Warning: This article contains SPOILERS for The Last of Us episode 9!
In the shocking season 1 finale of The Last of Us, Joel and Ellie are captured by the Fireflies in Salt Lake City, and a soldier knocks Joel unconscious. When he awakes in a hospital, Joel is greeted by Marlene, who says Ellie is headed into surgery. The doctors will take samples from Ellie’s brain to study and make a cure, but it’s implied the procedure will kill her. In The Last of Us finale, Marlene, played by Merle Dandridge, volunteers Ellie for the experimental surgery, a decision she makes without the latter’s input.
An angered Joel eventually escapes captivity and rescues Ellie, killing every soldier that crosses his path. Before Joel leaves, Marlene confronts him in the parking garage, begging him to reconsider. However, Joel shoots Marlene dead. Dandridge explains the crucial decision (via The Hollywood Reporter) in The Last of Us finale.
“I know that Marlene didn’t explicitly offer [that information to] Ellie because she didn’t want to alarm her, but I do think that they have a more pragmatic relationship,” Dandridge said. “She might have even alluded to it, which gives Ellie even more conflict in not having had the agency that Joel has taken away from her. Ultimately, black and white, yes, they are both taking this choice from her. But I do think that Marlene has given her a little bit more information. I don’t think she’s explicitly lied to her. She maybe omitted some truths, but she would not explicitly lie to her.”
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In the finale’s opening moments, Marlene showed a willingness to make tough decisions when she killed Ellie’s mom, Anna (played by Ashley Johnson, the voice actor of Ellie in the video game). The young mother was bitten by an infected host just as she gave birth to Ellie. Joel knows Marlene will do whatever it takes to find a cure. It’s why Joel kills Marlene, knowing she would come after Ellie.
“Joel knows ultimately that Marlene would not rest [to find Ellie again],” Dandridge said. “He knows that she has exhausted every possibility and brought every argument to the table and questioned these doctors ad nauseam and made sure that this was the only way to move this hope for a new future forward.
“And because of the flashback, the audience now understands the sacrifice that Marlene is making on a more emotional and visceral level. The audience understands how seriously she takes this choice and how important it is for the greater good.
The Last of Us season 1 is now on HBO Max.
Do you agree with Marlene’s decision in The Last of Us season finale? Let us know in the comment section below.
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