The Last of Us Episode 9 review: A flawless finale

Joel in The Last of Us Episode 9HBO

The Last of Us Episode 9 is a flawless finale for one of the strongest – if not the strongest – debut seasons in television history; infuriating, horrifying, and poignant in equal measure. 

Before HBO’s adaptation was released, and the extent of its quality became quickly apparent, co-creator Craig Mazin described it as the greatest story ever told in video games. 

Now, with the last episode of Season 1, the first part of PlayStation’s brutal, remarkable saga is worthy of the same proclamation. Craft, reverence, and two immaculate performances from Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey have made this a very special moment in TV, indeed. 

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In the last episode, all that was left of Ellie’s innocence was cut away by David – but from that trauma, she finally gained a father in Joel. Journey’s end is on the horizon, and Ellie’s gift carries an unexpected price.  

Spoilers for The Last of Us to follow…

The Last of Us Episode 9: Meet Anna

The episode opens on a pregnant woman running through the woods, moaning in pain as screams echo through the trees. It’s Anna (Ashley Johnson), Ellie’s mother, and she’s in the ultimate nightmare scenario: she’s in labor and being chased by an infected. 

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As her water breaks, she reaches a house and hides upstairs, but the runner bashes the door down. In the tussle, Anna not only gets bitten, but gives birth – but she can’t worry about that now. She cuts her umbilical cord and coddles her baby.

It has to be said, it’s a little disorientating seeing Johnson – in a nice way. Her cadence is so synonymous with the character that it transports your head into the game. Think of it as the on-screen passing of the mantle; this could be the last time we hear her in The Last of Us, and what’s better than her telling her baby, “Yeah, you f*cking tell them, Ellie.” 

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Marlene later arrives, and Anna has yet to turn. They’ve been friends their whole lives, so she’s the only one she can trust to take Ellie to Boston and make sure she’s safe. “You pick her up now, and then you kill me,” Anna says. As Marlene takes the baby outside, Anna’s infection starts to take its course, and she begs her to shoot her. After taking a moment, she grants her final wish. 

The Last of Us Episode 9: One of the game’s greatest moments comes to life

We cut back to the present day, and Joel is calling Ellie’s name. As she sits on the back of a truck, her mind is elsewhere; anxious, still traumatised by the events with David, and curious about what will happen next. Joel tries to win her over with Beefaroni and Boggle, and even offers to teach her to play the guitar once she’s finished at the hospital. Seeing them at ease with one another is lovely, and the newfound fatherly eagerness of Pascal’s performance is so charming. 

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They carry out their usual plan: find a way into a building, climb up, look around to make sure their surroundings are safe. This time is particularly special, though, as they come across another wonder: giraffes loose in the city. This is one of the most breathtaking, serene moments of the game, and it’s mere inclusion will be enough to make players emotional. The music is the same, as is the dialogue; time stands still, and it’s beautiful. 

“So, is it everything you hoped for?” Joel asks. “It’s got its ups and downs, but you can’t deny that view,” she says, in a cute callback to the second episode. Joel tells her they don’t need to go to the hospital – there might be “something bad out there”, and they could just go back to Tommy’s compound and “forget about the whole damn thing.” 

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Joel and Ellie in The Last of Us Episode 9HBO

“After everything we’ve been through, everything I’ve done, it can’t be for nothing. I know you mean well, I know you want to protect me – you have. And when we’re done, we’ll go wherever you want: Tommy’s, sheep ranch, the moon. I’ll follow you anywhere you go. But there’s no halfway with this, we finish what we started.” 

This small monologue from Ellie has some of the finest reactionary acting you’ll see. Ramsey delivers it with maturity and poise beyond her years, and Pascal’s taken-aback smiles will put a lump in your throat. We are so lucky to have them as our Joel and Ellie. 

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As they stroll towards the hospital, Joel makes a confession: the scar on his head wasn’t from somebody who tried to kill him – he tried to shoot himself but flinched as he pulled the trigger. “Time heals old wounds, I guess,” Ellie says, feeling somewhere between awkward and moved that he felt comfortable enough to tell her. “It wasn’t time that did it,” he replies. 

Wiping away the tears, they keep going, and Joel asks Ellie for some “shitty puns.” Of course, she obliges. “People are making apocalypse jokes like there’s no tomorrow,” she jokes. Behind them, soldiers stalk them and throw a flash grenade. While Joel’s incapacitated, they grab Ellie and knock Joel out. 

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The Last of Us Episode 9: A necessary sacrifice

When he wakes up, he’s in a hospital room with Marlene. She explains that the patrolling guards didn’t realize who they were, and expresses her disbelief at them managing to make it across the country alive. “It was all her, she fought like hell,” Joel says. “You’re the one person I never wanted to be in debt to, but I owe you,” she adds. 

Joel wants to see Ellie, but Marlene says he can’t 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.”

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“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.

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“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. 

The Last of Us Episode 9: The Salt Lake Hospital Massacre

As they escort him out, he takes a quick glance at what’s on each floor in the hospital, before overpowering them on the stairs. It was inevitable, but Joel is especially brutal. “I don’t have time for this,” he says as she shoots two of the guards in the face, before working his way through the hospital and killing anyone he sees. The music also fits the intensity, evoking the nerve-wracking dread of Hildur Guðnadóttir’s Joker score. 

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This may be a rescue mission, but it’s also a massacre. Some of the Fireflies surrender, but Joel kills them anyway; no hesitation, no mercy. It plays out with the kinetic, violent pop of an action set-piece, but there’s no glory in it. Nobody could ever argue with Joel’s reasoning, but this is a bloody, disastrous tragedy. 

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

He finds her in surgery, and the doctor refuses to let him take her – so he shoots him in the head and forces the others to unhook her (it’s unclear whether one of these women is supposed to be his daughter Abby, but we’ll find out in time). As he carries her out, he gazes down lovingly – but the screeching of the guitar leans into the horror of his actions. 

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Marlene confronts him as he exits the elevator. “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? 

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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. 

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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.” 

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The Last of Us Episode 9 review score: 5/5

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. 

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

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