While HBO The last of us brought several of the actors from the original video game back for cameo roles during the first season, the show was always careful not to draw too much attention to them so as not to take focus away from the larger story being told. But for the season one finale, The last of us pulled out one of the biggest guns for a tense and emotional scene. It’s a moment that series creators Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann wanted to capture the ethos of the entire series.
Warning, this post contains spoilers for the first season finale of The Last of Us.
Although most of “Look for the Light” takes place in The last of uspresent as Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) complete the final leg of their journey to Salt Lake City, the episode opens in the not-so-distant past just as Ellie is about to give birth. Beyond the fact that she’s very much in labor, on the run from an infected and armed with only a pocket knight, “Look for the Light” doesn’t reveal all that much about Ellie’s mother Anna (Ashley Johnson) as she runs for her life her and takes refuge in a small, deserted house somewhere in the countryside.
The episode does establish, however, how Anna gave birth to Ellie while also fighting off an infected that managed to bite her while she and her daughter were still connected via an umbilical cord. As horrifying as it is, the flashback to Ellie’s birth and how Anna trusted her close friend Marlene (Merle Dandridge) to protect her newborn baby suggests an interesting reason for Ellie’s immunity to cordycephalus infection and sets up the fate of Marlene in “Seek the Light.” much more impactful.
But according to The last of us Showrunner Craig Mazin and co-creator Neil Druckmann’s reasons for opening “Look for the Light” to Anna and wanting Johnson to play her were always much bigger than just wanting to explain some of what makes Ellie so special . When we recently spoke with the creative duo at a junket ahead of the show’s season finale, Druckmann revealed that he had started thinking about Anna and how he might explore her story when the first The last of us originally came out.
“When we were finishing the game, there were these opportunities to do other artwork or storytelling to help push the game forward,” Druckmann recalls. “So we made this comic called American Dreams — that’s where we developed Riley — which led to Stay back [DLC]and there was an opportunity to make an animated short film.”
Troy Baker disappears into a thousand roles, but Ashley sounds like Ellie and Ellie sounds like Ashley
Druckmann quickly began writing a script about Anna giving birth, which he described as “a little character drama that he felt spoke to the themes of the play of parental love for their child and how much you’re willing to do even when you’re in door of death”. When plans for an animated short failed to materialize, Druckmann began talks with a new game studio to “possibly [Anna’s story] as a whole other game,” and when these plans also fell through, he began thinking about a live-action short that could star Ashley Johnson as the lead.
At some point, Druckmann approached Johnson and the two discussed the possibility of working together again on another The last of us work. Between their conflicting schedules, though, it seemed like they couldn’t make things work. For a while, Druckmann thought his idea might never come to fruition. But when the opportunity for a The last of us The series was pitched and Druckmann met with Mazin, the idea organically regurgitating as part of a conversation that Mazin described as “one of the most rewarding moments” of their collaborative process.
“I often say that Troy Baker disappears into a thousand roles. I can’t believe she has all the different characters she plays,” Mazin described. “But Ashley looks like Ellie and Ellie sounds like Ashley. She’s already that, like a quasi-mythological creature for me, and seeing her give birth to herself—in a sense—and make that genetic connection between her performance as Ellie, and the origin story of Bella-as-Ellie he was just profound.”
Although the scene when Anna gives birth strongly suggests that Elli’s immunity to corditefa today is due to exposure to the fungus through umbilical cord blood, Druckman said that “Look for the Light” is not intended to “definitively answer.” It’s interesting to consider how knowing more about the circumstances of Ellie’s birth could inform Marlene’s approach to seeking a cure and, by extension, her ultimate fate in “Look for the Light.” But instead of focusing on how things could have turned out differently or the specifics of why Ellie is special, what Druckmann wants viewers to take away from the finale flashback is a deeper appreciation for all the women around Ellie who wanted her to do great things with her life.
“But I think the most important thing about it is that it builds the relationship between Marlene and Anna,” Druckmann said. “Knowing how close she was to Anna and that Anna’s dying wish was ‘to look after my child,’ I think it gives more weight and maybe more tragedy to Marlene and the sacrifice she’s trying to make for the betterment of humanity.”