lingering questions

Where Does The Last of Us Go From Here?

Photo: Liane Hentscher/HBO

With the first season of HBO’s The Last of Us coming to its harrowing conclusion, fans can now begin the long game of theorizing about season two. Unlike most between-season conjecture, though, gamers who have played The Last of Us, Part 2 have an advantage when it comes to speculating about what’s next for Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey). But maybe not that much of an advantage; the show became a hit by appealing to non-gamers as well, and a second season will need to balance the expectations of both sets of viewers.

In order to avoid potential spoilers for people who haven’t played the stunning 2020 sequel, we’re dividing the questions we have after “Look For the Light” into two parts: five questions based purely on the show, and then five that incorporate knowledge of what happens in the second game. Let’s start where the season ended …

What do Joel and Ellie do tomorrow?

In “Look for the Light,” Joel discovers that the plan to save humanity includes the death of Ellie. The Fireflies plan to remove part of her brain, replicate the way it responds to Cordyceps, and mass-produce it. He isn’t having it, killing dozens of soldiers, the doctor operating on Ellie, and even someone he once called an ally. As they’re driving back to Jackson, he dodges Ellie’s questions at first, but the final exchange features Ellie making Joel swear that the lie Joel has told her is true. After revealing so much about their pasts over the course of the first season, their relationship going into the second will be built on a lie.

So how will that affect the immediate action back at the settlement? Are they just going to settle down and live life as a makeshift father and daughter? Tommy (Gabriel Luna) and, one would presume, Maria (Rutina Wesley) know about Ellie’s immunity and Joel’s mission. Can he keep his story straight with them, or will he reveal the truth about what he did to save Ellie while possibly dooming humanity?

What will the Fireflies do after Joel’s decision at the end of the first season?

Of course, Joel may not have a choice. He didn’t kill all the Fireflies, and one has to presume that Marlene (Merle Dandridge) made her plans with Ellie clear to someone who wasn’t in that hospital, even if they’ve lost the surgeon tasked with saving mankind. (The nurses in that OR could have a story to tell.) What happens when news of Marlene’s murder and Ellie’s kidnapping gets back to the rest of the organization? Will they send people after Joel and Ellie?

Will Joel and Ellie hit the road again?

So much of the first season was about Joel bringing Ellie to the Fireflies. Now what drives them? What shapes their relationship other than survival? Could there be a new mission in season two? Is there still a way to use Ellie for a cure without killing her? Or could there be a new quest for Joel and Ellie to complete that gets them out of the settlement and on the road again? It seems unlikely that a show so built around a journey structure would lose that in season two and restrict itself to Jackson.

Will Joel ever tell Ellie the truth?

How long can Joel keep up the lie about what happened in Salt Lake City? So much of the finale is about Joel and Ellie revealing truths about their background, with Joel telling the story of his failed suicide attempt and Ellie revealing what happened with Riley. Joel doesn’t seem like the kind of person who can hold such a momentous event secret for long, especially if Tommy starts asking questions and the Fireflies come looking for him and Ellie.

What if they don’t jump right to the events of Part 2?

This is the big question in play before getting into spoilers. Craig Mazin has already revealed that it will likely take more than one season to adapt The Last of Us, Part 2. It’s a massive game, so most people read that as an intent to stay loyal to it across more than one year. But what if they don’t even get there at all right away? Part 2 takes place four years after the end of Part 1. As the above questions illustrate, there are any number of narrative threads to explore in that time between the games, including life at the settlement and the ripple effect of Joel’s decision. The first season succeeded by expanding on characters and themes in the first game. What if they did that on a season-long scale, doing a whole season before even getting to the beginning of Part 2?

Game-spoiler Questions

Where and when will the characters be at the beginning of season two?

The Last of Us, Part 2 opens four years after the action of Part 1 with a scene of Joel going over what happened with Ellie at the end of the first game, although not fully coming clean about his choices even all this time later. It’s revealed that Joel and Ellie have been living in Jackson, but they seem more disconnected than at the end of the last game. A bit later in the game, via flashback, it’s revealed that Ellie discovered the truth about what happened in Salt Lake City two years earlier, forever straining their relationship. It’s also revealed that Ellie has a girlfriend named Dina (voiced by Shannon Woodward). Season two could pick up at any point along this timeline — or someplace else entirely.

What happens to Joel?

“You can’t keep her safe forever,” says Marlene near the end of the season finale. “No matter how hard you try, no matter how many people you kill, she’s going to grow up, Joel. And then you’ll die or she’ll leave. Then what?” Well, that’s just about what happens. If you’re reading this despite not having played Part 2, sit down for this one: Joel dies. Remember that lingering shot in the finale of the doctor deceased on the OR floor? In the game, the daughter of that doctor, a woman named Abby (voiced by Laura Bailey), hunts down Joel and tortures and kills him in front of Ellie.

With the massive fan base Pedro Pascal has developed this season, this has to be the main narrative concern for the producers and HBO right now. The story of Part 2 not only eliminates Joel, it shifts focus to his murderer, balancing the story between Ellie’s search for vengeance and Abby’s battles with a religious cult called the Seraphites.

Are there new characters waiting to be cast?

Naturally, Dina and Abby will be highly coveted roles when HBO’s The Last of Us gets to them, whether that’s in season two or later. Another major role in this show’s future is that of Lev (voiced by Ian Alexander), a Seraphite child who saves Abby at one point, becoming her partner on a journey in a way that’s meant to mirror Joel and Ellie. Of course, season one took smaller characters like Nick Offerman’s Bill and expanded on them, and there are a number of possibilities for Part 2, including members of Abby’s group like the pregnant Mel (voiced by Ashly Burch) and Abby’s boyfriend Owen (voiced by Patrick Fugit).

Will season two be as loyal to the game as season one?

Well, this is the big one. Will HBO allow the face of this show to be killed off in episode one or two of the second season? The first season succeeded by giving co-creators Mazin and Neil Druckmann creative freedom, but Part 1 was a lot easier to adapt loyally than Part 2 will be. Will fans of the second game revolt if they don’t kill Joel? It will be fascinating to see how they thread this needle.

Where could the show go after a second season?

What if they do push through Part 2 in a couple seasons? What then? Could The Last of Us become like Game of Thrones and lap its source material? It certainly seems possible given the development cycle of games compared to television. A Last of Us, Part 3 game hasn’t been announced, although a multiplayer game set in this universe is in the works. Druckmann recently said, “We don’t do something that we’re not extremely passionate about. So unless we had a really good, compelling story to keep the story going, then it ends at Part 2.” There have been rumors for the last couple years that they have that story and work is being done in secret, but nothing is official, and may not be by the time HBO catches up with the story of these landmark games.

Where Does The Last of Us Go From Here?