The Last of Us Episode 1: Joel and Tess explained

Cameron Frew
Joel and Tess in The Last of Us HBO show

The Last of Us Episode 1 introduces viewers to Joel and his partner Tess – let’s break down their relationship and why it’s important to the story, and if it’s different from the game.

The Last of Us Episode 1 is incredible. “A chilling prologue, an immaculate opening, and an exceptional intro: this is the first episode most shows can only dream of,” we wrote.

The show follows Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey), an unlikely duo forced to work together on a cross-country trip across America amid a deadly, monstrous fungal pandemic.

While dealing with Joel’s Outbreak Day experience with his daughter, we’re also introduced to Tess – so, let’s get into who they are and why they’re important. The Last of Us Episode 1 spoilers to follow…

The Last of Us: Joel and Tess explained

Joel and Tess met in the Boston quarantine zone in the years following the Cordyceps outbreak, where they became a formidable pair, feared by rival smugglers and known (and respected) by Fireflies leader Marlene.

Tess is played by Anna Torv, who starred in Fringe and Mindhunter, while she was portrayed by Annie Wersching in the game.

In Episode 1, we see Tess being held captive by Robert, another smuggler in the city. However, he’s clearly regretful about the situation, as he wants assurances “her guy” won’t come and get him. We won’t spoil what actually happens after this, but the episode ultimately ends with Joel and Tess agreeing to transport Ellie to a Fireflies base at the old Capitol building.

The pair also appear to live together, with Tess returning to Joel’s apartment and cuddling him in bed. In the game, they flirt with one another, but any romantic connection is never explicitly stated.

In an interview with Pop Sugar, Torv said: “She’s tough and she’s a survivor, but I can’t think of Tess without Joel. I think she really is in love with him, and I don’t think she would have been able to get through it all if it wasn’t for him.

“We decided that Joel and Tess had been together for a long time, that they were lovers, they trusted each other and they were each other’s best friends, they had each other’s back… there’s a mutual understanding.”

The Last of Us Episode 2 will be available to watch on January 22 in the US and January 23 in the UK.

For more TLOU content, check out some of our below guides:

Joel & Tess explained | Sarah spoilers | Fungus threat is terrifying | The dog’s fate | Who is Marlene? | Why is Ellie so important? | Soundtrack choice | FEDRA & the Fireflies explained

About The Author

Cameron is Deputy TV and Movies Editor at Dexerto. He's an action movie aficionado, '80s obsessive, and Oscars enthusiast. He loves Invincible, but he's also a fan of The Boys, the MCU, The Chosen, and much more. You can contact him at