The Last of Us finale is devastating but rushes the big finish

Joel (Pedro Pascal) in The Last of Us Episode 9. Photograph by Liane Hentscher/HBO
Joel (Pedro Pascal) in The Last of Us Episode 9. Photograph by Liane Hentscher/HBO /
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After a harrowing journey across the post-apocalyptic ruins of the United States, the end has finally arrived for Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) on The Last of Us. “Look For The Light” is an intense finale sure to leave a weird, bad taste in many people’s mouths. But hey, it’s The Last of Us; emotional devastation is the name of the game.

As always, there will be SPOILERS in this review for the latest episode of The Last of Us as well as the video game.

The Last of Us
Anna (Ashley Johnson) in The Last of Us Episode 9. Photograph by Liane Hentscher/HBO /

The Last of Us Episode 9 review: “Look For The Light”

At only 44 minutes long, “Look For The Light” is a compact finale that nonetheless manages to deliver a good dose of the series’ trademark dark storytelling and moral ambiguity. Everything has led to this moment, as Joel and Ellie finally complete the journey they embarked on in the season premiere and find the Fireflies in Salt Lake City.

Before we get there, however, we’ve got one last cold open for the road, and this one’s a doozy. In a flashback scene invented for the series, we’re introduced to Ellie’s mother Anna, played in the TV show by Ashley Johnson, the same actor who portrayed Ellie in the games. Anna is in labor with Ellie, and over the course of a few frantic minutes she barricades herself in a house, fights off an infected, and gives birth in the middle of the struggle without even realizing. Is that realistic? I have no idea but I couldn’t look away.

It’s here that the show drops the equivalent of an atom bomb on longtime fans and newcomers alike by actually explaining the origin of Ellie’s immunity. Anna was bitten in the final seconds before giving birth. She quickly severs baby Ellie’s umbilical cord, and we assume everything is fine…until Marlene (Merle Dandridge) comes in, and Anna puts special emphasis on the fact that she cut the umbilical cord before she was bitten, something we know is a lie. Marlene accepts it, reluctantly taking in Ellie and killing Anna before she can turn into a zombie.

This cold open is one of my favorite bits from the episode. It’s s a strong start that expands the universe of this story in a meaningful way.

Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) in The Last of Us Episode 9. Photograph by Liane Hentscher/HBO
Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) in The Last of Us Episode 9. Photograph by Liane Hentscher/HBO /

Ellie and Joel go to the zoo

From there we head to Salt Lake City. From the first moment we see Ellie and Joel, two things are immediately apparent. The first is that a significant amount of time has passed since Episode 8, which took place in the dead of winter. It’s now spring, and Salt Lake City is in full bloom.

The second is that Ellie and Joel are not the same people we knew even a few episodes ago. Their dire experiences during the winter have changed them, and not necessarily for the better. Ellie is withdrawn and quiet, a stark change from the motor-mouthed kid who trolled Joel halfway across the country. Joel is outgoing and talkative, trying to cheer her up and dreaming about what the two of them will do after they finally accomplish their mission and find the Fireflies.

The flip in their personalities gives the entire episode an uneasy feel, and that’s before things take a turn for the worst. How like this show to give us something we’ve wanted all season (Joel actually treating Ellie like a daughter) but makes it feel profoundly wrong.

Joel and Ellie’s journey into the city is a wonderfully crafted sequence. The dialogue is great, the setting is stunning, and the acting from Pascal and Ramsey is as good as ever. A particular nod needs to be given to the giraffe sequence, which the show copies pretty much exactly from the game, from Joel giving Ellie a boost to get a ladder, to her running after the giraffe and subsequently warning him not to scare it off, to their conversation about potentially turning back while they watch the herd. This giraffe scene also deserves kudos because the show used an actual giraffe instead of just creating one with VFX. I’m a sucker for good (ethical) animal effects.

Alas, that brief moment of joy can’t last. It’s not long after that Joel and Ellie are knocked unconscious by the Fireflies and we move into the bloody climax of the episode.