Editor’s note: The following article contains spoilers for Episode 1 of The Last of Us.

The Last of Us was a beloved franchise long before HBO decided to turn it into a TV show. However, PlayStations are expensive, so many of us are getting into the post-apocalypse universe for the first time. Episode 1, “When You’re Lost in the Darkness,” does an excellent job of setting the tone for the show, presenting the main characters, and exploring the state of the world after a fungi outbreak. Still, as good as the first episode of The Last of Us might be, the stakes skyrocket when the series explores Ellie (Bella Ramsey) and her apparent immunity to the cordyceps. And the final scene of Episode 1 lays down the foundations over which Joe’s (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie’s relationship will be built. And it’s all thanks to Ellie’s arm.

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Where Are Joel and Tess Going in Episode 1?

Image via HBO

Episode 1 of The Last of Us does a magnificent job setting the rules for the series’ post-apocalyptic world. The episode opens with a creative explanation of cordyceps fungi and why they might threaten humanity. Then, we jump to 2003, where we get to meet Joe and his daughter Sarah (Nico Parker). Instead of unleashing the infected immediately, Episode 1 takes its time to let us know the characters, making Sarah’s death more painful. In this past section of the episode, The Last of Us also underlines how the military can act under extreme pressure, slaughtering innocent people to prevent the world’s end. Sarah is one of these victims, shot by a soldier in front of Joel’s eyes and scarring the man for life.

After making us cry our hearts out with Sarah’s death, The Last of Us jumps to the present, 2023, where what’s left of humanity struggles to survive. In the ravaged world, walled cities were built to hold what is left of society. These cities are controlled with an iron fist by FEDRA, the Federal Disaster Response Administration, a military organization that doesn’t even blink before killing children if that means stopping the fungi from spreading. Not everyone is happy with FEDRA’s tyrannical government, though, as Episode 1 introduces the Fireflies, freedom fighters trying to restore democracy somehow. And then, there are people like Joel and Tess (Anna Torv), unconcerned about big political struggles and just doing what they can to survive.

“When You’re Lost in the Darkness” follows Joel and Tess as they try to get a battery for a car, willing to rescue Joel’s brother Tommy (Gabriel Luna) from an unknown danger. We learn that Joel and Tess are not good people. They are criminals, actually, who don’t hesitate to hurt other people to get what they want. They are far from being heroes, but fate has a few surprises in store for them. Because their quest for transport leads them to the Firefly headquarters, where freedom fighter Marlene (Merle Dandridge) is planning to take Ellie out of the city. With no one to trust after being wounded in a gunfight, Marlene leaves Ellie under Joel and Tess’ care, promising the couple will get a vehicle and supplies once they deliver the girl to a Firefly outpost outside the city. The couple agrees to the terms, unaware that Ellie is immune to the cordyceps.

Why Is Ellie So Important to the Fireflies?

Image via HBO

While Joel, Tess, and Ellie escape the city, they bump into a FEDRA guard that tries to arrest them. As a standard procedure, the guard tests the prisoners for early signs of infection. Ellie knows she will test positive, so she stabs the guard in the leg. The guard grabs his rifle and points to Ellie, prompting Joel to get between the angry soldier and the young girl. The guard tells Joel to move, but he cannot stand still and watch a soldier execute another teenage girl in front of him. After 20 years, Sarah’s death still weighs over Joel. Something snaps inside the smuggler, and he jumps over the guard, risking his life to protect a girl he just met. Joel punches the soldier’s face until it becomes a pulpy mass of flesh, blood, and broken bones.

While Joel is busy beating the life out of a soldier, Tess grabs the guard’s testing tool from the ground and realizes Ellie is contaminated. The girl defends herself, showing the scars on her arm and claiming she’s not sick. No one lasts more than a day after being bitten by a person infected with cordyceps, but the scars on Ellie’s arms show that her wounds have already healed. Ellie is immune, and that makes her valuable. That’s why Marlene wants the Fireflies to shelter the girl and take her to a lab, where they hopefully can develop a cure or a vaccine.

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Image via HBO

Ellie’s immunity completely changes the stakes for Joel and Tess. While The Last of Us is brilliantly written and highly engaging, the series would feel like your average zombie outbreak story if it wasn’t for Ellie’s arm. Thanks to the girl’s immunity, the series’ main characters fight for much more than their lives. Their journey can lead to salvation for humanity itself. Episode 1 doesn’t have the time to explore Joel and Tess’ reaction to the shocking discovery, but we can already guess where the series leads us.

In 2003, Joel was a dedicated father who overworked himself to care for his daughter. After 20 years of surviving in the apocalypse, Joel became a violent man for whom the ends justify the means. Ellie’s arm gives Joel a chance to take a step back and reflect on his choices. It also gives Joel and Tess a reason to care for Ellie and see the girl as more than an asset to be traded for other resources. Ellie’s arm represents hope in a world so broken that good people cannot survive. And by saving Ellie, Tess and Joel can have redemption for all the bad things they’ve done. It’s an exciting perspective, and we can’t wait for next week’s episode to explore the consequences of Tess and Joel seeing Ellie’s arm.

New episodes of The Last of Us come to HBO and HBO Max every Sunday.


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