‘The Last Of Us’ Marlene, Explained: Did Marlene Tell Ellie About The Sacrifice Needed To Save Humanity?


We were introduced to Marlene in the first episode of the HBO original, “The Last of Us,” and we perceived her as a strong-headed woman who was committed to her cause and was willing to go to any extent to change things for the better. Her ways and means were a bit questionable, but her intention seemed flawless. Marlene and Anna had been the best of friends, and after the latter died, Marlene agreed to take care of her newborn, Ellie. Marlene was hesitant to take Ellie with her, but she realized that if she didn’t, the kid wouldn’t survive. Anna asked her best friend to shoot her as she didn’t want to turn into a zombie, and though Marlene was not willing to do that, she did kill her and give her freedom from her misery. At that point, Marlene had no clue that the little kid she was holding in her hands would one day become a beacon of hope for the entire human race. 

Marlene got Ellie admitted to the FEDRA school, and as she had promised Anna, she fulfilled all her duties and made sure that Ellie had a secure future. Things changed when Marlene got to know that Ellie was immune to the fungal infection, and she immediately took her into her custody, hoping that they would be able to end the ongoing catastrophe by letting the doctors study Ellie’s body. The irony was that Marlene’s quest to find a cure for the Cordyceps brain infection probably started that day she lost a friend, and now she realized that the only way to stop the infection was by killing the daughter of that same friend, whose death she wanted to redeem. 

Marlene had always been somebody who was ready to sacrifice today for a better tomorrow. She was ready to do what it took to heal the world and restore balance. But it is to be taken into account that she didn’t have a family, and it was comparatively easier for her to talk about the greater good as she was not so emotionally attached to the people who were standing in the line of fire. She did feel bad for Ellie, as any human being would, but we believe that she would have felt a very different kind of sting if it had been her own family member, with whom she shared a familial bond.

Marlene was told that her actions often seemed a bit excessive, like when she was hitting FEDRA targets for no apparent reason, and a lot of innocent people were losing their lives. But Marlene had no qualms about it, and she said that when one is waging a war against a military dictatorship, then collateral damage is bound to happen, no matter how much one tries to avoid it. Marlene’s entire focus from the very first episode of the series, “The Last of Us,” was to get Ellie to the west, where the Firefly doctors were all ready to perform the surgery and develop a cure that could save mankind. 

During the limited conversations that Marlene had with Ellie at the beginning of the series, “The Last of Us,” we came to know that she felt responsible for the kid and that she had no intention of killing her. But for Marlene, the “greater purpose” superseded everything, as it gave her life a sense of purpose. Maybe she was flawed from within, and she did have the blood of innocent people on her hands, but she believed herself to be a revolutionary whose duty was to fight against the oppressive regime and find a cure to save humanity.

Was Marlene Right In Hiding The Truth From Ellie? Is Marlene Dead Or Alive?

Marlene was astonished when she found that, against all the odds, Joel and Ellie had been able to survive and that she had been able to locate them, as in reality she didn’t have any hope that she would see them again. After the Fireflies soldiers knocked out Joel and Ellie, they were taken into custody, and the doctors started preparing for the surgery. When Joel got up, he was told by Marlene that Ellie was in the operation theater and that she wouldn’t be able to come out of it alive. Joel couldn’t understand how her conscience was able to validate her actions. Marlene told him that it was not very easy for her either, as she was there when Ellie was born. She says that it hurts to know that she took care of her for all those years only to know one day that either she could save humanity, or she could live up to the promise she had made to her friend. But this dilemma was not so big that it would come between Marlene and her goals. Joel, too, faced a situation that was kind of similar in nature: Tess had been bitten, and he had to let her take her own life. The angst, the frustration of not being able to save one’s own, was visible in Joel’s eyes, and it made us feel how difficult it would have been to walk away from that building and let Tess die. That emotional intensity wasn’t there when Tess spoke about how difficult it was for her to let Ellie die. Tess knew the only way to fulfill what she believed to be her destiny was by killing Ellie, and she had made peace with that fact.

Though we don’t have any judgments about Marlene’s willingness to sacrifice Ellie’s life for the greater good, we do think that she was wrong in taking away that right to make the decision from Ellie. Ellie should have been asked what she wanted, and her choices should have been taken into consideration too. Marlene was confident about the fact that if asked, Ellie would have voluntarily given her life, but then, she tried operating on her without her explicit consent. Maybe she was desperate to kick start the process, and she didn’t feel the need to take permission because she had already made up her mind, and even if Ellie had wanted otherwise, it wouldn’t have deterred her from accomplishing what she actually wanted. Marlene’s cause might have been a noble one, but this last act made us question her integrity.

Towards the end of “The Last of Us” Season 1, Joel shot Marlene and told her that if he left her alive, then she would come after him and once again try to take Ellie or brainwash her. The head of the Fireflies begged Joel not to do so, but he didn’t listen, and at the end of the first season, Marlene’s quest for a better tomorrow also came to an end.

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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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