Please note: there are FULL spoilers for the entire ninth and final episode of this first season, as well as all preceding episodes. Also worth noting is that I have never played the video game this is based on, and have no idea of any specific plot points, so any speculation of upcoming events is truly just that.
A woman, Anna (Ashley Johnson) runs through a forest with the howls of infected nearby, and closing in. She is heavily pregnant. As she reaches a farm house, Anna enters and locks the door behind her, and calls to say she has arrived, but gets no response. As she heads upstairs, her water breaks, and she barricades herself in a room with just a small knife for protection. A window breaks downstairs, and an infected breaks into the room where Anna is hiding, and she fights it, and kills it.
As it lays dead, she notices first that she had given birth during the fight, to a baby girl she names Ellie. Almost immediately, Anna sees that the infected had bitten her on the leg, causing Anna to immediately cut the umbilical cord. Soon after returns Marlene (a returning Merle Dandridge), along with some other Fireflies, and finds Anna upstairs, holding baby Ellie. Anna begs for Marlene to take Ellie, and for Marlene to kill Anna. Regretfully, Marlene does.
Back in the present day, Ellie and Joel are heading towards Salt Lake City, but Ellie is clearly not coping with her recent incident. Joel finds some soup and the board game, Boggle, and suggests he and Ellie play it some time, as Ellie will surely beat him. Joel says he would like to one day teach Ellie to play guitar. When they arrive in the city, they head through some buildings before climbing up the inside of a partially demolished skyscraper. Ellie runs ahead, and Joel scrambles to follow her, but begins to lose her in the twists and turns.
Joel eventually comes to a destroyed balcony, where Ellie is waiting. In front of her, a giraffe is lazily eating from the plants growing from the building. Joel hands Ellie some plants to feed the giraffe, which she does with a genuine laugh and smile. As the giraffe leaves, Ellie again runs on ahead, and outside she and Joel see a small herd of giraffes living comfortably in the ruined city.
Joel asks Ellie if the trip was everything she hoped for, and she echoes her sentiments from their first day together: she’s undecided, but she can’t deny the view. Joel begins to talk to Ellie about what might happen when they meet the fireflies, but she brushes him off, clearly willing to go through with whatever has to be done. She tells Joel that when it’s all over, Joel can go anywhere, and she’ll follow him wherever that may be. But first, they finish what they started.
Back on ground level, the pair head through a long abandoned emergency medical camp, where Joel reveals the origins of the scar on his head: following Sarah’s death he attempted suicide, but flinched at the last minute. Joel claims there is no story, but both he and Ellie share an emotional moment, before Ellie says they should get going. Joel asks Ellie to read from her joke book, but they are soon ambushed from behind. A man throws a flashbang between Ellie and Joel, and knocks Joel out with the butt of his rifle.
Sometime later, Joel awakens in a hospital, where Marlene is waiting for him. She half-heartedly apologises that the patrol didn’t know who he and Ellie were, and wonders how the two of Joel and Ellie made it all the way there. Joel asks to be taken to Ellie, but Marlene refuses, as she is being prepared for surgery. Marlene explains that the doctor will need to operate on Ellie and take a sample of the Cordyceps that has grown inside her. Joel notes that Cordyceps grows on the brain, and this surgery will kill her. When Joel demands to see Ellie, one of Marlene’s guards attacks, and Marlene tries to justify her actions, noting she was there when Ellie was born. Marlene says to give Joel his pack, and to walk him out to the highway. She says that if Joel tries anything, to shoot him.
On his way out of the hospital, Joel turns on his escorts, and kills one before interrogating the other. When the other refuses to cooperate, Joel kills him too. Taking the escorts’ weapons, Joel storms through the hospital killing every firefly he comes across until he arrives at the Paediatric Surgery. He finds Ellie under sedation. When the surgeon attempts to stand up to Joel, Joel kills him. The two nurses unhook Ellie from the machines, and Joel carried the unconscious Ellie to the parking garage under the hospital, where he finds a car waiting. Marlene steps out of the shadows, pointing a gun at Joel, and imploring him to return Ellie and that it’s not too late.
Soon after, Joel is driving away from the hospital, where it is revealed Ellie is in the back seat. She wakes up and is confused as to where she is, and Joel lies to her. He tells her that there are others out ther who are immune, but the doctors couldn’t make any of it work, and there is no point trying to make a cure. Joel says Raiders attacked the hospital, and he only barely managed to get Ellie out of the hospital. When Ellie asks if anyone was hurt, Joel says yes, but doesn’t answer when asked about Marlene. A flashback reveals Joel shot Marlene, and as she lay dying, he executed her.
Arriving back in Wyoming, the car breaks down and Joel and Ellie have to walk the rest of the way to Jackson. Along the way, Joel tells Ellie that Sarah liked hiking, and he thinks Sarah would have liked Ellie. Seeing Jackson over the hill, Ellie finally tells Joel the first person she had to kill, her friend Riley, when she got bit in the shopping mall. Joel tries to comfort Ellie, but she cuts him off, and asks him to swear that what he said happened at the hospital was true, which he does. Ellie accepts his story.
+ even cynical old me did feel bad for the way Ellie was zoning out and unresponsive to Joel’s attempts at talking to her. Their heart to heart after seeing the giraffes was a bit more emotional than I was expecting it to be
+ speaking of: omg giraffes. I had always heard that there was something to do with giraffes in the game, but I never knew what. This makes a lot more sense now
+ it was some nice character development in that Ellie just casually mentioned Sara, and Joel just casually said he wasn’t talking about her. It only took nine episodes and some deeply ingrained trauma, but I actually feel like these two like each other now
+ when I saw the dude rushing up behind Joel and Ellie, I was confused for like half a second as to why he wasn’t snarling or whatever. That very brief moment of confusion was a lot of fun for me, and made sense for a video game; you only get a short amount of time to scope your targets before they either rush and eat you, or start shooting.
+ those escorts Joel had out of the hospital were so unnecessarily antagonistic towards him, they deserved what they got no question. The rest of the people in the hospital not so much
+ I was down on the idea of yet another flashback showing Ellie killing Riley, but instead it was a little speech by Ellie at the end here. I appreciate that
– maybe I missed something, but I am still unclear on just how and why Joel is such a badass. In the first episode, it was Tommy that was the former soldier/marine/army/whatever based no the bumper sticker on his truck, but was Joel also a soldier?
– I was also not a fan of the slow-motion action while dramatic music played. This was their chance to really show what Joel could do, and it felt completely rushed (ironically, as it was literally not). I have said many times before, across many different movies, TV shows and video games, that slow-motion doesn’t make things cooler or more ’emotional’ or whatever, it just makes things look try-hard
– I appreciate there is some ambiguity in Joel’s alignment (is he a hero or a villain after massacring a hospital?) but in regards to Marlene specifically, I felt he was undoubtedly in the right. My issue is that I don’t think the show framed it that way, or ambiguously. I got the impression the show wanted me to think Joel was the villain in that moment. Obviously he is a villain for lying about it
Final thoughts: I can’t say I was expecting this to go the way it did (but I mean, I know there is a second game so I was confident neither Joel nor Ellie were dying). I was never expecting this show to have a happy ending, and while this wasn’t “happy” it was certainly more positive than I was expecting. There were more positives here than usual, so I guess that’s something.