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Few video games are as beloved as The Last of Us, which has made HBO’s adaptation of this story one of the most anticipated video game adaptations in recent memory. For existing fans of this series, the opening chapter of this story is one of the most heartbreaking stories ever told in a video game, and yet this new series from Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann, manages to do it justice in this first episode, “When You’re Lost in the Darkness.”
Additionally, this episode brilliantly sets up our main characters, and explores their past, present, and the future we’re about to see them go down. This introduction is essential to this journey, but Mazin and Druckmann start this story off perfectly.
Foreshadowing the End of the World
The first episode of The Last of Us begins in 1968 on a talk show. The show features two epidemiologists discussing the possibilities of a pandemic. As they discuss the very real possibility of a viral pandemic, Dr. Newman is more concerned about a fungal infection. While the idea seems far-fetched, Newman explains that fungi could potentially alter our minds, much in the way that it does when infecting ants, devouring the host from within and preventing decomposition while doing it.
Newman states that if the world were to get warmer, the fungi could evolve to affect humans, taking control of billions, spreading the infection to every last human being alive, and with no cure and no possible way to make a cure. “If this happens, we lose.” Considering that the game never states how such an infection could occur, this is an interesting place to start this new version of the story.
Joel and Sarah
After the very fungal opening credits, the story jumps to 2003, where we meet Sarah Miller (Nico Parker), who wakes up for the day, makes sure her father Joel (Pedro Pascal) gets up, and prepares Joel’s breakfast for his birthday. It seems as though Joel would fall apart without Sarah. Joel’s brother Tommy (Gabriel Luna) joins the pair, for Joel’s birthday breakfast. The brothers work in construction, and despite it being Joel’s 36th birthday, he tells Sarah he needs to work a double, but he promises he’ll be done by 9 and will bring back a cake.
Over the radio, we hear vague reports of disturbances in Jakarta, and before the trio leaves for the day, Sarah goes to her father’s bedroom, takes his broken watch and a few dollars, and looks over her father’s pocket knife. On the way out, we meet Joel and Sarah’s neighbors, who Sarah promises to visit after school. As the Miller family drives away, we learn that Tommy is an Operation Desert Storm Combat Veteran, and that we are located in Austin, Texas.
After school, Sarah goes to a watch and jewelry repair shop to fix her father’s watch. While at the shop, the repairman’s wife comes in during this transaction and proclaims that the store is closed for the day, several hours early. The repairman gives Sarah the watch, and she heads back to her neighbor’s house. While there, we see in the background as Sarah’s wheelchair-bound neighbor begins to twitch oddly, and her mouth opens wide, almost as to scream—a terrifying scenario that Sarah misses. As Sarah leaves, she notices that her neighbor’s dog Mercy is looking at the wheelchair-bound woman as though something is very wrong, and while she walks to her house, several fighter jets fly overhead, only adding to Sarah’s concerns over more police on the roads than usual.
Joel comes home an hour later than expected and without a cake. He swears that tomorrow he’ll get one, and Sarah gives him his birthday present: the repaired watch. She tells him she stole $20 from him to fix the watch, saying that he was never going to do it for himself—a fact that Joel seems to acknowledge as true. Later in the night, Joel gets a call from Tommy saying he’s in jail and asking Joel to bail him out. After Joel puts Sarah in bed, he leaves to fix his brother’s mess.
“If This Happens, We Lose”
Three hours later, Sarah wakes up to sounds of bombs going off, car alarms, and low-flying helicopters. The house is empty, and she finds the TV stating the people should stay indoors. Her neighbor’s dog slams on the window, and Sarah goes outside to bring the dog home, but Mercy doesn’t want any part of what’s going on in her house and runs away. As Sarah goes into her neighbor’s house to find out what’s going on, she hears gunshots outside, and finds a long trail of blood, leading to one of her neighbors bleeding out on the ground. Sarah finds her other neighbor being attacked by the woman in the wheelchair, as we see the woman with tendrils coming out of her mouth. The woman chases Sarah out of the house, but Tommy and Joel show up just in time. The woman runs towards Joel viciously, and Joel takes her out with a wrench. Joel tells Sarah that it’s not just the neighbors, as Joel, Sarah, and Tommy get into a car to find safety.
As they leave, Tommy mentions the rumors that this is a virus, and that cell phones and radios are down, and that they likely aren’t infected, since mostly people from cities are affected. On the road, they see a family with a car broken down. Tommy slows down to help the couple and their child, but Joel demands that they keep going. That family might have a kid to protect, but so do they, as Joel unconvincingly promises that someone else will come along.
With the freeway packed, the trio drives through the grass as other drivers follow and finds the road they’re trying to get on blocked by the Army. Joel and Tommy make plans to go through town and pick up on the interstate on the other side. Sarah ponders that maybe this is everywhere, and that maybe there’s nowhere to run. Soon after, they see several airplanes flying extremely low, and as they attempt to avoid the cars and people running downtown, a massive airplane crashes onto the street, exploding and knocking their car upside down.
“C’mon, Baby Girl”
Joel and Tommy are fine, but Sarah has hurt her ankle and can’t run. Joel and Sarah get blocked from Tommy thanks to another car explosion, and Tommy says to meet him at the river. Joel picks up Sarah and runs through the burning downtown streets, attempting to avoid the infected—which are seemingly everywhere already. Joel runs through a diner and away from an infected man. Right before the man can grab Joel and Sarah, the man is shot. A SWAT member holds a gun at Joel and Sarah, while Joel says that Sarah has an injured ankle. The SWAT member tells his commander the situation, and it’s clear that his orders are to take out Joel and Sarah. Joel pleads that they’re not sick, and the man shoots at Joel and Sarah as they fall down a hill. The man follows Joel down and says “I’m sorry,” but before he can shoot Joel, the SWAT member gets shot by Tommy.
As Joel and Tommy recover, they hear Sarah whimpering and find her covered in blood, having taken a bullet to the stomach. Joel desperately tries to pick his daughter up, and Sarah fights her father’s attempts. But when Joel yells for Tommy’s help, Tommy sees that Sarah has already passed. Joel, crying and covered in his daughter’s blood, keeps saying, “c’mon, baby girl,” as he holds Sarah tight. Joel has lost the most important thing in the world to him, and we see the pain and unbelievable loss in his eyes as the episode cuts to black.
20 Years Later
A child shambles through a destroyed Boston, making his way to that city’s quarantine zone, but before he gets through the gates, he passes out. The kid is brought inside and asked a series of questions, which he doesn’t answer. After noticing what looks to be a cut on his leg, a machine is used to “test” him, which turns red. One of the guards says that after some medicine, he’ll be given some of his favorite food, some new clothes, and as many toys as they want to play with. He’s given a shot and told that he’s safe. After, we see more of the Boston quarantine zone, where dead bodies are burned on the streets by the truckload. One of the bodies is the aforementioned child, who has been tied up and has a bag over his head. When one of the workers burning the bodies says she can’t do it with this body, we look over and see Joel taking the initiative, picking up the body and placing it in the flames carelessly.
Joel now primarily smuggles things in and out of the QZ, as we see a FEDRA soldier giving Joel ration cards in exchange for pills, and Joel talking with him about getting a car. The soldier also states that Fireflies, a resistance group, have been blowing things up all around the zone. Once the two are done talking, Joel sees graffiti that states: “When you’re lost in the darkness look for the light.”
We then meet Tess (Anna Torv), who is being held against her will by Robert, a guy who ripped her off. Tess purchased a truck battery from Robert, Robert sold the battery to someone else, spent the money, and then his men beat Tess. Right before Robert says they’re good, a bomb blows up near where Tess is being held, and she escapes to the streets, which puts her in the middle of a firefight between FEDRA and the Fireflies. A FEDRA officer handcuffs Tess and takes her to the ground, as she yells, “I’m not a Firefly!”
Ellie and the Fireflies
After this, we meet Ellie (Bella Ramsey), who is also being kept against her will and chained to a radiator. She’s given a series of tests, like counting from 1 to 10, which she ends with a “fuck you,” and a middle finger. However, she claims to be named Veronica, and as her captors leave her once more, we see the Fireflies’ logo on the door. Above the radiator is another phrase written in graffiti, but this time, it’s only “When you’re lost in the darkness.”
Joel goes and talks to a man with a massive radio setup. The man says he’s been talking to the tower every day, and he hasn’t heard anything from Tommy in three weeks, even though it usually only takes him a day to respond. Joel then asks the man to show him where the tower is on a map, and the man points to its placement in Wyoming. Once at his shitty apartment, Joel plots his route to Wyoming while having a dinner of booze and pills, and we see that he’s still wearing the watch his daughter gave him, which is once again broken with a hole in the face. Joel passes out in bed, and wakes up when he hears Tess coming in. She gets in bed with him, but he turns away from her while she holds him from behind. The next morning, Tess tells Joel that Robert sold their battery to someone else. They agree to hunt Robert down, get their stuff and go find Tommy.
Back to the Fireflies, we’re introduced to Marlene (Merle Dandridge), the leader of the Boston faction. One of her followers, Kim, asks why they’re attacking FEDRA and why she has a girl tied up. Marlene reveals that they’re attacking the QZ to lure FEDRA everywhere but their hideout, so that all the Fireflies can leave the QZ to take “that girl” out west. When Marlene gives her fellow Firefly a note that explains what they’re doing, she asks if it’s real, which Marlene says she believes it is, and the two agree to get the girl wherever she needs to go.
While Joel is guarding Tess during a meeting, a man goes up to Joel and asks if he’s feeling lost. Joel says “if you tell me to look for the light, I’ll break your fucking jaw,” showing the rage some people have for the optimism held by the Fireflies. Tess finds out where Robert is hiding and she and Joel head out to “pay this fucker back.” Back at Ellie, Marlene comes to visit her and gives Ellie her backpack back, and Ellie immediately looks inside to find her switchblade. Marlene tells Ellie she stopped the Fireflies from trying to shoot her, and unchains “Veronica.” Ellie asks, “is it going to happen?” to which Marlene says “no,” and also tells her she can’t leave. Ellie says she was put in an orphanage by FEDRA as a baby, but Marlene counters that no, she’s the one that put Ellie there, and that she knows her real name. When Ellie asks why a terrorist would give her to FEDRA, Marlene scoffs and asks “was Riley a terrorist?” Ellie shamefully asks why she can’t go home, and Marlene says it’s because Ellie has a greater purpose than any of them could’ve imagined — they’re leaving tonight and taking Ellie with them.
Joel and Tess head through the subway to get to Robert, and upon entering a marked door, find the decomposed body of a man stuck to the wall from a severe infection, covered in fungi and looking like he died screaming in pain. After making their way up a ladder and to a door, they smell gunpowder and see blood seeping from under the door—the door itself blocked by Robert’s dead body. Next to it, Joel and Tess’ battery, which is clearly no good. The hallway has clearly seen a shootout, with several other people lying dead. Joel and Tess hear Marlene and Kim at the end of the hall, and Ellie comes out of a door trying to attack Joel, but Joel has no problem knocking Ellie down.
Turns out that Robert was trying to sell the shitty battery to Marlene and the Fireflies, and clearly, the deal went bad, leaving Kim without an ear and Marlene shot in the side. Marlene says she needs the battery more than Joel does, and Joel says that Marlene turned Tommy against him. Marlene tells Joel her plan to get Ellie out of the QZ, and while Joel and Tess don’t smuggle people, Marlene now doesn’t have transportation or a group of Fireflies to protect Ellie, but she knows what Joel and Tess are capable of. If they can get Ellie to the old statehouse to meet the Fireflies, they’ll get everything they need: a truck, guns, supplies. After a quick debate, Tess and Joel agree to transport Ellie, but if the Fireflies don’t get them everything they need, they’ll kill Ellie.
Never Let Me Down Again
Joel and Tess take Ellie to a hideout, and while Joel and Tess talk loudly outside about Bill and Frank, Ellie finds next to their radio a code inside a list of Billboard chart songs that reads:
60 – Nothing In
70 – New Stock
80 – X
When Joel comes inside, Ellie asks about Bill and Frank and about the code, asking what the ’80s mean. As Joel gets ready to nap while they waste time, Ellie mentions that Joel’s watch is broken. When Joel wakes up, Ellis states that she’s never been on the other side of the QZ wall, then asks Joel if they’re going to be okay once they get to the other side, to which Joel says that they will. Joel asks what’s Ellie’s deal, if she’s some bigwig’s daughter, and Ellie says, “something like that.” Ellie then mentions that while Joel was asleep, the radio came on and played a song that went “wake me up before you go-go.” Joel responds “shit,” to which Ellie says, “gotcha, ’80s means trouble. Code broken.” Soon after, Tess returns and says it’s time to head out.
The trio finds their way outside the QZ, as they stay low to avoid FEDRA. They run into the guard Joel sold pills to, who pulls a gun on them. The soldier tells them to get on their knees and tests the group to see if they’re infected. While Tess and Ellie are clean, Ellie stabs the soldier before he can get a read on her status. Joel stands between the soldier and Ellie, flashing back to 20 years ago when he lost his daughter and the last time someone meant anything to him. Almost as if he gets a second chance at this horrific moment, Joel tackles the soldier and punches him over and over again until he’s dead. Tess sees that Ellie’s test ended up being positive, to which Ellie replies that she’s not infected — and that she was bitten, but after three weeks, nothing has happened to her. Even though they are wary of Ellie’s claims, they know they have to move to get away from FEDRA.
As they continue out of the QZ, we cut back to the radio, which comes on and plays Depeche Mode’s “Never Let Me Down Again,” from 1987. Shit. As the song plays, we see the nightmare that Joel, Tess, and Ellie will have to face on their journey ahead.
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