The Last of Us Episode 9 ending explained

Cameron Frew
The Last of Us animated

The Last of Us Episode 9 brings the story of Joel and Ellie to an end, but also a crossroads – here’s a breakdown of what happens in the finale.

In our review, we wrote: “Don’t expect an easy, heartwarming coda from The Last of Us finale, nor should you hold any venom for the story’s bleak turn: in a story all about love lost and found in a hopeless place, this was the only way.”

After the horrors of David and Silver Lake, Episode 9 picks up with Joel and Ellie on the last steps of their journey. There’s tension, but they’re both ready to go the distance and settle into their new life together on the other side.

They make it to the Fireflies hospital, where Marlene makes a devastating confession about Ellie’s role in curing Cordyceps – and all hell breaks loose. Let’s get into it.

The Last of Us Episode 9 ending explained

The Last of Us ends with Joel murdering Marlene and the rest of the Fireflies at the hospital after he learns Ellie will be killed in the operation to develop a vaccine. They head back to Jackson, where Joel lies to Ellie about what happened.

When Joel and Ellie arrive at the hospital, they’re ambushed and flash-banged by a squad of Fireflies. Joel awakes on a hospital bed with Marlene standing beside him and demands to see Ellie.

After thanking him, she explains that he can’t see her because she’s being prepped for surgery. The Fireflies doctor believes the Cordyceps in Ellie has grown since birth, and it produces a “chemical messenger… it makes normal Cordyceps think that she’s Cordyceps, it’s why she’s immune.”

“He’s going to remove it from her, multiply the cells in a lab, produce those chemical messengers, and then we can give it to everyone. He thinks it could be a cure, Joel. A cure,” she explains. 

Joel realizes the catch of such a cure: the procedure will kill Ellie. “Find someone else… you take me to her right now,” he demands, telling Marlene that she doesn’t understand. “I do, I was there when she was born. I promised her mother that I would save her child… so I do understand. I’m the only one who understands. I’m sorry, I have no other choice,” she responds.

“I do,” Joel adds, and Marlene knows exactly what that means. She orders her troops to walk him to the highway and leave him there with his bag, and if he tries anything, they will kill him. 

Joel murders… everyone

Joel catches a quick look at the hospital layout as he’s being marched down the stairs, before overpowering the two Fireflies and shooting them in the head. He then works his way through the hospital and kills anyone he sees, regardless of whether or not they surrender. He finds Ellie as she’s about to undergo the surgery and murders the doctor, before forcing the nurses to unhook her.

He carries her into the elevator and out to his car, but he’s confronted by Marlene.

Joel in the new trailer for The Last of Us HBO show

“You can’t keep her safe forever. No matter how hard you try, no matter how many people you kill, she’s gonna grow up Joel. Then you’ll die, or she’ll leave, then what? How long til she’s torn apart by infected or murdered by raiders because she lives in a broken world you could have saved?” She says.

“Maybe, but it isn’t for you to decide,” he responds. “Or you,” she says, urging him to do the right thing. Think of where we started with Joel: holding his daughter as she thought everything was gonna be okay, before she was taken from him. As he stands there holding Ellie, can he really lose another daughter, even if she’s not his blood? 

Joel lies to Ellie

The episode suddenly cuts ahead to Joel driving away with Ellie in the backseat. She wakes up and wants to know what happened at the hospital. “They were running some tests on you,” he tells her. “Turns out there’s a whole lot more like you, people that are immune, dozens of them. The doctors couldn’t make any of it work, they’ve actually stopped looking for a cure.” 

As he lies, we’re shown the truth: Joel killed Marlene and fled the hospital, and he didn’t even bring Ellie’s clothes with her. He says raiders came and killed most of the Fireflies, including Marlene. “I’m sorry,” he says, as Ellie turns her back. We then see Marlene’s final moments, and her asking Joel to let her live. “You’d just come after her,” he coldly says, before putting her down. 

We skip ahead to Joel and Ellie approaching Jackson. Joel talks about how he thinks Sarah would have liked Ellie, and talks about their differences (Sarah was more girly, but Ellie is funny). As they stand atop the hill looking over the settlement, Ellie tells him about Riley; specifically that she turned and she had to kill her. She’s associated so much of her life with the deaths of others that she’s worried about being close to Joel. 

“Sometimes things don’t work out the way we hope. You can feel like you’v come to an end and you don’t know what to do next, but if you just keep going, you find something new to fight for,” he tells her, but Ellie cuts him off. “Swear to me that everything you said about the Fireflies is true,” she says. “I swear,” he replies. With a pensive look on her face, she says: “Okay.” 

The Last of Us Season 1 is available to stream in its entirety now. You can check out the rest of our coverage here.