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The Last of Us episode 9 recap (2023) - Joel finds the light

The Last of Us episode 9 ends the HBO drama series in riveting fashion, raising questions about Joel as the main protagonist of the show.

Our Verdict

The Last of Us TV series brings Joel and Ellie's story to a bloody crescendo that leaves us pondering the morality of being a hero.

Oh dear, here we go again. Players of The Last of Us will remember the controversy surrounding the horror game’s ending back in 2013. By adapting the finale straight, The Last of Us TV series threatens to plunge right back into the discourse on Joel’s morality complex.

The Last of Us episode 9, ‘Look for the Light’, completes Joel and Ellie‘s journey. After months and several near-death experiences, the The Last of Us characters are in Utah, trying to find the Fireflies. The mood is surprisingly cheery, Joel full of smiles for once, but Ellie’s not reciprocating, sad that their time together might be over.

She lightens up when they make a delightful discovery in the abandoned city, one that provides heft for what’s to come. A rare reprieve in the Cordyceps oblivion they now swim in, and a moment that undergirds Joel’s decision making later.

But before all that, we get a grueling flashback to Ellie’s birth. Her mother, Sarah (played by Ellie’s original voice actor, Ashley Johnson), is being chased through a forest by an infected. She makes it to an abandoned house, where she cowers in an upstairs room.

The zombie gets in, but Sarah manages to kill her. Sadly, she still gets injured, and gives birth while Cordyceps is converting her body. Marlene arrives, and Sarah pleads with her to take the baby. Marlene relents, but eventually gives in, taking Ellie in, and killing Sarah before she can before her entire psyche is subsumed.

The Last of Us episode 9 recap

This was only ever hinted at in the game, and doing it explicitly adds more important for how Ellie and the Fireflies rendezvous goes. She’s a child born of harrowing violence, who’s only known further tragedy and loss in a civilisation that’s spiraling towards the end. Neither she nor Joel fully understands the cycles she’s endured since before she was born, granting us yet greater sympathy for what she carries.

It serves the moment in Utah where Ellie enjoys some giraffes who’re now roaming free. Joel can see a glimmer of what could come next here, watching the light on Ellie’s face. They could find happiness again, it can be found and made, even still – even still. The scene, ably recreated from the videogame by director Ali Abbasi, presents pure respite.

Not everything from the old world is dead or rotting. For a second, Fireflies, FEDRA, it all fades away. Afterward, our protagonists head towards the hospital, where they’re ambushed and brought in by patrolling security.

The Last of Us episode 9 recap

Joel wakes up to Marlene, and it’s here the show starts winding towards something stark and inevitable. They discuss their respective paths here, both treacherous, and Joel learns that Ellie’s going into surgery. The Fireflies are going to take a piece of her Cordyceps infection to examine, and perhaps engineer an antidote.

But Cordyceps lives in the brain, so that means… yes, Ellie won’t survive the procedure. Joel’s outraged, but Marlene is unshakeable. He’s escorted out, but on the way you can see the anquish and resentment well up on Pascal’s face. This can’t happen, not like Sarah, not again.

He assaults the guard that’s walking him out, and goes on a heinous spree through the hospital. Every Firefly that tries to stop is killed, so quickly and efficiently John Wick would be impressed. The camera follows Joel’s expression for the most part, honing right in on his relentlessness.

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This is the Joel he’d hinted at, the one who’d done whatever he had to to survive in Boston and elsewhere. Remorseless because he had to be, and he’s like a bull mowing through Fireflies to get to Ellie.

Once he reaches the surgery, the doctor who tries to stop him is killed. Joel spares two others – optional kills in the game – and takes Ellie up and brings her downstairs to a car. In the parking lot, Marlene tries to reason with Joel, pleading about this being the only way.

We could argue the feasibility of what the Fireflies wanted to do all day long, but it doesn’t matter because Joel will not let Ellie die for anything to happen. We learn he kills Marlene through his recollection afterward, when Ellie wakes up in the back of the car.

The Last of Us episode 9 recap

She questions him about what happened, and Joel lies about the massacre. He tells her the medical staff just took a sample, and they’ll be back at Tommy’s outpost soon. The truth is between him and us, not that we can do anything about it.

Ellie asks Joel one last time right before they get to Tommy’s base. She’s skeptical, but she’s willing to accept whatever he says. So he tells her yes, and she agress. Credits.

‘Look for the Light’ is quick, perhaps too quick, like the preceding episode. It could’ve easily been a two-parter, but where episode 8 felt suffocated by snappy pacing, I believe it to be a benefit here. We’re engulfed in the firey adrenaline of Joel’s rampage, where he decimates the whole reason they endured everything to save Ellie’s life.


In a blink, their lives are altered, and a lot of people are dead. The Last of Us thriller series channels the intensity by which rash decisions can alter our lives. What matters and what’s true can change so quickly, we can be left dazed, spiralling through time.

Whereas we might be left feeling that, Joel knew exactly what he was doing to protect Ellie. He’s giving himself and Ellie a life, and that’s all that matters to him. The show leaves you to make your own mind up on that. A finale as striking and considered as it was in 2013m and the ideal stage-setter for The Last of Us season 2.

The Last of Us is available on NOW in the UK, and HBO Max in the US. You read more about the show in our guides to Bloaters and Clickers.