HBO’s “The Last of Us” season finale steps back to the beginning, showing Ellie’s birth and introducing her mother Anna, portrayed by video game motion capture and voice actress, Ashley Johnson.

After the original actor who brought Joel to life in “The Last of Us” video games joined HBO’s adaptation in a new role, it was the original Ellie’s turn.

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Ashley Johnson, who first provided motion capture and voice acting for Ellie in the original video game ten years ago, had the opportunity to share a special connection with Bella Ramsey’s new take on the character by portraying her mother, Anna.

Paralleling the premiere taking us back to the beginning of Joel’s story, the first season finale brought us back to the moment of Ellie’s birth — and hinted at an explanation for her cordyceps immunity.

The bulk of the episode was the culmination of a season-long journey across the United States in the hope that her immunity could be utilized to create a permanent cure for the rest of humanity. It also dealt with the immediate aftermath of the cannibal cult and the relationship between Ellie and Joel.

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Birth of a … Savior?

In one of the best Easter eggs yet for the video game adaptation, fans of the incredible work that Ashley Johnson did in breathing life into Ellie across multiple video games — winning loads of awards for her work — had to be delighted to see her here.

Connecting her so intimately to Ellie was just that extra bit of icing. Johnson did a great job with a challenging role as there was very little dialogue through the majority of her scenes. When she first appears on the screen, she is in labor and on the run from a cordyceps monster.

What followed was a very tense chase back to a safehouse. Unfortunately, Anna didn’t know that her fellow survivors weren’t in the house, leaving her alone when the cordyceps monster inevitably arrived.

Unable to keep herself quiet amid labor pains, she was able to dispatch the monster, but not before sustaining a life-ending bite to her leg. One lie could prove the salvation of this world!

When Marlene, last seen sending Ellie with Joel and Tess across the country, returned to find her friend Anna had given birth, she also discovered the bite. In a desperate bid to save Ellie’s young life, Anna told Marlene she’d gotten bit after she severed the umbilical cord.

In truth, Ellie was born in the immediate aftermath of Anna killing the cordyceps monster, so immediately after she was bitten. But while Ellie was out, the afterbirth was not yet. It would appear that this unique connection as the cordyceps rapidly infected Anna is how Ellie was able to become effectively immune to it.

It certainly adds an extra layer to what happened in the premiere episode, with Marlene coldly holding Ellie captive while her men held her ransom. She never showed any real signs of affection for this young girl that she apparently had known all her life.

It can also be assumed that Marlene had something to do with Ellie winding up at FEDRA school. Was the plan to always try to recruit her out of it, as Riley attempted before their ill-fated night in the mall? Otherwise, why would you take someone you’ve vowed to care for and put them in the care of your enemies as a terrorist?

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Pun and Two Makes We

The first half of this episode was devoted almost entirely to character growth and development. After jumping back to the present day, viewers were immediately met with Joel and Ellie almost in reverse rolls. Joel is bright and chipper while it’s Ellie who is morose and quiet.

In the context of what just happened in the last episode, it makes perfect sense. Ellie is clearly reeling from her brutal murder of David. Yes, it was a matter of self defense — at least the first few whacks. After that, she was clearly out of control, acting out of fear and rage and shock all rolled into one.

In a departure from the game, Joel did not witness Ellie’s savage attack on David, but he did see her in the aftermath. That shellshocked look put him in papa bear mode, with him hugging her and calling her “baby girl” for the first time. His transformation from reluctant cargo transporter to father figure is nearly complete!

Now, that papa bear was trying to help Ellie come out of her daze as best he can. One moment, played to the hilt by both Pedro Pascal and Ramsey, that helps bring out that 14-year-old girl inside of Ellie happens by sheer accident, and brings with it such innocence and beauty.

While trying to make their way through the city, Ellie abandons Joel to go off running when she sees a giraffe from a second story window. They get to feed the majestic creature, which leaves Ellie laughing with that wide-eyed joy it seems only children can tap into.

The significance of the moment is that it proves she’s still in there, that she can get past the horrors that she’s endured to this point, including the horrific things she’s done to get this far.

This was followed by a poignant moment where Joel opened up to Ellie about his own struggles in the aftermath of the death of his daughter. They’d danced around the “near miss” scar on his face all season. Here, he admitted the person who missed was himself.

Unable to see a reason to go on after Sarah’s death, Joel had tried to kill himself. When we first saw him again 20 years after that tragic night, Joel was a broken man, still in that dark place. It’s why he was never able to let Tess in, and resisted letting Ellie in for as long as he could.

Ellie is a smart kid, though, and immediately knew why he was sharing this particular story, urging her to find a new reason to go on. Implied was that it took him a long time to find his new purpose in live and that it’s Ellie. She probably got that, too.

The sweet scene ended with Joel lightening the mood by deciding what he really needs is some “sh–ty puns,” which Ellie gladly provides. With their bond cemented and stronger than ever, the endgame began (pun intended).

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Death or Life

The entire closing sequence is one harrowing moment after another driven by a moral dilemma so strong, it’s impossible to say definitely what you might do if faced with the similar situation. It is significant to note that Ellie’s agency in this moment was taken from her.

Earlier in the episode and with Joel fully embracing the idea of Ellie as a daughter figure, he proposed the idea of abandoning this quest and simply returning to Tommy and Maria where they can try to live as normal a life as possible in this world.

It was Ellie who insisted they carry on. “After all we’ve been through. Everything I’ve done. It can’t be for nothing,” Ellie told him. “I know you mean well. I know you want to project me. You have. And when we’re done, we’ll go wherever you want.”

And so they did. And so they were ambushed while sharing bad puns, with Ellie captured and Joel knocked out. When he awoke, he was alone and Marlene was telling him that Ellie was getting prepped for surgery.

She also explained to him that their doctor believes that Ellie has been infected with cordyceps since birth, that her body creates a kind of chemical messenger that confuses new infections by saying she’s already infected. They believe it can be a cure. So the plan is to remove it from Ellie and try to replicate it.

“Cordyceps grows inside the brain,” Joel says, fresh horror dawning as he realizes this is a one-way journey for Ellie. In order to have a chance at saving humanity, the Fireflies intend to carve her up.

What’s also remarkable, considering Marlene’s history with Ellie and her mother, is how cold she appears about this. “I have no other choice,” she told Joel. And yet, is Joel in the right to want to stop it immediately, or should he look at the bigger picture?

What would Ellie want to do? She was determined that all of this not be for nothing, but that doesn’t necessarily mean she’d be willing to die for it to mean something. Marlene made the decision that she would die without consulting her. Joel made a decision, too, on her behalf.

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Anyone not familiar with the video game might have been somewhat horrified and startled by what played out next, because the show practically became a first-person shooter. Marlene had two men take Joel outside to let him go — or kill him if he tried anything.

Joel may be older and slower than his brother Tommy, but he’s still one effective killer! He quickly dispatched the two men and then began to make his way upstairs to the operating room where Ellie’s life was about to be taken.

Along the way, we saw him switching weapons as his ran out, we saw him shooting men who’d put down their weapons and surrendered, and when he finally got there and saw Ellie about to go under the knife, we saw him coldly shoot the doctor in the head. Was that the last possible savior of humanity?

At least with Ellie in sight and now safe, he didn’t kill the two women acting as nurses for the doctor. That was admittedly a risk, considering the carnage he’d laid out. For all he knew, those two women were just as dangerous as all the men he’d mowed down to save his little girl.

In the parking garage, he was confronted by Marlene, who tried one last time to plead with him to think of the bigger picture. She even tried to argue that someone would kill Ellie eventually, or a monster would tear hear apart.

She’ll die “because she lives in a broken world that you could have saved,” Marlene said. Joel concedes it’s possible, but that wasn’t for Marlene to decide. Marlene pushed back that it wasn’t for him to decide, either, but both are valid points. At the same time, Ellie is 14 years old. Is it for her to decide, yet, either?

If the FIreflies hadn’t been so keen to killer, they could have worked with her to try and find a way to cure humanity without killing her. Take the opportunity to learn as much as possible about how her body operates before just cutting her brain out.

Marlene’s finale plea was to tell Joel that she believes Ellie would have wanted to do what’s right. She’s right in that. And she’s right that Joel knows it.

But it didn’t matter.

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Trust Falls

It was a heartbreaking ending in many ways. Humanity had lost its one shot at survival — though they now know that a woman getting bit as she gives birth could create another Ellie. Then there’s Ellie and Joel.

When she awakened in the back of his truck, viewers learned that Joel took care of one last piece of business back at the hospital. He succeeded in shooting Marlene before she could shoot him. She pleaded with him while bleeding out to let her go.

“You’d just come after her.”

None of this, though, is what he told Ellie. Instead, he told her that there were dozens of other people immune like her but there was no way to synthesize this into a cure for anyone. The doctors had given up.

It was clear that Ellie was marinating on this and skeptical of his story. She even made it the last thing she asked him as they finally arrived back where Tommy and his wife lived. “Swear to me everything you said about the Fireflies is true,” she said.

He so sweared, and she said, “Okay.” But in that single word, a wedge of doubt was driven between them. It was a heartbreaking scene after spending the entire season seeing them grow closer and closer until they finally became like family over bad puns.

Ellie also finally revealed to Joel what she meant when she said she’d killed before, sharing that she’d had to kill Riley after her best friend (not yet ready to admit it was young love) turned when they thought they would both “lose their minds together.”

Still, Ellie is not wanting it to have all been for nothing, and yet that’s the truth that’s been given to her. Is it better than the actual truth? It’s too late to ever know because Joel took that choice away from her by feeding her this story.

“The Last of Us” ended its first chapter the same way it began, both beautifully and tragically. The world is still crap, but perhaps Joel and Ellie can find some happiness.

The biggest struggle now is this massive secret that sits between them and how it could shape everything moving forward for both of them. Truths have a nasty way of getting out.

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