bond is now fully fortified. Ellie has also experienced so much on this journey that this last escape was her boiling point and she is clearly emotionally traumatized by what happened. Every episode has presented a new experience for her that is forcing Ellie to grow up and become colder, similar to how Joel acts. With that being said, the episode comes to a close, and they both push onward to their final destination.
“Look For The Light”
Now, we lead into the finale. As a fan of the games, I had just one wish, and it was that they keep the same exact ending from the story in the game. I know it’s going to be divisive but that’s what made the story so poignant. It makes us question how far we’re willing to go for the ones we love and I think they really had to drive this point home. I also just wanted the series to stick the landing after having such a strong season overall, and I’m happy to say the ending was untouched, BUT, the episode itself wasn’t perfect.
First of all, I have to give props to Ashley Johnson(who was the original actor for Ellie in the video games), and whoever decided to cast her as Ellie’s mother. We see her give birth once again to the character Ellie on screen in a touching moment that soon ends after she gets bitten by an infected. Marlene (leader of the Fireflies) makes a promise that she’d take care of Ellie and then we shift forward to present day. Joel and Ellie finally made it to their destination, and Ellie hopes that she is the answer to a vaccine. They run across a beautiful landscape with so much greenery and giraffes! Yes, they included “the” beautiful giraffe scene where Ellie pets one as it gets near them. Joel and Ellie are both happy in that moment and they both smile. It’s within this scene that Joel expresses that they can turn around and live happily back in the small town where his brother is, but Ellie refuses saying that if they were to do that, their journey would’ve all been for nothing. She agrees to go anywhere with him after she helps the Fireflies with their vaccine. As they make their way, they get ambushed and are separated once again, but when Joel wakes up, he’s in the hands of the Fireflies and Marlene, who thanks him for bringing in Ellie, but also lets him in on the truth. They need to perform a surgery that would require the doctors to cut into Ellie’s brain in order to extract the cordyceps there in hopes that they can find an answer to her immunity and hopefully a cure. This type of surgery would surely kill Ellie, and Joel won’t accept that. He makes a selfish decision to save her which is noble, but also dooms the any chance of hope for the human race.
Once again, I love that the ending was kept the same way, I think they did a fine job with the finale and it was well constructed. Throughout the show, we’re shown so many themes including survival, love, family and what gives life meaning. The choice Joel makes at the end to save Ellie’s life is poignant because it’s technically the “wrong” thing to do because it’s a selfish decision on Joel’s part. Earlier on in the episode we were given a hint that Ellie wanted to do what’s right by helping out the fireflies because she wanted everything that they had been through to have meaning, so it’s safe to say that if Ellie were to choose her own fate, she would’ve agreed to the surgery. Joel argues with Marlene that they’re not giving Ellie a choice, but neither is he, and he’s not allowing humanity a shot of hope. In his aftermath, Joel’s violent rage leaves many innocents and members of the Fireflies dead, including the doctor who was going to operate on Ellie. Nothing is pulled back, Joel really doubled down on his choice. I think it’s powerful that they show us this side of Joel because we understand him as a character while also recognizing the act in itself is selfish.
I really only have 2 critiques on this episode which holds it back from being perfect. A huge part of this I fear is because the episode has a short run time of only 41 minutes, thus the episode felt rushed and abrupt. I think this episode definitely needed to be about 15-20 minutes longer to really flesh things out and to help with pacing. Joel’s decision is a big and bold one, and I think it’s impact would’ve landed better had more time been dedicated to it. I think those 2 aspects really held the finale from being perfectly executed, but it’s still a good episode and a good ending to the show.
So now, as the title of this review mentions, this is definitely the best video game adaptation out there. Craig Mazin, Neil Druckmann, HBO, and Naughty Dog really came together to faithfully adapt their story, world and characters while also expanding other parts of it and giving fans of the video game series some new material to feast on. The show overall has an incredibly strong cast with strong performances, solid writing, and faithful storytelling parts. There’s so many moving pieces to this but it all feels like a breath of fresh air to see the high quality of the show and the attention to detail. You can also feel that this story was adapted by a team who shows that they really care about their project and that they truly believed in their vision and I think their final product turned out to be a masterpiece. No doubt, this is another hit for HBO. It’s been a fun(mostly heartbreaking) journey, and a treat to have watched this show from beginning to the end. I can’t wait to see the rest of Joel and Ellie’s story told.
The full season of The Last of Us is now streaming on HBO Max.