[Warning: this story contains spoilers for The Last of Us Episode 1, "When You're Lost in the Darkness."] Sunday's series premiere of The Last of Us spent much of its 85-minute runtime revealing the tragic history of Joel Miller (Pedro Pascal). The episode tracks Joel, his ill-fated daughter Sarah (Nico Parker), and his veteran brother Tommy (Gabriel Luna) as they attempt to escape their Texas suburb in the throes of the CBI outbreak of 2003: the beginning of the end of modern civilization. Midway through the episode, the timeline jumps ahead 20 years to post-apocalyptic Boston 2023, introducing Fireflies resistance leader Marlene (Merle Dandridge) and 14-year-old orphan "Veronica" / Ellie (Bella Ramsey).
Ellie is a prisoner of Marlene's Firefly faction, having escaped from FEDRA military school. Inside the oppressive Boston QZ, where the Fireflies fight for freedom against the authoritarian FEDRA (Federal Emergency Disaster Response Agency), Marlene reveals the school was where she thought Ellie would be safest. Marlene knows this because she put her there 14 years earlier.
As the anti-FEDRA, Ellie refers to the Fireflies — rebels known for their explosive guerilla attacks — as "terrorists," a moniker Marlene rejects. "Was Riley a terrorist?" she asks Ellie, telling the girl: "You have a greater purpose than any of us could've ever imagined."
Why Is Ellie Important in The Last of Us?
After a gravely wounded Marlene hires partners Joel and Tess (Anna Torv) to smuggle Ellie to the Fireflies outside the locked-down Quarantine Zone in exchange for a fueled-up truck and enough weapons and supplies to get to Tommy, Ellie scans positive for infection. But unlike most of the Infected — who never "last more than a day" — Ellie's bite is three weeks old. She's seemingly immune to the Cordyceps brain infection.
Who Is Riley in The Last of Us?
Viewers will soon learn more about Ellie's connection to Marlene and Riley, who will appear in future episodes as played by Storm Reid.
"What happened to Ellie? And who's Riley? And why was Marlene the person that found them? And, also, how does Marlene even know [Ellie's] name, and what does this mean that Marlene put her there?" series co-creator and showrunner Craig Mazin teased on HBO's Last of Us podcast. "There's this rich history that we are hinting at that will become perfectly plain and clear as the season goes on."
Mazin continued: "The relationship between Ellie and Marlene in the game was sort of, 'Just take this kid, it's important.' Here you get the sense that Marlene has this profound connection to Ellie, which will be something that we're going to pay off and pull on quite a bit later on."
That meant changing how Joel and Ellie encounter each other in the show versus the game. (Earlier in the podcast, Mazin and series co-creator and showrunner Neil Druckmann revealed HBO suggested the creators combine the original Episode 1 and Episode 2 into a single, 85-minute episode to include the "inciting incident" of Joel meeting Ellie.)
"There was something in the game that felt natural about discovering her in this process as Joel, because you are Joel in the game. But we are not Joel watching the show," Mazin explained. "So it felt almost diminishing if we just happened to have just landed on this kid. We wanted a chance to meet her alone, and we also thought we had an opportunity to explain something interesting that Neil couldn't have done in the first game because he hadn't done [the prequel video game The Last of Us: Left Behind] yet."
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