How Did Riley Become A Firefly In ‘The Last Of Us’? What Made Ellie Change Her Mind About Fireflies?


The seventh episode of the series, “The Last of Us,” takes us back in time, and we get to witness the equation that Ellie shared with her best friend, Riley. We get to know what happened between them on that fateful night and how Riley came into contact with the supremo of the fireflies, Marlene. So, let’s try to understand how Riley became a part of the Fireflies and how Marlene met Ellie and got to know about her immunity to the fungus.

Spoilers Ahead

How Did Riley Become A Firefly?

Riley had been missing for three weeks, and nobody knew where she had run away. It was not the first time that Riley had secretly snuck out, but she had never been gone for so long, and that is why her best friend Ellie started feeling that something might have happened to Riley. Riley was the only friend that Ellie had inside the FEDRA school, and once she left, the place started to haunt her. Maybe that was the time when Ellie started to feel that whoever she became close to ultimately abandoned her. For Ellie, days became mundane and nights even more lonely. In the silence of the night, she was frequently reminded of the good old days when she could find happiness and comfort even when surrounded by adversity. 

After Ellie had fallen asleep, somebody entered her room from the window, a couple of hours after midnight. Ellie sensed that and took her knife and pounced upon the intruder. She was shocked to find that it was Riley who had come back. Ellie was mad at her for leaving her behind without informing. Riley had always been Ellie’s protector, and when she saw that her face was bruised, she got agitated and asked her who was behind it. Ellie told her that it was Bethany who had tried to bully her, but she had taken care of the matter herself.

Riley always talked about how she wanted to liberate the Boston quarantine zone, but she knew that she alone could not make much of a difference. She had always aspired to become a part of the rebel group, the Fireflies, and she used to tell Ellie that one day, she would do it. Riley promised her best friend that she would tell her everything in exchange for sneaking out with her and doing what she asked. There was a time in Riley’s life when she used to be an angry young woman who would beat people up when they tried to mess with her, but after joining the Fireflies, her sensibilities changed. She realized that she couldn’t fight everything everywhere and would have to choose her battles. Riley had stopped wasting her time on things that didn’t take her closer to her life’s goals and aspirations. She knew that to bring about a revolution, she would have to act in a mature and systematic manner.

Riley told Ellie that one day, when the latter was serving her punishment for something she had done at school, she snuck out alone and met a woman who was probably in her fifties. That woman was Marlene, the leader of the firefly group. Marlene was fascinated by this non-conforming FEDRA student, which was a rarity, and that is why she had a conversation with her to know what she felt about the policies of the organization and if they were actually working towards making things better inside the quarantine zones. 

Riley had always harbored deep-rooted feelings of discontent for FEDRA, and she just needed a little nudge to start ranting about them. Riley told Marlene about the hypocrisy that existed beneath the policies that proclaimed to treat people equally. She said that FEDRA did nothing but try to control the lives of the people. Riley believed that an organization that didn’t give the people the basic right to lead their lives the way they wanted was not worthy of ruling the masses. FEDRA had clearly failed the people, and Riley believed that there should be an opposition to check and balance them. But being a fascist regime, FEDRA made sure that there was no opposition that could question their dictatorial rules and policies. 

In the seventh episode of the series, “The Last of Us,” we saw that meeting Marlene became the turning point in Riley’s life, and she decided to join the Fireflies, but the question remained: how could two people who were subjected to similar circumstances have such contrasting views and opinions? The fact that is to be taken into consideration is that the autocratic rule never had an adverse impact on the students studying at the FEDRA school. 

Moreover, being inside the regiment was far better than being on the outside. Being a FEDRA officer was a matter of prestige, and the kind of privileges it awarded its members were unparalleled. But still, Riley was ready to sacrifice all that, risk her life, and join the Fireflies. It was because she craved something more than just the privileges that FEDRA was promising to give students like her. Riley had lost her family, and ever since, she had been searching for the home that she once had. Riley had always felt a void inside her that she had never been able to fill since the outbreak. She craved familial bonds, and that was something that she got when she met Marlene and others from the resistance group. FEDRA treated them as mere subjects, but Marlene acknowledged her existence and made her realize her importance. Riley felt that unlike FEDRA, who treated them like fodder, it mattered to Marlene whether she lived or died.

What Made Ellie Change Her Mind About Fireflies?

Ellie might not have liked a lot of things that happened inside the FEDRA school, but the thought of being a part of the Fireflies had never crossed her mind. She still believed them to be terrorists and even asked her friend Riley why she would want to join the rebel group. Ellie was born after the pandemic, and she didn’t know what it was like to live in a normal world. Maybe that’s why that feeling of belonging that Riley craved wasn’t felt by Ellie. At the beginning of the seventh episode of the series, “The Last Of Us,” Ellie is told by a FEDRA officer that she had the potential to have a successful career inside the army after she had beaten a student who was trying to bully her. FEDRA had great expectations from Ellie, and they saw a future leader in her who would accomplish great things.

Though Ellie had no issues with FEDRA, things may have changed after the death of her friend. Riley had asked Marlene earlier if she could bring her friend with her to Atlanta, but Marlene had not agreed to it. The two girls, after getting infected in the mall, decided to wait it out and put up a fight against the infection. It could have been possible that Marlene had found Ellie after she shot Riley. 

The mall was used as a warehouse by Fireflies, and Riley was stationed there to look after their secret stash of arms and ammunition. When the fireflies hadn’t heard from Riley in a few days, they would have decided to go there and see what happened for themselves. Marlene would have realized then that Ellie was immune to the Cordyceps Brain Infection and that she had a real chance to develop a vaccine by studying Ellie’s immune response. Marlene was an enigmatic person, and though Ellie would have initially resisted being taken in by them, she would have eventually realized that whatever she said had some merit. 

Maybe Marlene would have told Ellie how FEDRA discriminated between the citizens, how there was widespread corruption in the system, and how they resorted to extreme punitive measures even though they themselves were nothing but a fascist regime. Ellie was faithful to FEDRA because she had never witnessed, up until then, what happened on the other side of the wall. Maybe once she had seen the atrocities with her own eyes, her stance towards things would have changed, and she would have become more inclined toward Marlene’s philosophy.

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Sushrut Gopesh
Sushrut Gopesh
I came to Mumbai to bring characters to life. I like to dwell in the cinematic world and ponder over philosophical thoughts. I believe in the kind of cinema that not necessarily makes you laugh or cry but moves something inside you.

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