“The Last of Us” Episode 109 Recap: Promises, Promises

Hello and welcome to our very last recap of season one of The Last of Us, episode 9, “Look for the Light.” As always, two queer friends (me, Valerie Anne, and my buddy Nic) recount the tale of a tiny lesbian and her unlikely bond with her Apocalypse Dad. And since this is the last one, I just have to say that I have had an absolute blast co-writing these recaps with Nic, and I think I can speak for both of us when I say we’ve loved reading your comments and breaking things down with you all. Maybe we’ll see you all in Season 2! Until then, there are still a lot of feelings left to be had, so let’s do this thing!

Nic: Previously on The Last of Us, a fungal virus tore through the whole entire world, a man named Joel watched his daughter die in his arms, he picked up a job in the form of cargo named Ellie, transported her across the country and along the way they fought infected and learned to trust each other. They met lots of people on their journey, and unfortunately lost some too, but the one constant was that they would always have each other’s backs, no matter what.

A Mother’s Love

The Last of Us: Ashley Johnson as Anna holds baby Ellie and smiles at her through tears

Ashley Johnson gives birth to Ellie again, this time a bit more literally.

Valerie: We open as I wish more things in my life would open: with Ashley Johnson.

Nic: Ah yes, coming in strong with the Ashley BAFTA Johnson love! She deserves!

Valerie: Okay, okay, sorry, fine, let me start over.

We open on a woman in the woods. She has reddish brown hair, a yellow sundress, and a green army jacket. She’s sprinting, and panting and grunting in a way that will sound familiar to anyone who played the games. And she’s very, very pregnant.

We don’t learn this til later but I’ll tell you now, her name is Anna; she runs to a farmhouse that has a firefly symbol on the silo and calls out, “it’s me” but no one answers. She realizes her water broke, runs upstairs and barricades herself in what looks like it used to be a nursery and slumps to the ground.

Anna pulls out her switchblade and fights contractions while the infected that chased her through the woods pounds at the door, eventually dropping the blade during a wave of pain. The infected gets through the door and attacks, and it takes her a second to grab her blade again and get the fungus freak off of her.

Anna looks down and sees the best and the worst thing imaginable within a second of each other: her beautiful, healthy-looking baby girl screaming her brand new lungs out…and a bite mark on her own leg. She quickly cuts the umbilical cord and inspects her baby’s ten tiny fingers and ten tiny toes, smiling at her little miracle. The baby screams but Anna smiles, saying, “You fucking tell ’em, Ellie.”

Nic: Watching game Ellie meet show Ellie and hearing her say the name “Ellie” gave me my first of many cries this episode.

Valerie: Anna calls Ellie tough, and smiles through her tears, trying to enjoy what she knows are not only the first, but also the last moments with her baby girl.

Fireflies arrive later that night, led by the one and only Marlene. They sneak through the house and follow soft sounds up to the nursery, where Marlene finds Anna singing to baby Ellie. Anna is holding her switchblade up to her own neck, pressed so deep it’s already piercing the skin, ensuring that at the first twitch she would be able to take herself out and protect her baby. As soon as she realizes it’s Marlene in the room with her, Anna drops the knife and slides Ellie toward her. Marlene tries to explain what happened, why they’re late, but Anna isn’t listening. She says it’s not Marlene’s fault, and asks her to take Ellie to Boston to find someone to raise her and keep her safe. She asks her to give Ellie the switchblade, and to believe her when she says she cut the umbilical cord after she got bit. After.

Then Anna asks Marlene to kill her. Anna twitches and groans a little; she held on as long and as hard as she could while she was holding Ellie, but now that she knows Ellie is safe it’s harder to fight off those pesky cordyceps. Anna pulls the “we’ve known each other our whole lives” card but Marlene can’t do it; she takes Ellie and brings her out into the hallway, but she stops when she hears Anna screaming after her. She hands baby Ellie to another Firefly, asks him to cover her ears, then goes back into the room.

The first sound baby Ellie heard was her mother’s voice, cooing at her and singing at her. The second was Marlene.

The third sound Ellie Williams ever heard was the gunshot that killed her mother.

Nic: OUCH.

On Giraffes and Hope

The Last of Us: Bella Ramsey as Ellie feeding a giraffe

Oh the joy and simplicity of feeding an animal in the middle of the apocalypse.

Nic: It’s springtime in the present day, and Ellie is staring off into the middle distance, no doubt lost in the thoughts of what’s transpired until now, and what’s still to come now that their goal is within reach. She’s so lost in thought that she doesn’t hear Joel talking to her about finding Chef Boyardee and the game Boggle until he repeats himself and even then, she responds with half of her usual energy. It’s such a wild role reversal watching Joel do everything in his power to get Ellie to open up. I didn’t even know Joel knew this many words!

Valerie: Joel showing things to Ellie to try to make her smile is exactly how I imagine my inner dialogue when I’m trying to trick myself out of a depressive state. Just mentally holding things up to my own self like “Eh?? How about this?? Is this working???”

Nic: Joel tells Ellie that they’re getting close to a hospital and that it might be the one they’re looking for. And it’s such a small thing, but when Joel asks her to hold his gun while he grabs his things, I can’t help but remember a time when Ellie merely looking at a gun sent Joel into a tailspin. As they restart their journey, Joel shares that he found a smashed up guitar in an RV, but maybe he’ll look for one so he could teach her how to play. This is the Joel we met in the pilot; Joel before his entire world was shattered; Joel whose purpose in life was to care for his daughter Sarah; Joel who wanted to teach things solely because he thought someone else might be good at it. Apocalypse Dad has truly come so far.

Valerie: And Joel isn’t just shaking rattles in front of a baby on the verge of a breakdown and hoping for the best. He’s tapping into things he’s seen Ellie get excited about before: being better than him at something, offering to teach her something. It’s genuinely so thoughtful and sweet.

Nic: As they continue to walk, their way is blocked so Ellie figures they’ll do what they always do: cut through a building to find a skyscraper and see what they can scope out from high up. But Joel continues his quest to make her laugh by suggesting they use dynamite to blow their way through and he’s got her going for a hot second, before confirming that she was right; they’re going to cut through a building to find a skyscraper and see what they can scope out from high up. He’s trying so hard to break through her walls, and when he asks if she’s okay, it’s in a voice that’s so tender and caring; a far cry from conversing with “cargo.”

They make their way through the building until they find a way to get upstairs. And the way up? Why it’s by using one of my favorite game mechanics: the boost! Joel boosts Ellie up so she can drop the ladder down to him, but she manages to only half drop it because something else catches her attention. Now, there were only a handful of in-game scenes that I really wanted to see on screen, and the moment I realized this was happening, the tears started to flow.

Ellie runs upstairs with more zest than Joel’s seen in a while, beckons him to join her, and then immediately shushes him so as not to disturb the real life giraffe in front of them. Joel feels the enormity of this moment and slowly grabs some leaves for Ellie to feed the giraffe with. And oh her smile and her laugh as she does a task so many of us with access to zoos might take for granted. Joel watches Ellie with love in his eyes and relief on his face, knowing that despite everything, his joyful Ellie is still in there.

Valerie: Ellie showing some signs of energy and joy again made me cry. And weirdly made me hopeful? If this girl who was born into trauma, raised in a literal apocalypse, and then went through more over the course of a year at age 14 than most people go through in a lifetime and still find things that make her giggle, maybe there’s hope for all of us.

Nic: Ellie runs to the roof to get a better look at the giraffes and Murder Dad and Daughter get themselves one heck of a view. “So, is it everything you hoped for?” “It’s got its ups and downs, but you can’t deny that view.” (Can I send my therapy bills to a ledge?) They get serious for a moment, and Joel talks to Ellie about the riskiness of what she’s about to do; tells her that she doesn’t have to do this; that they can pack it in and go back to Tommy’s and forget all of it. And with the wisdom of someone much older, Ellie looks at Joel and tells him that after everything she’s done, it can’t be for nothing. He’s protected her up until now and when they’re done, she will follow him literally anywhere he wants to go, but for herself and for every person they’ve lost, she has to finish this. She’s choosing to finish this.

The Guy Who Shot and Missed

The Last of Us: Ellie looks up sadly at Joel as he tells her a story

“And I believe if you go, my heart would break. Just hold on one more day.”

Valerie: On the way to the hospital, they walk through an army base; it reminds Ellie of FEDRA, but Joel explains that they were emergency medical camps that were set up right after the outbreak, though they were short-lived. He says he ended up in one on day two, and Ellie asks if Sarah was with him; and maybe it’s because of all they’ve been through, or maybe it’s because he’s excited she’s actually talking again, or maybe some combination of the two, but for once he doesn’t balk at Sarah’s name, he just tells Ellie that Sarah was already gone by day two. He was in the med tents for the wound on his head she had asked about all those months ago, the man who shot and missed. Ellie starts to make a joke about her stitching technique when Joel stops and confesses something to her: it was him. He was the one who shot and missed. Ellie’s eyes get big and sad and she goes to sit next to Joel, ready to listen.

Nic: I love that Ellie followed Joel’s lead here. She didn’t push him to share anything he wasn’t ready to. She just waited so he knew that she was ready for whatever he was willing to say.

Valerie: Joel says that after Sarah died, he didn’t see the point of going on, so he tried to shoot himself, but at the last minute, he flinched. He doesn’t know why, but he did, and he decided to go get himself stitched up after. (Is it bad that I’m envisioning fan art Sarah’s ghost gently moving his gun hand away? Why do I like to hurt my own feelings?)

Nic: Welp! Now I’m picturing it too!!

Valerie:Joel starts to explain why he’s telling Ellie this, why he’s telling her now, but she stops him. She knows why he’s telling her. Joel finally understands how wrong he was when he accused her of not knowing what loss is. He sees now that their wounds aren’t exactly the same, but their pain is very similar.

Ellie tries to ease the weight of the moment by distilling the lesson, saying, almost sarcastically, “Time heals all wounds.” But Joel doesn’t smile or hesitate, he just looks in her eyes and tells her matter-of-factly: it wasn’t time that healed him.

Nic: :choked sob:

Valerie: Ellie nods resolutely, and meekly offers that she’s glad it didn’t work out for him, his day two plan. He’s glad too. They awkwardly get up and start heading toward the hospital, and Joel decides the best way to turn the mood around is to ask for some terrible puns. Delighted and happy to oblige, Ellie pulls out her trusty joke book and reads off a few, including an apocalypse-themed one that makes them both laugh.

While they’re distracted, they end up getting flash-bombed, and Joel has to watch Ellie get taken from him yet again.

Next page: Sorry, you’re not done crying yet, sorry. (Sorry.)

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Valerie Anne

Just a TV-loving, Twitter-addicted nerd who loves reading, watching, and writing about stories. One part Kara Danvers, two parts Waverly Earp, a dash of Cosima and an extra helping of my own brand of weirdo.

Valerie has written 560 articles for us.

Nic

Nic is a Senior Product Manager at a major Publisher and lives in Astoria, NY. She is way too attached to queer fictional characters and maintains that buying books and reading books are two very different hobbies. When she's not consuming every form of fiction, you can find her dropping it low on the dance floor. You can find Nic on twitter and instagram.

Nic has written 78 articles for us.

10 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for the recaps! I’ve been right there crying along with you.

    I know myself and that I will never play the game, but I’m keen to watch a walkthrough. Any recommendations? Since I’ve watched the show first, I think I’d like for that to remain my primary way of discovering the story. Am I OK to watch a full Part 1 walkthrough, or will there be spoilers/hints at what’s to come in the next season(s)? Maybe one with no commentary would be best?

    • This makes me feel weird to say but I do have a playthrough on my own on YouTube haha if you want a gay nerd reacting during the game. I didn’t know anything about Part 2 when I played Part 1 so it’s safe from spoilers! I’m PunkyStarshine over there, and there’s a playlist of just my TLOU sessions. But yes I’m sure there are commentary free play throughs from people who are much better at actually playing the game than me!!

  2. Oh, baby girl and apocalypse dad, you had the worst of times and you had the best of times (so did we). I loved the giraffe scene, which was already stunning in the game, and was just as great here.

    (Some) actions have consequences, out of love or not. But for now, Joel and Ellie have finally found a bit of peace.

    Thanks for the joint recap, good fun.

  3. I’m so sad it’s over. I’ve already watched each episode 2x already, and watched each making of, and listened to the podcasts. Gahhhhh!!!! This show is absolute perfection in my eyes. I’ll admit I wasn’t sold on the casting, of Bella or Pedro when they announced it. Why? I don’t know. It’s like when I almost didn’t watch The Americans because I wasn’t a fan of Keri Russell, but I watched it and OMG I fell in love with Elizabeth Jennings and she is in my top 5 of all-time characters.

    Anyway, I digress. So, I said to myself, it’s my fav game series, so of course I’m watching. I’ve never been so happy to have been so wrong. I’ll say that forever. Bella and Pedro were absolute perfection. I mean perfection. I could not imagine anyone other than them as Ellie and Joel. I can’t even tell you what this show means to me. It’s a lot.

    I’m someone that has played TLOU and TLOU2 a dozen times each. I just finished TLOU again 2 days ago and started on TLOU2, again. So, these games mean a great deal to me. Ellie means so much to me as a gamer. I’ve been playing video games for a long time, and none have ever meant to me what this one does. I differ in that I loved TLOU2. It’s not w/o it’s controversial things but I felt each piece was needed and justified. The more you play it, the more it explains itself.

    I cannot wait for season 2. 😁

  4. Dang, what a journey. Thanks for all your recap work! This was so fun. Also tragically I watched the “Making of the Last of Us” where Bella gleefully informed me that my childhood mall was going to be demolished :( You win some you lose some.

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