Heartbreaking compromises

Published date21 March 2023
IN The Last of Us nothing ushers in more devastation than desperate acts of love — not even mushroom zombies or armed rebels

Ellie spared her best friend Riley from life as a zombie with a single bullet in episode seven. Henry did the same for his brother Sam, only to end his own life shortly afterward. Then there were Bill and Frank, who ended their love story on their terms.

These heartbreaking compromises drive The Last of Us.

In the season finale, we learn Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie’s (Bella Ramsey) grim cross-country journey began with a mother’s dying plea to keep her child safe.

‘‘The decision that Anna makes — well-knowing that she could not cut the umbilical cord in time — it is another one of those decisions [you make when] you’re caring more for the person or thing that you love most and will burn the world for it,’’ Ashley Johnson, who portrayed Anna, Ellie’s mother, said.

Johnson played the role of Ellie in 2013, performing the motion capture and voice for the character in the video game franchise. A decade later, Johnson said she felt ‘‘really lucky’’ to return to the post-apocalyptic world she helped create.

Before the HBO series was officially announced in 2020, the actor thought there was ‘‘no way’’ she would have a hand in an adaptation. Then Neil Druckmann, who created the video game, reached out.

‘‘[Johnson] had been such a part of this journey alongside me, that I knew [she] had to be in there somehow and this felt perfect for her,’’ Druckmann said.

‘‘She gave birth to Ellie, figuratively with the game, and here she literally does it in the show.’’

In the finale, Anna stumbles through an overgrown forest while running from an infected hot on her trail.

Tripping on roots and cradling her baby bump, Anna eventually finds safety in a rundown farmhouse. While in labour, Anna is attacked by the infected, who she kills.

According to Druckmann, the blueprint for Anna’s story was an animated short meant to promote the first Last of Us game. Johnson was set to play Anna in the clip, but it fell apart — until now.

‘‘[Druckmann] told me the story of how Ellie is born and I was like, ‘Oh we’re doing that. We’re doing that for sure’,’’ series co-creator Craig Mazin said.

‘‘The next day he and I both have this like hive-mind, calling each other at the same time, saying, ’You know who should be Anna is Ashley’.’’

At first, Mazin said he felt there was a risk that Johnson’s casting might feel a little too cheeky or meta, especially for video game...

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