The season 1 finale of The Last Of Us aired in March 2023 and left the spectators puzzled (at least the ones who don’t know the story in the video game). The main surprise is Joel’s reaction when he understands that Ellie will die in the surgery: the doctor intended to extract Ellie’s brain cells and develop a cure for the cordyceps infection, and there is no way Ellie can survive that operation. What happens next is the central aspect that triggered questions from the viewers: the plot will develop in Season 2, which is already confirmed, so we can already answer some questions. Let’s delve into them.
You can watch HBO’s video dedicated to The Last Of Us Season 1 finale here on Youtube.
The Last Of Us Season 1 finale explained: why does Joel kill the Fireflies and lie to Ellie?
Season 1 of the HBO series The Last Of Us developed its surprising ending pretty quickly: Joel and Ellie finally get close to the Fireflies in Wyoming, where they get caught by the army. What happens next is explained so fastly that some people got puzzled: Joel wakes up and has a confrontation with Marlene, the Fireflies’ commander we know from Episode 1 (she was the one initially carrying Ellie because she was a friend to her mother, Anna). That’s where Marlene explained what’s supposed to happen to Ellie in The Last Of Us: the doctor believes that Ellie’s body can produce a “chemical messenger” that makes the cordyceps believe the host is actually cordyceps too, and that’s apparently why Ellie is not actively infected.
The surgery intends to extract the chemical messenger from Ellie’s brain. But as soon as Joel understands this, he realizes that there is no way Ellie can survive that brain operation. After Ellie saves Joel in the episodes before, a strong bond developed between them, so Joel simply doesn’t allow the Fireflies to kill Ellie. Even if that would mean finding a cure for the cordyceps infection and saving the whole world. Joel refuses to let them kill Ellie, but Marlene is inflexible: the surgery has to be done, so she instructs her team to escort Joel outside.
What happens next is that Joel reacts, killing the Fireflies (including the doctor and Marlene) and saving Ellie, who leaves the hospital unconscious in Joel’s arms. When Ellie wakes up, Joel understands the big problem: if Ellie was aware that the surgery on her brain could save the world, she would have accepted to die for that hope. Joel perfectly sees what many spectators haven’t fully noticed yet: for her whole life, Ellie has suffered the so-called “survivor’s guilt,” which makes her feel wrong and guilty for the simple fact that she hasn’t died while all others did. She feels her life as a survivor doesn’t deserve the dignity it has, so if the Fireflies asked her to die in the name of a cure for Cordyceps, she would have given her consent. This is confirmed in the confrontation Ellie has with Joel at the ending of the last episode of The Last Of Us.
That’s why Joel lies to Ellie: he wants her to live with a version of the truth that won’t worsen her guilt. So he makes up a lie about the existence of many others like her, other immune individuals owned by the Fireflies so that a cure is still possible independently from her. For Ellie, this is a crucial aspect of her life. She needs to know if she has “the right to survive,” and Joel gives her a reason to enjoy her life and forget about her unique condition. Ellie can work on that, but she needs to ensure Joel hasn’t lied to her. She makes him swear, then she believes him. And that creates the conditions for developing Season 2 of The Last Of Us. Let’s understand better how this will impact the continuation of the plot.
Season 2 is confirmed: do they find a cure for the cordyceps?
HBO officially confirmed season 2 of The Last Of Us in January 2023. An official release date has yet to be shared, and experts predict nothing will be released before 2025. But the assumption is that The Last Of Us Season 2 will cover the story in the video game The Last Of Us Part 2, released in 2020, similarly to how Season 1 developed the events in Part 1 of the game. Therefore, the question can be answered: do they find a cure for the cordyceps in The Last Of Us 2?
In short: no, no cure is developed in The Last Of Us Part (and Season) 2 for the cordyceps infection that changed the world. The plot of The Last Of Us 2 focuses on Ellie’s life years after the events in Season 1: she lives in Jackson with Joel. She tries to give dignity to her life until one day, she discovers the truth about what happened with the Fireflies years before: Ellie forces Joel to admit he lied, and she’s broken in pieces by the truth. Her survivor’s guilt is unbearable – she could have really saved the world, making her life worth much more than it does now.
Ellie will cut her ties with Joel, and they won’t talk for a long time. Two years later, Ellie has a conversation with Joel again, but she states clearly that she will never forget him. The significant change in The Last Of Us 2 happens shortly after: Joel dies by the hand of Abby, a soldier of Washington Liberation Front (WLF). The rest of The Last Of Us Season 2 will focus on Ellie’s revenge upon Abby. The cure for the cordyceps is simply an outdated concept: humanity has accepted that no cure will ever be found and continues struggling for survival.
Ellie is the only character in The Last Of Us who will always be present until the end of the plot. We will see her again in Season 2, fighting as an adult, seeking revenge for Joel’s death, and dealing with her survivor’s guilt. If you hoped for a cure that would heal the world, forget it: there will be no peace for Ellie and the rest of humanity in the story of The Last Of Us.