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HBO’s ‘The Last of Us’ Ending Explained

Joel and Ellie look over a low wall.

If you were expecting season 1 of The Last of Us to go out in a brawl of Infected fighting Fireflies fighting FEDRA fighting Joel and Ellie, you might have been disappointed—the actual ending is much more restrained. What exactly happens? Here’s a full breakdown of the ending of The Last of Us season 1.

Joel realizes the Fireflies’ dark plan for Ellie

Joel and Ellie finally make it to the Firefly lab, where Joel wakes up after having been knocked out. Marlene is there, having made her own trip from Boston, and she tells him Ellie is being prepped for surgery so that they can take a sample of Cordyceps from her body and use it to develop a cure. She tells him that Ellie grew up with a small amount of Corcyceps already in her system, which meant the fungus thought she was already infected when she was bitten.

But Joel quickly figures out what Marlene isn’t telling him. Cordyceps grows around the brain. If the doctors operate on Ellie’s brain, she’ll die.

Marlene tries to usher Joel out of the building, but he overpowers the guards, killing Fireflies until he finds Ellie anesthetized in an operating room. He kills the surgeon and carries Ellie to a car in the parking garage. Marlene tries to stop him, arguing that Ellie would want to give her life for the cause (despite the fact that Ellie didn’t get a choice in the matter). Joel kills Marlene, too, afraid that she’ll come after Ellie.

Joel and Ellie head back to Jackson

Joel drives Ellie back to Jackson, telling her that the Fireflies’ efforts to find a cure were unsuccessful, and that he took Ellie out of the hospital because raiders attacked. As they hike the final stretch, Joel opens up about Sarah, telling Ellie about how she liked to climb rocks, and saying that Ellie and Sarah would have been friends.

Ellie, in turn, tells Joel about having to shoot Riley when Riley turned. Ellie feels guilty about all the deaths they’ve left in their wake, but Joel tries to comfort her. Sometimes, he says, “you feel like you’ve 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.” It’s obvious that Joel is talking about finding Ellie after losing Sarah, but he’s also alluding to the fact that their mission to find a cure has failed.

Before they head down into town, Ellie tells Joel to swear to her that he was telling the truth about what happened while she was unconscious. Joel swears, and Ellie simply says, “Okay.”

How The Last of Us season 1 ending sets up season 2

In the video game The Last of Us Part II, Joel’s deception becomes a central plot point, straining his relationship with Ellie as they try to build a life together in Jackson. Season 1 was a pretty faithful adaptation of the original game, so it’s probably safe to say that season 2 will adapt much of the second game.

(featured image: HBO Max)

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Julia Glassman (she/they) holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop and covers film, television, and books for The Mary Sue. When she's not making yarn on her spinning wheel, she consumes massive amounts of Marvel media, folk horror, science fiction, fantasy, and nature writing. You can check out more of her writing at, or find her on Twitter at @juliaglassman.