Did You Catch This Symbolic Cameo at the End of ‘The Last of Us’ Season 1 Finale?
The big presence you didn't know was in the room.
Season 1 of HBO’s The Last of Us has been remarkably faithful to the original game in look, feel, and most of its story. Even the divergences the show has given us have all felt very “Last of Us.” It’s clear that everyone involved loves the original source material so much, which makes its way into the smallest of details.
The Last of Us season one finale spoilers ahead!
Showrunners Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann (the game’s creator) also love the people involved in making that original game and have brought several of its voice actors into the show in wonderful, well thought-out ways. They’re all fun appearances/cameos, but they also make thematic sense in the context of the show—including one in particular, in the season one finale, that’s a clever reference to things to come.
[Spoiler] as a nurse prepping Ellie for surgery
Warning: spoilers for The Last of Us: Part 2 and POSSIBLY THE SECOND SEASON of HBO’s The Last of Us. (Skip to the next heading if you don’t want any part of that.)
Johnson wasn’t the only OG cast member of the game who appeared in the season finale! You might have seen Laura Bailey‘s name in the credits, but you might not have been able to pick her out when she was onscreen, because of her costume.
Thankfully, Neil Druckmann posted the above photo to Instagram! Laura Bailey is the voice actor who plays the role of Abby in The Last of Us, Part II, and she was one of the nurses prepping Ellie for surgery in the hospital scene toward the end of Episode 9.
If you’ve played that game, you know the significance of having Abby’s voice actor in the room when Joel shoots the surgeon. The surgeon, after all, turns out to be Abby’s father, and Joel sets another complicated series of events in motion when he kills the surgeon to rescue Ellie.
Having “Abby” in the room at this moment is a bit of foreshadowing, as is the closeup of the surgeon lying dead on the ground, which isn’t emphasized in the same way in the game. When The Last of Us was released, the surgeon wasn’t yet important to the sequel, but in The Last of Us, Part II, we learn that Abby was in the hospital when her father was killed. She made her way to the operating room and found his dead body.
Now, the first season of this series has Abby’s presence, too, albeit symbolically.
But let’s talk about some of the other meaningful appearances, too!
The original Marlene
Perhaps one of the best uses of an original voice actor was Merle Dandridge, who was the voice of Marlene in the game, playing Marlene in this live-action version.
Dandridge has game-Marlene’s athletic look and brought even more subtlety and grit to her already great voice performance, becoming a wonderful, grounding presence throughout the nine episodes of the series. Even when we didn’t see her, she was always an anchor for Ellie and Joel.
When we did see her, we understood Marlene’s determination, and desperation, to get Ellie to the hospital, and we got an additional heartbreaking moment that wasn’t in the game in a flashback where Marlene found Ellie’s mother, Anna, after Anna gave birth. We learned that Marlene and Anna were childhood friends, which gave all the choices Marlene had to make regarding Ellie much more weight.
It was a pleasure watching Dandridge get to delve even further into a character that clearly means so much to her.
Tommy as a freedom fighter
Fans were pleasantly surprised by another appearance about halfway through the season. Episode 4, “Please Hold to My Hand,” finds Joel and Ellie in Kansas City, MO, where they stumble into a militant group’s search for someone targeted by the group’s vindictive leader, Kathleen (played flawlessly by Yellowjackets’ Melanie Lynskey). Kathleen’s faithful right-hand man, Perry, is played by Jeffrey Pierce. He was the voice actor behind Joel’s brother, Tommy, in the original game.
It’s interesting to see what the OG Tommy brings to this role. Perry, like Tommy, found a group of people to whom he’s extremely devoted. Unlike Tommy, however, he believes Joel to be harmful to that group. Pierce gives a surprisingly touching performance as Perry, willing to do anything Kathleen needs him to do, but clearly not as prone to violence as she is and probably the only person who can question her actions safely. Their relationship was fascinating to watch.
Joel as a sadistic religious fanatic’s lieutenant
Fans knew they had to wait until the penultimate episode of the season to enjoy this widely publicized appearance. It was worth the wait. Troy Baker, who was the original voice of Joel, played the most trusted member of David’s (Scott Shepard) inner circle, James, in Episode 8, “When We Are in Need.”
Anyone who’s played the games knows what a talented actor Baker is, and we had a great opportunity to see him deliver an equally nuanced and complex performance in this episode. James, like Perry, is a trusted lieutenant who’s not aligned with the leader he chose to follow. It’s interesting to see the ways in which James’ goals differ so clearly from David’s.
It’s also nice to know that Baker had so much fun playing James, even if his final scene was physically challenging, as he discussed in this interview with Stream Wars.
OG Ellie as Ellie’s mom
As excited as fans were for Baker’s participation, it was eclipsed only by Ashley Johnson’s long-awaited appearance as Ellie’s mother, Anna, in the season finale.
Johnson was the original voice of Ellie in The Last of Us, so it was a beautiful, full-circle moment for the franchise, and for the actress. Johnson “gave birth” to EIlie as a character, and now she’s gotten to play the person who gives birth to Ellie in-story.
It was also wonderful to see a part of the story that, up until now, went untold—especially since it seems to mean so much to Druckmann. You can hear him, Johnson, Mazin, and Baker talk about it in this week’s episode of the official HBO companion podcast for The Last of Us.
Totally dating myself, but to me, Johnson will always be Chrissy Seaver on the sitcom Growing Pains. However, more recently, I’ve known her primarily as a voice actor. It was lovely, then, to see her bring her considerable talent to such an important, memorable role in live action. It was damn near perfect.
And not to brag, but I’m totally gonna brag: scroll down to the bottom here for a very special photo!
One last, fun cameo
Going back to the pilot of HBO’s The Last of Us, there’s one more fun, masked cameo that you might have missed entirely.
Craig Mazin plays the role of the soldier who shoots and kills Sarah (Nico Parker). Yes, his is the voice we hear, and yes, that’s him under all that gear. The role was uncredited, but was revealed by the fan page @hbosthelastofus on Instagram.
As a huge fan of his other work (like HBO’s Chernobyl and, um, Superhero Movie), as well as the Scriptnotes podcast, which he co-hosts with fellow screenwriter John August, I knew that he was a huge fan of the games. When I heard that Mazin wouId be doing the TV adaptation of The Last of Us, I knew the story was in great hands. I was not disappointed.
So, I’m thrilled to see that he not only gets to play in this sandbox he loves so much as a writer/producer, but that he also got to put himself into the world, albeit in a really terrible way. What a sadist. Haven’t you made us suffer enough?
Which was your favorite cameo appearance in the first season of HBO’s The Last of Us? Let us know in the comments!
(featured image: HBO)
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]