The first season of the HBO series The Last of Us has come to an end. The first nine episodes of the series were very close to the events of the 2013 game, with some important changes in the way of deepening character development. After all, those of us who played The Last of Us know how it should end. And even with some added context in the season 1 finale, the show wrapped up the story nicely.
Warning: The following contains spoilers for the finale of The Last of Us Season 1, as well as the events of The Last of Us Part II. If you haven’t seen this episode or don’t want to be spoiled for the 2020 game, look away now.
The real standout in this final episode is the returning Marlene (Merle Dandridge), who not only got key moments with Pedro Pascal’s Joel throughout the episode, but was also explored through her own flashback, which is an incredibly important part of her story – and allowed the return of a fan-favorite gaming artist.
GameSpot sat down with Dandridge to discuss all of Marlene’s major moments in the finale and the emotions that came out of the episode.
The episode opens with an introduction to Anna, played by Ashley Johnson, the actor who portrays Ellie in the games. However, now she is in the role of Ellie’s mother. In labor, when Anna was about to give birth to Ellie, Anna was bitten by an infected and we know her fate was sealed. However, we also learn that she is Marlene’s best friend, and they have a bond that dates back to before the day of the outbreak.
Speaking about the moment and her reunion with Johnson, Dandridge admitted, “When I first read that episode and that scene, I really believe I may have held them to my chest and sighed and cried… Working with Ashley has always been absolute joy.”
Moreover, this long opening scene gave Dandridge the opportunity to explore a part of Marlene that we had never seen before. “I think if you really dug deep into the game, you could have heard a little bit more about the backstory or the interaction between Marlene and Anna,” the actress said. “And for those fans, those old-school fans, the deep-dive fans, they get that reward, but for us — I can’t speak for Ashley, but for me — the fundamental elements around what and who I created Marlene to be, you know, through this vehicle, Merla, was immersed in this relationship and who she was before the day of the flash.”
Interestingly, this particular story has almost been explored in more depth before. During a press conference call, The Last of Us co-creator Neil Druckmann revealed that he has an idea for an Anna story that he previously tried to explore as a comic book, a game, and even a short film.
“I wrote this short script about Ellie’s mom and how she gave birth to Ellie, was bitten at the same time and wasn’t sure she was infected during the birth,” he explained. “And it just became a little character drama that kind of dealt with the same themes of a parent’s love for their child and how much you’re willing to do even when you’re on the verge of death.”
Although this has never been realized before, it is a central moment for the HBO series. And while Dandridge didn’t know it would be shown until she read the Season 1 finale script, it was on her mind from the beginning.
“In my first conversations with (showrunner) Craig (Mazin), Anna was such a part of it,” Dandridge said. “She’s inherent in why and how I had a relationship with Ellie and maybe why she chose to protect her and the way she chose to keep her safe.”
In the end, Joel saved Ellie from a Firefly doctor whose procedure would have killed her in order to successfully obtain what he needed to develop a potential cure (if you call dooming the rest of the world salvation). But before he runs off with her, Joel comes face to face with Marlene again, who tries to reason with him.
A huge moment in this scene is when she tries to convince Joel that she understands why he feels the need to save Ellie. Let’s not forget that before Joel appeared on the scene, Marlene was taking care of the young lady after her time at FEDRA boot camp. What’s more, now that we know her connection to Ellie’s mother, of course she cares for the girl. However, this must be balanced against the possibility of a cure that will save the world.
If you’ve played The Last of Us Part II, you know that Marlene didn’t make the decision to sacrifice Ellie lightly. “You see her severely questioning and pushing back against this doctor’s technology and science that there must be some other way,” Dandridge said. “There had to be another way, and only after exhausting time, understanding, work, explanations and testing did she come to understand that this was the only way. And this realization, when she saw that Joel had grasped it, “I see. I was in a place where they denied you are now. And I can confidently stand before you and say that I loved her longer and more. And it’s still the right choice.”
At this point, however, Joel just doesn’t care. After killing the surgeon and everyone in sight, he also shoots Marlene. After all, he knows, as does Dandridge, that if Marlene stays alive, she will never stop looking for Ellie.
“She’s relentless in her sense,” Dandridge said. “Yes, she would follow Joel to the ends of the earth if he had Ellie in his arms. And there is a world in which a better result could be achieved – a better understanding.”
Was Joel right?
That’s the main question at hand here, and one of The Last of Us fans has been debating it for a decade. Joel effectively destroyed any chance of finding a cure for the infection in order to save one person. However, this one person is what he cares most about keeping alive. It is difficult to understand whether he is right or wrong in this situation. However, Dandridge has his own opinion on the matter.
“It takes my breath away just thinking about it. If someone I loved was in danger, I would do everything in my power to keep them out of harm’s way,” she explained. “And fortunately, I do not make such credit decisions for the sake of humanity. Lord But would you sacrifice it? I mean, it’s a biblical type of question. It is so vast in scale that it is hard to think of (as) Merle, I could not even bring myself to consider (it).’
Unfortunately, this looks like the end of the road for Marlene. We know she won’t last after Joel’s bullets in the games. However, it’s not like changes haven’t been made to the games so far. Not even Dandridge knows about Marlene’s fate. One thing’s for sure, she knows she needs Joel to understand the good that comes with a sacrifice that must be considered.
“That quality of hers ends with her death,” she said. “Is that so? I do not know”.
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