The Last of Us creators unpack Joel’s decision in the season 1 finale

The Last of Us Episode 9
The Last of Us Episode 9 /

The Last of Us season 1 finale sees Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) reaching the Fireflies at long last — but the end of their journey doesn’t go as smoothly as planned. The HBO show faces Joel with a heart-wrenching decision before bringing its first season to a close: save Ellie or the rest of the world.

The Fireflies plan to use Ellie’s immunity to create a cure for the infected. However, Marlene (Merle Dandridge) tells Joel that they’ll need to perform brain surgery in order to make that happen. Ellie’s unlikely to survive the procedure, but her sacrifice could ensure a future for other kids like her.

Joel’s come to see Ellie as a daughter, and he doesn’t take well to Marlene’s news. Instead of leaving Ellie in her hands, he massacres the Fireflies guarding the hospital where Ellie’s surgery is set to take place. He even kills the doctor preparing to operate on her, just before removing her from the table, killing Marlene, and leaving the Fireflies behind.

It’s a surprising turn of events, and it’s left The Last of Us fans conflicted when it comes to Joel. It’s easy to understand the reasons for his actions, even if you don’t necessarily agree with them. And for The Last of Us creators Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin, that moral dilemma is sort of the whole point.

The Last of Us creators break down Joel’s choice

During HBO’s Inside the Episode for The Last of Us season 1 finale, co-creators Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin discussed Joel’s decision.

“The thought experiment for the whole story is the unconditional love a parent feels for their child,” Druckmann explained, “and how far can you take the story to demonstrate what that means?”

Mazin added, “It’s not just about the beautiful parts of love. It’s also about the dark side. It’s about how everything wonderful and everything bad, ultimately, can start with love.”

And according to Druckmann, Joel’s love for Ellie makes his choice a no-brainer. He decides to go back for Ellie almost instantly — and there’s not a hint of regret once all is said and done.

“We’ve seen Joel kill,” Druckmann said. “We’ve soon him lose loved ones. So, how do you take that any further? What if it’s between saving all of humanity or this one girl? It’s the easiest choice he’s ever made in his life.”

That may be the case during The Last of Us season 1 finale, but will Joel regret his decision when season 2 arrives? In addition to murdering the Fireflies, he lies to Ellie about their departure from the group. While his actions at the hospital may not haunt him, betraying Ellie’s trust could.

Will Joel regret his decision in The Last of Us season 1 finale?

The Last of Us season 2 has already been greenlit by HBO, so we’ll see Joel and Ellie again soon enough. And their relationship may be strained after the events of The Last of Us season 1 finale, as Ellie clearly suspects that Joel is being dishonest with her.

During HBO’s Inside the Episode, Bella Ramsey addressed Ellie’s reaction to Joel’s lies. He tells her that the Fireflies failed to create a cure or vaccine with her immunity — and he claims other kids have similar protection.

“She knows, deep down, that he’s not telling the truth,” Ramsey said. “But she can’t let herself believe it because it’s too painful and it’s too scary, the idea that her only purpose in life hasn’t been fulfilled — that that had been taken away from her by the person that she loves and trusts the most. It’s too overwhelming. So, she forces herself to believe Joel.”

Of course, the truth is likely to come out when The Last of Us season 2 arrives. And the rift it creates between Ellie and Joel could leave the latter in a dark place. After all, Joel doesn’t give Ellie a chance to decide for herself, the same thing he criticizes the Fireflies for. That could turn Ellie against him, resulting in the very loss he’s trying so hard to avoid.

Hopefully, it doesn’t come to that — but it wouldn’t be the first time The Last of Us has broken our hearts.

The Last of Us season 1 episode 9 is now streaming on HBO Max.

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