HBO’s The Last of Us has created an adaptation that is faithful to the original game developed by Naughty Dog. However, in the season one finale titled “Look For The Light,” the show delves deeper into a character that had only been briefly mentioned before. This exploration uncovers a question that the original source material left unanswered, which is the reason why Ellie is immune to the cordyceps fungus that has destroyed the rest of the world.
The episode opens with a flashback showing Ellie’s mother, Anna, portrayed by Ashley Johnson, who also plays Ellie in the games. Anna is on the run from an infected and in labor. She takes refuge in an old farmhouse while armed only with a switchblade. Eventually, the infected finds her and they engage in a fight on the floor. During this struggle, Anna is bitten, but she manages to give birth to Ellie before succumbing to the infection. Anna cuts the umbilical cord after being bitten, but she lies to Marlene, a lifelong friend and leader of the Fireflies, and says she had already cut the cord before being bitten. Anna asks Marlene to take Ellie and find a home for her. She also requests that Marlene give Ellie the switchblade as a reminder of her mother.
Fast forward to 14 years later, Ellie is in the care of the Fireflies’ doctors, and Marlene explains to Pedro Pascal’s Joel why they believe she is immune. “Our doctor, he thinks that the cordyceps in Ellie has grown with her since birth. It produces a kind of chemical messenger. It makes normal cordyceps think that she’s cordyceps. It’s why she’s immune. He’s gonna remove it from her, multiply the cells in a lab, produce those chemical messengers, and then we can give it to everyone.” Marlene goes on to say that this procedure could be a cure for the infection, but it would require Ellie’s death since cordyceps grows all over the brain. Joel intervenes violently, and this process never comes to fruition. Nevertheless, this scene provides the most context we have received in the decade since the original game about Ellie’s immunity. The game had only alluded to Ellie’s resistance to the infection as a mutation, but it had never explored the science behind it.
It is important to note that this scene does not necessarily draw a conclusive line from the circumstances of her birth to why she is immune. Director Neil Druckmann told The Verge that revisiting Anna’s story aimed to build upon her relationship with Marlene, which was only explored briefly during the games and American Dreams comics. Druckmann explained that knowing how close Anna and Marlene were and that Anna’s dying wish was for Marlene to take care of Ellie gives more weight and tragedy to Marlene’s sacrifice for the betterment of mankind. Thus, it is open for interpretation as to what connects the circumstances of Ellie’s birth and her ability to resist the infection.
Differences in the Adaptation
In the original game, Anna was able to write a letter to Ellie, which is visible in her inventory during the segments where you play as Ellie. It is clear that Anna died shortly after giving birth to her, but it is not clear if her fight with an infected was part of her death. The Anna scene is one of the few moments that deviates from the finale, which remains loyal to the story beats of the game. Conversations between Joel and Ellie provide more context to Joel’s actions in the final moments and add a different frame to the story.
Overall, the adaptation succeeds in remaining faithful to the source material while providing additional insight that enhances the story. The exploration of Ellie’s immunity added more depth to the character and provided more context into the world of The Last of Us.