The Last of Us (Season 1), Episode 1: It’s a cliche now to go over the watershed moment for video games. The release of ‘The Last of Us’ was in 2013. One of the final AAA exclusives of the Playstation 3, it was a remarkable swansong for the generation that also announced the arrival of Neil Druckmann as a game director to look out for as it was the first project helmed by him, along with Bruce Straley. And for this game, whose film/TV adaptation has been a long-awaited event for its fans, HBO picking it up was the best thing that could’ve happened to them. For this show to also be helmed by Druckmann is the icing on the cake.
In its first episode, ‘When You’re Lost In The Darkness,’ showrunners Craig Mazin and Druckmann briskly set the stage for Joel and Ellie’s journey across a dystopian America. It substantiates the game’s heartbreaking prologue into the first half of the episode and also adds a global warming angle to the cause behind the outbreak of the Cordyceps infection. Iconic moments from the game, like Joel and Sarah’s banter on his birthday and Ellie pointing out that Joel’s watch is broken, are peppered throughout, reminding us of its fealty to the source material. What this episode certainly has is a promise for the show to be something truly wonderful, as it has the characters, atmosphere, and mood down to a T.
The Last of Us (Season 1), Episode 1 Recap
Two epidemiologists are being interviewed on an ABC talk show in 1968 on the topic of pandemics. One of them, Dr. Neuman, expresses his fear of fungi as the greatest biological threat to humanity. Unlike bacteria or viruses, fungi are capable of taking over their host’s brain, eventually, their whole body and turning them into puppets while keeping them alive as they decompose. There are no precautions against fungi and certainly no cures, though the good news is that fungi cannot live if their host’s internal temperature is above 94°F. Unless global warming makes them evolve, they aren’t a threat to humanity but should they do, an outbreak of a fungal disease won’t cause a pandemic but an apocalypse.
In 2003, Joel Miller, a blue-collar worker, and single father, is living with his daughter, Sarah, in Austin, Texas. It’s Joel’s birthday, but that doesn’t stop him from leaving for work on a contract with his brother Tommy. Sarah gets Joel’s broken watch repaired as a gift, but at the store, the owner’s daughter erratically drives her out owing to an unclear emergency. After school, Sarah goes to her neighbors’ house, the Adlers, to spend time with them. The Adlers are an old couple who live with Mr. Adler’s decrepit mother. As Sarah is borrowing one of Joel’s favorite movies on DVD, Mr. Adler’s mother makes a strange, croaking sound which Sarah overlooks. Fighter jets pass over their neighborhood. News channels report sudden outbreaks of violence across the city for no definite reason.
Joel returns home after work, later than promised. The watch is a pleasing gift, and the two start watching the uncut version of ‘Curtis and Viper 2′ during which Sarah falls asleep. Joel gets a phone call from Tommy asking him to bail him out of jail urgently. Joel puts Sarah to sleep and begrudgingly leaves. Later that night, Sarah wakes up to loud noises outside and is scared at the sight of a National Emergency bulletin on the TV. Their neighbor’s dog, Mercy, starts behaving erratically and runs away. Sarah goes over to the Adlers’ place and witnesses a grisly sight of Mr. Adler, mortally injured and bleeding, while his mother, no longer in a wheelchair, is eating the flesh of Mrs. Adler. Sarah is chased out of the house by her, but Joel and Tommy arrive just in time. Joel kills her, takes Sarah in the truck, and the three of them leave their locality as violent events start to engulf the city.
Joel plans on leaving Austin, thinking whatever is happening is entirely local. Sarah is terrified as she slowly witnesses the eruption of anarchy for seemingly no reason. There are police cars running all over the place, and the highway is gridlocked. Soon, a plane crash nearby knocks out their truck. Sarah’s ankle is hurt, so Joel carries her as they’re separated from Tommy, who asks Joel to meet him near the river. Joel runs and evades some infected individuals but is soon cornered by a soldier. The soldier is ordered to shoot Joel and Sarah, which he reluctantly does. Joel doesn’t die, and the soldier is killed by Tommy, who then notices that Sarah was hit by the bullets. She writhes in pain and dies in Joel’s arms, who is shattered by this tragedy.
The action moves to 2023, twenty years after the outbreak of the Cordyceps infection in Boston. A young girl wanders through a ravaged cityscape and collapses near a fortified wall of a Quarantine Zone. The soldiers who take her in soon realize that she’s infected and hence, kill her. The QZ is a safe region where people live, free and away from the infected. But the place is governed by a military unit known as FEDRA, with draconian laws that keep people in check, including long hours of curfew and capital punishment for various crimes. Joel lives in this Boston, QZ, doing different jobs like burning dead bodies of the executed and the infected and cleaning sewers. He also moonlights as a smuggler. A FEDRA soldier he sells sleeping pills to in exchange for ration cards and cigarettes asks him to stay off the streets for a few nights as the terrorist outfit known as The Fireflies has been causing trouble, and he may accidentally get killed. Joel is also going to buy a truck from the soldier but that doesn’t have a battery, and he’s sourcing it from another smuggler, Robert.
Joel’s partner, Tess, is beaten up by some of Robert’s boys over a fight as he sells the battery to someone else despite having received the payment for it from Tess. She suggests overlooking the whole mess and assures Robert that Joel won’t find out, given how scared the former is of the latter. A skirmish between the Fireflies and FEDRA interrupts their conversation, and Tess, caught in the crossfire, is arrested by FEDRA soldiers who suspect her of being a Firefly. Joel pays a radio station worker with cigarettes he got from a FEDRA soldier to get information on Tommy’s whereabouts, who has been missing for three weeks. Joel decides to go to Cody Tower in Wyoming, the one from which messages are being transmitted to Tommy, without any results. It’s for this purpose that he’s looking for a truck. On returning home, Joel falls asleep, drunk and drugged. Tess arrives, is released from jail, and states she was beaten up by some of Robert’s guys and that he has sold the battery for their truck to someone else. Tess asks Joel to let her quietly find out where he is, so he can sneak up on him, beat him up as retribution, and get the battery and the ration cards they paid for it back from him.
At a Firefly base, a young orphan, who calls herself Veronica, is being held captive while having her mental stability checked from time to time. The leader of their Boston outfit, Marlene, asks her second-in-command, Kim, to focus the attacks on FEDRA to certain spots that night so that they can permanently escape from the QZ. They are doing this so that they can get ‘Veronica’ out of there. Marlene meets her, calling her by her real name, Ellie. She tells Ellie that she was the one who put her in FEDRA military school when she was a child as a means of keeping her safe. She is not allowed to return to school and is getting smuggled out at night as she is to serve a purpose beyond anyone’s imagination.
Tess finds out where Robert is taking the battery to be sold. She and Joel plan on stealthily attacking the spot. After infiltrating the building, they find Robert dead and the battery to be a useless one that he was using as a means of getting money from those desperate to buy a battery. Marlene is in the building along with Kim, injured, and as it turns out, she is the other buyer. After finding out that Robert’s battery was useless, a fight broke out in which Marlene and her team overpowered and killed Robert and his men. Joel meets Ellie here when she unsuccessfully tries to jump him. Marlene and Joel know each other, so she asks him to smuggle Ellie to the State House, where a group of Fireflies is awaiting her delivery. Given that her squadron is dead, she doesn’t have a vehicle, and Kim is injured, she sees Joel as the best option to smuggle Ellie. In exchange for it, he’ll get from her men at the delivery spot whatever he wants – a truck, arms, and other resources that he can use to go out and find Tommy. Tess agrees on the terms that if they don’t get what they want from her men, they kill Ellie.
The Last of Us (Season 1), Episode 1 Ending Explained
At Joel’s place, Ellie discovers Joel’s smuggling code and the names of his associates, Bill and Frank. If on it a song from the 1960s plays, it means they don’t have anything new with them. If one from the 1970s plays, they have something new. Joel goes to sleep, waiting for nightfall so they can get her out. In the evening, Joel finds out that George Michael’s ‘Wake Me Up, Before You Go-Go’, is playing on his radio, which worries him. Ellie figures out that since it’s a song from the ’80s, it must be a signal for trouble.
Tess arrives, and they leave. After sneaking around and evading FEDRA soldiers, they run into the one Joel had the deal for a truck with. He places them at gunpoint, and just as he’s checking to see if they’re infected, Ellie attacks him with her pocket knife. When the soldier gets up and tries to kill Ellie, Joel stands in front of her. He is reminded of the similar scenario that caused Sarah’s death, and so he decides to lunge at the soldier, brutally beating him up. Tess notices that the reading on the meter that the soldier dropped states that Ellie is infected. She excitedly tells them that she isn’t infected and shows them her wound, which is three weeks old, an impossible occurrence as the infection fatally spreads at the latest within a day. To escape the FEDRA soldiers who might be on their way to check on their comrade, they keep the question of Ellie’s infection at bay and escape into a contamination zone.
Back at Joel’s place, the radio plays Depeche Mode’s ‘Never Let Me Down Again,’ a song from the 1980s, hence, indicating danger out there and which Joel, Ellie, and Tess are unaware of as they aren’t at home get the signal.