‘The Last of Us’: Did Joel Do the Right Thing?

joel killing marlene 1

If there’s one thing that was clear in the final episode of season 1 of The Last of Us, it’s that Joel learned that the Fireflies were looking to harvest Ellie’s brain so that they could concoct a cure or vaccine that could save the entire world from the Cordyceps Brain Infection (CBI). Because he didn’t want Ellie to die without her understanding what the Fireflies were looking to do to her, he killed all of the Fireflies in the building and escaped with Ellie. So, did Joel do the right thing?

Joel didn’t do the right thing because he didn’t give Ellie a choice in the matter. However, it’s not as if he did the wrong thing as well because the Fireflies wanted to kill her without giving her a choice. On top of that, there was no guarantee that the Fireflies would succeed in developing a vaccine.

For many fans, this was a matter of choosing between one life and the life of millions of people. But it wasn’t that simple because there were a lot of different factors that needed to be considered. Nevertheless, in Joel’s case, he did it out of love instead of anything else. So, with that said, let’s look at whether or not Joel did the right thing.

Ellie Didn’t Get to Make a Choice

When Joel and Ellie got to Salt Lake City, where the Fireflies had a base in an abandoned hospital, they were taken to the hospital by force when a band of Fireflies that didn’t know who they were attacked them. Joel was unconscious when he got to the hospital, as he only regained his senses a few moments later. At that moment, Marlene was there to thank him for bringing Ellie when it was almost impossible for anyone else to have made it that far.

marlene and joel

However, Marlene also told Joel that Ellie was unconscious and was being prepped for surgery. She never told Ellie what they planned to do to her, which meant she had no choice. Ellie didn’t even know that the Fireflies would have to kill her for them to extract her brain and use it to try to develop a vaccine that could give people the same immunity that she had.

But because Marlene robbed Ellie of whether she wanted to sacrifice herself for a greater cause, Joel made that choice by massacring the entire base of Fireflies to save Ellie. On top of that, Joel lied to Ellie by telling her that there were other people with her immunity and that nothing that the Fireflies concocted worked.

In that regard, Joel didn’t want Ellie to know that he made a choice for her so that she wouldn’t have to live with the guilt of being in the position to save millions of lives but failed to do so when Joel killed the only people that had the capability of developing a vaccine. And while Joel decided out of love for Ellie, who he already saw as his daughter, he couldn’t make that decision because he wasn’t even the girl’s father.


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Neither Joel nor the Fireflies were right, but they weren’t wrong because they were motivated by unselfish desires. But the right thing that they should have done was to allow Ellie to make a choice. Sadly, neither gave Ellie much choice because they feared that Ellie would choose a path unfavorable to either party.

In a way, the worst part is that both parties decided to take Ellie’s right to determine her fate away from her. That is the biggest reason why neither Joel nor the Fireflies were right. Had Ellie been the one to decide her fate, we wouldn’t be having this debate.

The Vaccine Was Not a Guarantee

Ellie’s immunity works because her brain sends signals to the Cordyceps to tell it that she is also Cordyceps so that the fungus would not infect her. This is because she grew up with Cordyceps in her system as she was born when her mother had just gotten infected.

The Fireflies wanted to remove her brain, as Cordyceps can be found in the brain. They intended to use whatever they found in her brain to develop a vaccine that would allow the brains of inoculated people to send the same signal to the Cordyceps in case they get infected.

Of course, in the real world, vaccines take a lot of time and resources to develop. Scientists and doctors need to do a lot of testing for them to develop a vaccine for any kind of disease. And there are even instances when vaccines aren’t even perfect.

In the case of the Fireflies, there wasn’t even a guarantee that the vaccine would work or that they could make one. They had very limited resources and equipment to work with, which meant that developing any cure for any disease would be very difficult for any doctor or scientist due to the state of the world. 

As such, even if Joel allowed the Fireflies to use Ellie’s brain, there was no guarantee that the vaccine would have worked, and life would have been wasted for something that had no guarantee of working.

The Fireflies Would Have Taken Over

While the Fireflies have goals that are quite grand and altruistic, their methods are beyond extreme. It was established that the Fireflies would stop at nothing to achieve their goals of overthrowing FEDRA and developing a cure or vaccine. And they weren’t even bothered by the fact that they were killing people with their methods as long as they could send a message to FEDRA.


Of course, if the Fireflies had concocted a vaccine, that would have given them the advantage over FEDRA because they could now operate outside of the Quarantine Zones without worrying about getting infected. On top of that, the Fireflies could gain the support of the common people, who would now flock to their side because they also want to get inoculated.

That would mean that the Fireflies would only be replacing FEDRA as the new superpower in the world. While FEDRA may be full of fascists that don’t care about killing people as long as the Quarantine Zones are kept safe, the fact is that the Fireflies would only be replacing the old tyrants as the world’s new tyrants.


Here Is Why Abby Killed Joel in ‘The Last of Us Part 2′

So, what Joel did by killing the Fireflies indirectly prevented them from taking control over the country as the new dominant group that would only replace FEDRA as the people in power. That means the world wouldn’t have been more different than when FEDRA was in charge. The only difference is that the Fireflies now have full control over who they want to inoculate. Absolute power almost always corrupts, and an anarchist group like the Fireflies would have only become corrupt if they had such power.

Humanity Probably Didn’t Deserve Another Chance

The world of The Last of Us allows us to see how ugly humanity has become in a world that no longer belongs to humans. We’ve seen how far people were willing to go so that they could survive. And it didn’t even matter whether or not they needed to hold on to their morals in such a world where morals no longer have a place.

kathleen and doctor

The way people behave in The Last of Us is a subtle way of telling us that humanity probably never deserves a second chance. Humanity had squandered away its first chance, and how the people behaved in a post-apocalyptic situation showed humanity’s ugly side.

Of course, there were still people that deserved a second chance in life, as we’ve seen how good the people of Jackson, Wyoming, are. But humanity, as a whole, probably didn’t deserve a second chance at dominating the world once more. 

So, while Joel probably didn’t do the right thing when he chose Ellie over the world, the fact of the matter is that the world would have gone to hell all over again with the way that the people were behaving when there was no longer any semblance of order in society.