This post contains spoilers for “The Last of Us” episode 9.
The first season of “The Last of Us” goes out not with a whimper, but with millions of tears, as viewers everywhere endure the emotionally devastating finale. After nine weeks of misreading maps, fearing clickers, and fending off hostile humans, the story of Ellie (Bella Ramsey) and Joel (Pedro Pascal) has come to a temporary close, with the duo safe in the Jackson Commune. But before they manage that bittersweet conclusion, there’s plenty of emotional turmoil to go around.
The episode begins by giving us some much-anticipated background on Ellie’s life before Joel: further back than her tragic mall date and her days as a FEDRA cadet, we meet the very first person who fought against impossible odds to keep her safe. We meet Anna, Ellie’s mother, as she stumbles through the woods in a desperate attempt to escape the wrath of a rabid runner. Pregnant and already in labor, with the infected hot on her heels, the odds are stacked against her. Still, she manages to kill the runner with the baby unscathed. But by then, her fate has already been sealed with a bite.
It’s an emotional wallop of a scene, just to see a mother fighting for her child under impossible circumstances. It’s amplified by our knowledge that the child in her arms is Ellie, who will one day become the fierce, snarky, and formidable teen we know and love. But for fans of the Naughty Dog game that started it all, there’s yet another reason to tear up: the actress playing Anna is Ashley Johnson, the original voice of Ellie.
The Original Ellie Returns
Before Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey graced our screens, Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson originated the roles of Ellie and Joel. They delivered heart-wrenching lines of dialogue, donned mo-cap suits to embody the action and angst, and brought their profound father-daughter bond to life. These characters are who they are in the HBO series, because of the groundwork that they laid — which is why it’s touching to know that the series made room for them to be involved, outside of their original roles.
Ahead of the finale, /Film’s Ben Pearson attended a virtual press event with series co-creators Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann, where they commented on Johnson’s brief yet seismic role in the episode. “[Ashley Johnson’s scene] is one of the most fulfilling moments of the production and the show,” Mazin said. “Because I’m a fan of the game and I’m a fan of Ashley’s.”
Baker made his appearance in the penultimate episode, as a character who couldn’t possibly be further from Joel. For one, he’s a cannibal, and the right-hand man of the show’s vile antagonist, David. Also, the closest he comes to forging a connection with Ellie is when she plunges a meat cleaver into his neck. It’s a killer role and Baker absolutely shines as a villain, but it’s wonderful that they didn’t take the same approach to Johnson’s cameo. Instead, Mazin and Druckman found a way to continue her legacy as Ellie, by having her literally give birth to the character she originated.
Ashley Johnson Plays A Brief But Vital Role
For nearly a decade, Johnson’s distinct voice was synonymous with Ellie’s character. So honestly, it’s a bit weird to watch that voice come out of her mouth as she holds Baby Ellie in her arms. But it’s also uniquely poetic and beautiful. On a metatextual level, it’s a little mind-blowing. As for the performance itself? Johnson is powerful and evocative as Ellie’s very first protector. Mazin added:
“As I often say, Troy Baker disappears into a thousand roles. I can’t believe he is all the different characters he plays. But Ashley sounds like Ellie, and Ellie sounds like Ashley. So she’s already this quasi-mythological creature to me, and to see her giving birth to herself, in a sense, and to create that genetic connection between her performance as Ellie and the origin story of Bella as Ellie was profound.”
Profound is the only way to describe it: now, the connection between the actress and the character will forever transcend the game.
Read this next: 12 Things We’d Like To See In HBO’s The Last Of Us
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/Film – The Last Of Us Showrunners Know That Video Game Cameo Is Weirdly Beautiful
Author: Shania Russell
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March 13, 2023