The optics of the series “The Last of Us” depict the show as a world ravaged by the Cordyceps Brain Infection. But a closer look reveals that it is actually the relationships between the characters that are the series’ real strength. It has often been said that humans are the most populous group on earth, not because we are the most evolved or intelligent, but because we are the most aggressive. In a new world where circumstances are dire enough that the only options are to kill or be killed, it is no surprise that a sense of community takes a backseat for most people. At a time like this, Joel and Ellie set out on a journey where restoring the world to its former state by defeating the fungus is a real possibility. But is that all that drove them to take on such a perilous journey? Joel was a man who single-mindedly thought about himself and his family. We saw at the beginning of “The Last of Us” Episode 1 that when he was driving away with his brother and his daughter, he refused to pick up a stranded family with a child. His car had room for it, but Joel was not a philanthropist.
As for Ellie, she was born after the pandemic started. She spent her life in the FEDRA military school, and that was the only life she knew. It was evident that she had to grow faster than her years. Which 14-year-old can put up such a brave face when confronted with imprisonment by a rival group? Since she had grown up with FEDRA, she saw the Fireflies as the enemy, to the point that she gives them a fake v name. But Marlene recognizes her and calls her by her real name: Ellie. The child’s first thought is obviously whether the woman is her mother because who else could recognize someone they had never met? Marlene clarifies that she is not Ellie’s mother, but the fact that she knew who she was indicates that she had probably been keeping tabs on her. Ellie is rather surprised at this. She seems to believe Marlene and is much more at ease since her shackles have been removed. But she is confused as to why the leader of the Fireflies would place a child with FEDRA, their sworn enemy. There are three particular things that happen during the conversation between Ellie and Marlene that unravel a lot about their relationship.
When Ellie expresses a desire to go, Marlene questions her whether she really wants to go back to military school to be a soldier. Ellie’s exact words are that “she did not have a choice.” The school is the only world she has known all her life. The fact that she laments the lack of a choice indicates that she doesn’t agree with a lot of what FEDRA does. She doesn’t see herself as a part of them, and neither is she enthusiastic about following a future designed by them. But the time she has spent with them as an impressionable young girl has led her to use some of their languages, especially when she calls the Fireflies “terrorists.” Marlene immediately asks her whether she thinks of Riley that way as well. She refers to Riley in the past tense, which means that she is likely dead. Something we can decipher about her is that Riley must have been a part of the Fireflies. If Ellie was close enough to her to overcome her perception of the Fireflies as terrorists, then they must have spent a considerable amount of time together.
When Marlene brings up Riley, we can see Ellie backtracking on her words and perceptions rather immediately, which means that Riley must have been a person who greatly influenced Ellie, enough so that she now trusts Marlene to do whatever she wants. We know from the video game that Ellie and Riley; both shared a tumultuous past, and they studied at the same military school, where Marlene had gotten Ellie admitted. Riley was probably the only person in whom Ellie confided, and her presence was like a silver lining in an otherwise acutely distressing life. But that happiness and comfort were also snatched from Ellie when they were attacked by clickers. It was at that time that Ellie found out about her immunity and saw her friend die in front of her own eyes.
Marlene was very close to Ellie’s mother, and that is why, after her demise, she took on the responsibility of looking after Ellie. We can say that Marlene was like a godmother to Ellie, and she had gotten her admitted into the military school as she knew that there was no other place where Ellie would be safe. When Marlene came to know that Ellie was immune to the Cordyceps Brian infection, she was hopeful about finding a sustainable cure for the virus. She was still very protective of Ellie, but she also knew that if the time came, she would be ready to make a sacrifice for the greater good. Marlene goes to great lengths to make sure that Ellie safely reaches her crew in the old State House. She knew Joel and Tess from before. Maybe she had met them or worked with them. It feels a little far-fetched to assume that she trusted them solely on the basis of their reputation. Marlene was very clear that Ellie was of the highest priority and that her safety could not be compromised at any cost. No doubt Joel found it odd, but twenty years of fighting for survival had taught him not to ask unnecessary questions. As much as he found it odd that a little midget of a girl was freely throwing knives and expletives at him, she had to have reminded him of his daughter, who was probably around the same age when she died. When Ellie points out that Joel’s watch is broken, it definitely makes him think of Sarah, who had gotten his watch repaired for his birthday, which was coincidentally the day she died. It wasn’t just these coincidences but the fact that despite the harshness of her upbringing, Ellie still had the cheekiness and innocence of a child, just like his daughter Sarah, that could see through the hard exterior Joel had built around him. When Tess and Ellie come face-to-face with a military man, Joel is keenly aware that this is the exact situation in which he lost his daughter. In this situation, Joel wasn’t being proactive or cautious by attacking the officer. He was acting on instinct, born of PTSD.
When Ellie’s bite mark is discovered by Tess, Joel is the type of man who wouldn’t mind leaving her to die then and there. However, it was probably the haze brought by the emotional residue of the attack on the officer that made him choose to just escape at that moment. But it is clear that Ellie’s bite mark is the reason she is so important to Fireflies, and we eagerly wait for the next episode to get more details on this.