‘The Last of Us’ Episode 1 Recap & Ending Explained: The Journey Starts

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Welcome to the Ending Explained for the first episode of HBO’s adaptation of The Last of Us. It’s been almost ten years since Naughty Dog developed the original video game of the same name that received universal acclaim and launched a new, globally popular gaming franchise. Now, thanks to HBO, it’s time to experience this world through a TV adaptation created by Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann, starring Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey.

Judging by the first episode alone, one great thing about this HBO series is that it’s tailored to satisfy both fans of the game and newcomers who have no idea what The Last of Us is. Although it appears that the series will expand the story beyond the scope of the game, fans will have no problem recognizing the scenes and locations they came across while playing the game.

Let’s break down the first episode of the series, highlight what’s different from the game, and see what to expect in the upcoming episodes. SPOILERS for The Last of Us episode 1 are coming!

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The Last of Us Episode 1 Recap

The episode opens with a scene from a talk show that takes place in 1968. From the very beginning, this is something we haven’t seen in the game. In the talk show, the guest is an epidemiologist who talks about the history of humanity, which has encountered all kinds of viruses and pandemics. All the pandemics we have encountered before have one thing in common, humanity has always won.

But then, the guest starts talking about a parasitic fungus infection. In the conversation, they said that there is no reason to worry because such a disease cannot survive at the temperature of the human body. But what if the Earth ever gets warmer and the infection adapts to the new nature? Then this disease could “learn” how to get hold of the human body, and when that happens… we lose.

Jumping to 2003, we meet a young girl, Sarah, and her father, Joel Miller. Sarah prepares breakfast for her father’s birthday, and they are soon joined by Tommy, Joel’s brother. Joel and Tommy talk about work, and Joel says he’ll be working until 9 PM tonight, which Sara doesn’t like because it’s her father’s birthday. Joel takes Sarah to school, and as she leaves, Sarah promises their neighbors that she will visit them later today.

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After school, Sarah goes to the local watchmaker to fix Joel’s watch as a birthday present. While the watchmaker is doing his job, a woman comes from the back of the store and says they have to close immediately. Sarah takes the just-repaired watch and leaves. After that, he goes to the neighbor. Borrow a movie from them, get some cookies and go home.

Joel comes home late, but Sarah still surprises him with a repaired watch and a movie that he loves. While they’re watching a movie, Sarah falls asleep, and Joel receives a call from Tommy, who is in jail. Joel leaves Sarah and goes to get Tommy out of jail. Later, Sarah wakes up, and a lot of things seem off. She goes outside, and then back to the neighbor’s house, where she only finds corpses, and an infected neighbor draining blood from them.

Sarah runs outside, where she finds Joel and Tommy. An infected neighbor runs towards them, but Joel kills them. The trio gets into their pickup truck and decides to flee the city. This is a scene that is 100% taken from the game. In the whole scramble, the truck crashes, Sarah is injured, and Joel leads her to escape on foot. An unknown soldier meets them near the river. Despite Joel’s claims that they are not infected, the soldier opens fire on them. Tommy kills the soldier, but they soon realize that Sarah has been shot. Sarah dies in Joel’s arms.

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Twenty years later, in the present day, the story moves to Boston. We see a quarantine zone controlled by FEDRA (Federal Disaster Response Agency). Joel does all the work there, which includes burning the corpses of the infected. In another part of the city, we meet Tess arguing with Robert, the arms dealer. This part expands the game’s setting, showing some additional scenes such as the execution of civilians by FEDRA for violating the rules of the quarantine zone.

We soon meet the Fireflies, a militia fighting FEDRA’s totalitarian control. Tess finds herself on the street during one of those street fights. Despite claims that she is not the Firefly, FEDRA arrests Tess. Meanwhile, we meet Ellie, a teenager held by the Fireflies. Marlene, the leader of the Fireflies, plans to smuggle Ellie out of the quarantine zone.

After being released from FEDRA’s custody, Tess visits Joel, saying that Robert has tricked them; he sold the car battery needed for Joel to go look for Tommy. Joel and Tess visit Robert and soon learn that what they wanted Robert sold to the Fireflies, Marlene no less. After meeting Marlene and Joel, Marlene offers Joel and Tess anything they want if they smuggle Ellie out of quarantine. Joel is not happy with the proposal, but with no other choice, he and Tess accept.

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Joel, Tess, and Ellie go to one of the apartments where Joel and Ellie wait while Tess tries to figure out how to get out of town. They later sneak out of the zone but are met by a soldier Joel knows from the QZ. Unwilling to let them pass, the soldier tests each of them, and they learn that Ellie is infected. Ellie attacks the soldier with her knife, and Joel pins him to the ground and savagely beats him to death as he remembers what happened to Sarah.

Ellie explains to Tess that she was bitten three weeks ago, but the infection didn’t set in, which usually happens after only a day. Although they are out of the QZ, their journey has only just begun.

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The journey starts

This first episode tried to familiarize the audience with everything they need to know right from the start. Some video game fans might think that this first episode itself tried to cover too much from the beginning of the game, considering that it was a while before we met Ellie in the game. But looking at it from another perspective, you can’t make a pilot episode of a TV series without introducing all the main characters.

The scenes like fleeing the town, Sarah’s death, and sneaking out of the quarantine zone are definitely something that the game’s fans will appreciate because those scenes are proof that source material is really respected in this adaptation.

The journey of Joel, Ellie, and Tess is just at the beginning, and fans of the game know how many troubles and life-threatening situations these characters will encounter on their mission. We won’t spoil anything that might happen in the upcoming episodes, but you can read that in our recap of the game.

HBO’s The Last of Us will feature nine episodes. The series is set to premiere on January 15 on HBO. It will be streaming on HBOMax as well.