The Last of Us Episode 9 Review: A Powerful and Divisive Episode

The Last of Us episode 9 culmination of what has been, unequivocally, the best video game adaptation ever made.

'The Last of Us' Episode 9 Review: A Powerful and Divisive Episode
The Last of Us episode 9. Image credit: HBO

Warning: The Last of Us episode 9 spoilers below.

Upon its initial release in 2013, The Last Of Us was widely acclaimed as one of the best video games ever made, with its intense and divisive conclusion garnering particular praise. The HBO series adaptation remains largely faithful to the game’s narrative, with only minor alterations to the final scenes.

One significant departure in the HBO adaptation is the addition of a flashback scene, featuring a woman named Anna who is heavily pregnant and fleeing from danger in the forest. After reaching an empty house and barricading herself in a room, we realize the woman is played by Ashley Johnson, known for her portrayal of Ellie in the video games and numerous other roles. Her distinctive voice is immediately recognizable, adding to the impact of the scene.


In the scene, the infected bursts through the door and Anna is forced to fight it off with her switchblade while in labor. Despite her bravery, Anna is bitten and ultimately passes on the fungus to her newborn daughter, Ellie. However, since Ellie was still connected to Anna through the umbilical cord, the fungus did not fully take hold, resulting in Ellie developing a rare immunity. This provides a crucial backstory to Ellie’s immunity, as the cordyceps now perceive her as infected and leave her be. While not quite a vaccine, this mechanism serves as a critical plot point in the series.


The HBO adaptation sheds light on this backstory, which was never explicitly stated in the video games. The revelation adds a new layer of understanding to Ellie’s immunity, and the flashback scene provides a plausible explanation for it.

'The Last of Us' Episode 9 Review: A Powerful and Divisive Episode
The Last of Us episode 9. Image credit: HBO

In the present timeline, Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) are en route to the Fireflies. Ellie is struggling to cope with recent traumatic events and remains withdrawn, despite Joel’s attempts to cheer her up with food, games of Boggle, and light conversation. However, a touching moment occurs when they come across a herd of giraffes, a scene lifted directly from the game and one that brings a brief respite to their journey.


As they make their way through a skyscraper, Joel and Ellie reach a bombed-out section with no apparent way forward. Joel boosts Ellie to the next floor, and she spots something intriguing, prompting her to rush off. Joel gives chase and finds Ellie standing in awe of a giraffe grazing outside. In a scene reminiscent of the video game, Joel cuts off some branches for Ellie to offer the animal, and they share a heartwarming moment amidst the chaos of their journey.

Beneath them, Joel and Ellie discover an entire herd of giraffes, a breathtaking sight that feels almost cinematic. Joel’s question to Ellie echoes a similar moment they shared in Boston, but their exchange has a different tone this time around. Despite recent difficulties, Ellie acknowledges the beauty of the moment: “It has its ups and downs,” she says, “But you can’t deny the view.”


As they journey towards the hospital, Joel shares his troubled past with Ellie. He confides in her that after the loss of his daughter Sarah, he tried to take his own life. But he discovered that if he kept pushing forward, he could find new things worth fighting for. When Ellie suggests that time heals all wounds, Joel reveals that it wasn’t time that helped him, but Ellie herself. It’s a poignant moment that underscores the deep bond between them and the profound impact they’ve had on each other’s lives.

The situation is far from over as they suddenly face an ambush from patrolling Fireflies. Joel is struck violently on the head with a rifle, and when he comes to, he finds himself in a hospital bed. Marlene (Merle Dandridge) acknowledges Joel’s efforts in getting Ellie to this point and informs him that Ellie is currently in surgery. The doctors believe that Ellie has been infected since birth, which has granted her a unique immunity that they can extract from her.

'The Last of Us' Episode 9 Review: A Powerful and Divisive Episode
The Last of Us episode 9. Image credit: HBO

He realizes the implications of what Marlene is saying, “But cordyceps infect the brain,” he says. Marlene, however, insists that she has no other choice. Ellie’s ability to save the world is undeniable, but she won’t live long enough to witness it. “Please, don’t do this,” Joel pleads, but Marlene insists that he doesn’t understand the gravity of the situation.


According to Marlene, she is the only person who truly understands the situation. She was present at Ellie’s birth and made a vow to her mother to protect her. However, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, and Ellie’s sacrifice is necessary. Marlene assures Joel that Ellie won’t experience any pain during the procedure, and she never even knew about it, so she never had to feel any fear.

Marlene orders her men to take Joel to the highway and leave him there with his belongings, including Ellie’s switchblade. The guards escort him through the hospital, their weapons at the ready. However, Joel seizes the opportunity and makes his move in a stairwell. He disarms one of the guards and fatally shoots both of them. In an effort to find Ellie’s location, he interrogates the surviving guard, but the guard remains tight-lipped and refuses to divulge any information.

Joel expresses his impatience with the uncooperative guard, saying “I don’t have time for this,” and shoots him dead. He then proceeds to make his way back up the stairs and into the hospital, guns blazing. He takes out the first group of guards and, when one surrenders, Joel mercilessly kills him. He continues to move through the hospital, firing his weapon until he runs out of ammunition, at which point he grabs a rifle from one of the fallen guards and resumes his rampage. When the rifle runs out of ammo, Joel switches to a pistol and continues his path of destruction. He moves through the hospital with the precision and ferocity of the angel of death.

'The Last of Us' Episode 9 Review: A Powerful and Divisive Episode
The Last of Us episode 9. Image credit: HBO

Amidst the aftermath of his violent rampage, Joel finally arrives at the pediatric ward where he discovers the doctor and a group of nurses ready to commence the surgery on Ellie, who is lying unconscious on the operating table. Joel barges into the room and orders them to halt the procedure and immediately disconnect Ellie from the medical equipment.

The doctor turns to face Joel, brandishing a scalpel and positioning himself between Joel and the operating table. Without hesitation, Joel shoots the doctor and reiterates his demands. The medical staff complies and disconnects Ellie from the machines. Joel then picks up Ellie in his arms and carries her away from the scene.

As Joel makes his way to the parking garage below, he spots a van that appears to have undergone some repairs. As he approaches the vehicle, Merle emerges from the shadows, aiming her gun at him. She attempts to persuade Joel to reconsider and reminds him of the importance of saving the world. However, Joel remains firm in his decision and tells her that the ultimate choice isn’t hers to make either. Merle responds by urging him to let Ellie decide, expressing her confidence that Ellie will make the right decision.


Joel appears to consider Merle’s words for a moment, and there’s a tense pause. Marlene lowers her weapon, perhaps thinking she’s succeeded in persuading him. However, without warning, Joel suddenly shoots her in the stomach. He quickly puts Ellie in the van and hears Merle gasping on the ground. As he rounds the vehicle, he sees Merle struggling on the pavement, desperately begging for her life. But Joel knows that if he spares her, she’ll only come after Ellie again. He coldly delivers the final blow and shoots Merle once more.

As they hit the road, Ellie eventually regains consciousness and inquires about what happened. Joel chooses to lie to her, telling her that there were many other people like her, but they couldn’t find a cure and ultimately gave up. He goes on to say that raiders attacked and he had to fight his way out to save her. Despite his efforts to convince her, Ellie appears doubtful and skeptical of his story. When she asks about Marlene, Joel remains silent, causing her to turn away from him and face the opposite direction.

After a long journey, Joel and Ellie are left with a few hours of hiking to reach Jackson. As they approach an outlook that provides a panoramic view of the city, Ellie stops and asks Joel to swear that everything he had told her about the events at the hospital was true. Joel looks at her unwaveringly and swears that it is. Ellie takes a moment to scrutinize his expression and ultimately accepts his answer with a simple “Okay.”


The Last of Us Episode 9 Verdict:

Similar to the video game that inspired this show, there are numerous questions left unanswered and a significant debate around the ethical consequences of Joel’s behavior at the hospital and his subsequent choice to deceive Ellie. He lies to her to prevent her from going back to the hospital, thus safeguarding her, and to maintain their relationship, which he fears will end if she learns the truth.

I fully support Joel’s actions and agree with him entirely. If we don’t protect the innocent, there is no reason to strive for a greater good. Sacrificing the life of your own child, even if she is your surrogate daughter, to save the world, means that the world is not worth saving. Sacrificing yourself for a greater cause is one thing, but sacrificing another person is entirely different. That is why I am firmly on Team Joel.


The episode was incredibly impactful, and I was amazed by the amount of content they managed to fit into a short 43-minute runtime without making it feel rushed. I was also impressed with how they transformed the hospital sequence, adapting the video game combat into something so cinematic and haunting. However, what stood out the most to me was the way the episode concluded with Joel lying to Ellie, and Ellie accepting it despite possibly knowing the truth, all out of love. The ending left me with a lot to think about, and it concluded abruptly, which made the scene even more powerful.

I must emphasize that the ending was so flawless that I wish it had been the actual conclusion of the series, but with the release of The Last of Us Part II, we can expect at least two more seasons of the show on HBO, for better or worse. Although I have mixed feelings, as the showrunners have done a fantastic job (excluding a brief slowdown in the middle of the season), and I am thoroughly enjoying the performances by Pascal and Ramsey. However, I am apprehensive about what is to come.


More in entertainment, here’s our review of ‘The Mandalorian’ season 3.

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