Episode 9 encapsulates everything we love about the video game format; it’s very hard to get upset at some of its flaws because HBO’s The Last of Us is the best video game adaptation of all time. We see the penultimate act of Joel’s journey realized in such a way that respects the source material, and oh – did Bella Ramsey and Pedro Pascal deliver. Some key elements were cut that I think were missed opportunities, especially since it would have given more weight to the conclusion of this season (and screen time), but even then – what a season.
That Wasn’t What Healed It
The episode starts off with a pregnant woman running through a forest, seemingly fleeing from someone or something. It doesn’t take long to guess that we were experiencing the final moments of Anna, Ellie’s mother, who is played by the excellent Ashley Johnson – the voice actor of Ellie from the video games. Her performance as Anna showcased a level of urgency that couldn’t have immersed me more; you can feel the desperation in her trying to find shelter, all while in the middle of labor. She finds a moment of solace within an abandoned home, locking herself behind a room with a chair. It’s a very surreal feeling to have played the video games for nearly 10 years and see Ashley perform as Anna, sounding exactly like Ellie.
During a moment of fighting her labor, the infected breaks through – as she struggles to defend herself and eventually finding the strength to stab it through its temple, Anna’s moment of relief is quickly jolted by the reality of her getting bit on her leg after which birthing Ellie. She quickly cuts the umbilical cord to prevent spreading – and this is where my speculation kicks in; the emphasis here is reason enough as to why Ellie is immune in the show – having Anna bit in the middle of giving birth would have sent the infection through the cord, and cutting it wasn’t fast enough to prevent it – in turn actually saving Ellie further. It’s a theory that the series does so well in making the audience discuss for months on end.
This segment of the episode also highlights the relationship Anna and Marlene had together; friends since childhood and wanting to survive together, Marlene witnessing Anna turning into an infected while holding her newborn is a sight no one should witness. What’s brilliant about this moment is how Anna held a knife by her neck to prevent turning into an infected to protect her newborn. It’s a provocative moment of survival and love that this show does so well in telling. The knife is then passed on to Ellie, after which Marlene is forced to do something, she does not want to do. I cherish this segment because I always wanted to know how Neil Druckmann would tell Ellie’s mother’s story, and it did not disappoint.
The Journey’s End
The next segment takes us back to Joel and Ellie’s journey to the Fireflies – on the highway before the hospital. Nearly beat for beat, we are graced with phenomenal environmental work and performances; Ellie’s lost-in-her-thought moments during Joel’s expression are very much present – including the “I’ll teach you how to play guitar someday” line. Eventually we get to the point where Joel and Ellie reach a building to scout further, which takes us to the famous giraffe scene; an excellent rendition done with a real animal, even if the background looked a bit too greenscreen. It’s a special moment because we see a bit of light spark within Ellie, a semblance of herself after experiencing such a gruesome chapter in the previous episode. We also get the moment where Joel gives Ellie an opportunity to turn back, start a new life away from this whole Fireflies business, but Ellie’s “it can’t be all for nothing” response is just as impactful as the games. Moments after, the abandoned medical camp is explored and used as a backdrop for Joel’s effort to comfort her – revealing that this whole time, it was her that was protecting and saving him. It doesn’t take long for Joel and Ellie to get ambushed by armed people, gassing the two to sleep and taking them away.
Joel wakes in the hospital with Marlene by his side and 2 armed guards. The revelation of Ellie’s surgery puts Joel in a fit of rage after finding out that it would kill her without her knowing. The conversation was pretty much identical to the game, and just as intense in performance. I feared how the showrunners were going to handle the firefight between Joel and the Fireflies – they did not disappoint. Joel was relentless on his warpath to save Ellie; absolutely cold blooded between every gun battle and the way it was done, superb. Having the sound effects dampen and the music taking stage was even more eerie than actually playing it. It set a much darker tone to the overall segment, showcasing the darkest side of love. The length Joel would take to ensure her safety is something I think all fathers would understand. This moment is also what set a decade long debate on whether or not Joel did the right thing, and this episode only re-sparked that conversation. Everything after this moment is better left for the viewers.
However, in this gut-wrenching and heartfelt episode, I couldn’t shake how rushed and disjointed it all was. Sure, key elements were showcased here but it’s not nearly as impactful. We didn’t get the highway tunnel segment where Joel and Ellie navigate through a group of infected, nor did we get the drowning sequence – having Ellie survive her biggest fear would up the stakes further. Having these segments absent reduces the weight of Joel’s decision during the hospital sequence. This is coupled by the fact that we didn’t get that much danger in the show other than Kansas and Joel’s injury – in-between, it was pretty smooth sailing compared to the games. But it doesn’t change the fact that overall, HBO’s The Last of Us Episode 9 ended its first season in the highest of notes, while also being the best videogame adaptation of all time.
REVIEW SCORE: 8.5/10
For more on HBO’s The Last of Us and gaming, follow me on Twitter and other social media here