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Inside The Ending Of ‘The Last Of Us’ — & Theories About How The Show Could Switch Up The Game’s Original End

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The Last Of Us

HBO’s ‘The Last Of Us’ has captivated millions over the last few weeks. The hit video game adaptation has given us laughs, thrills, and tears over and it only promises more.

As we approach the halfway point of the show’s nine episodes, many of us can’t help but wonder how the story is going to end.

‘The Last Of Us’ takes place in post-apocalyptic America, twenty years after the fall of modern civilization. In this universe, the fungus Cordyceps began infecting humans, and taking control of their minds, turning them into dangerous, mindless zombies. 

The story follows Joel, a 56-year old hardened survivor and smuggler, and Ellie, a 14-year old girl with a rare immunity to the fungal infection. 

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The show has stayed pretty true to the game so far, but not everything has been faithful.

Bill and Frank were changed from bitter exes to heartfelt romantics. The show expands on the characters of Sarah, Joel’s daughter who tragically dies on the first day of the apocalypse.

The show also depicts the fungi communicating through root systems, rather than airborne spores, and Tess meets her end during an attack of Infected, rather than the military.

Since the series is based on a video game that, obviously, has already ended, many of us know how the original story pans out, but will the 2023 adaptation stay true to that ending? Or will it take a new thrilling turn?

Spoilers ahead for the first 4 episodes of ‘The Last Of Us’, as well as the ending of the original game!

How will HBO's 'The Last Of Us' end?

The changes have many of us looking ahead with excitement and anticipation to the end of the show.

Here are three possible theories as to how the show will end.

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The original ending of 'The Last Of Us' sees Joel and Ellie survive but no cure is found.

In 'The Last of Us' 2013 game, Joel and Ellie just barely make it to the clinic, being rescued at the last second by Fireflies, a rebellious group dedicated to overthrowing the oppressive military government that arose from the outbreak.

When Joel and Ellie regain consciousness, doctors tell Joel about the process Ellie must undergo in order for them to make a cure: a process that will certainly kill her.

After spending so much time with Ellie, and beginning to see her like a daughter, Joel can’t accept this, even to save the world. He interrupts the procedure to save her life, killing doctors and old friends as he does.

He even kills Marlene, the leader of the Fireflies, and the one who had recognized Ellie’s immunity in the first place. 

When Ellie wakes up to see what happened, Joel can’t bear to tell her the truth, and tells her that Infected destroyed the compound. The two of them leave the clinic behind, traveling on.

There’s a pretty good chance they’ll keep to the original ending.

The showrunners seem to value the original story of the game, and want to stay as true to it as possible, so it’s entirely reasonable to assume that the endings will match up.

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The ending scene of 'The Last Of Us' may delve deeper into Joel's decision.

In every episode so far, the showrunners have made additions to the story, characters, and plot to make the world feel more complex and nuanced.

From the show’s opening scene of scientists predicting the rise of fungi as parasites, to the additional hours we see in Sara’s life, to the new, complex characters of Kansas City, the show has made a point of adding context, nuance, and tragedy everywhere it can. 

In this sense, I think it’s likely that the show will force us to sit with the difficult decision Joel makes even more.

The original ending is already very morally-gray, and as messy as human emotions come, but I think it’s likely that the show will lean into this even more.

Maybe we’ll learn the backstories of the doctors. Maybe Ellie will realize that Joel lied to her and fight with him about his choice. Maybe Marlene will live.

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Joel's brother Tommy may become a key character.

In the original game, Joel’s brother Tommy doesn’t enter the story until after Joel “saves” Ellie.

They had supposedly had a falling out, and haven’t spoken to each other in years. In the show, Joel and Tommy have kept in communication regularly, although Tommy has mysteriously stopped responding.

This change makes it possible we will meet Joel’s younger brother sooner in the story. Maybe even early enough to drastically change what happens in that tragic scene at the clinic. 

Either way, ‘The Last Of Us’ has been a hit so far, and whatever they choose to do with the ending will no doubt be a blast for viewers. 

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Hawthorn Martin is a news and entertainment writer living in Texas. They focus on social justice, pop culture, and human interest stories.