The Last of Us Episodes Ranked

A recap and ranking for every episode from season one of The Last of Us

The Last of Us television series has officially concluded its first season, as its ninth episode aired Sunday March 12, 2023. Similarly to its PlayStation source material, the Last of Us TV series achieved a combination of critical acclaim, sporting a 96% on Rotten Tomatoes, while peaking at over 8 million viewers according the most recent available data.

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Over the course of the nine episode story arc, viewers witnessed a faithful adaptation of the events of the Last of Us Part I, demonstrating Joel and Ellie’s struggle to traverse a post-apocalyptic USA, encountering colorful characters, horrifying monsters, and navigating a world that thrives in the grey area of morality. While The Last of Us was chock full of memorable, shocking, and gut-wrenching moments that built upon the powerful foundation of the game series, some episodes stand out from the pack. Let’s recap and count down the episodes of HBO’s The Last of Us, as we analyze the greatest moments from the new hit prestige TV series. Warning: Major spoilers ahead, beware!

9. Episode 4 – “Please Hold My Hand”

Recap:

  • Joel and Ellie get lost in Kansas City, and find themselves at the center of a QZ (Quarantine Zone) that had been liberated from FEDRA in an uprising only weeks prior.
  • The QZ is in the midst of a crackdown on FEDRA sympathizers at the hands of a brutal resistance militia leader with a grudge against someone responsible for the killing of her brother.
  • Episode ends with two unknown individuals holding Joel and Ellie at gunpoint.

Why it’s #9: Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed “Please Hold My Hand,” but it is more of a transitional episode that sets up the events of the following week, and stands on its own less than the rest of the series. Despite the fact that there are shot for shot callbacks to the “Pittsburgh” chapter of The Last of Us Part I, the television adaptation is the shortest episode in the series and is highly limited in its scope. Even though it was interesting to learn of Joel’s checkered past, and meet Kathleen, the K.C. Resistance’s iron-fisted leader, the episode is entirely build-up, followed by an exciting cliffhanger.

8. Episode 6 – “Kin”

Recap:

  • Episode begins as a foreboding journey across a river with rumors of “death” awaiting on the other side.
  • Joel and Ellie are whisked away to a settlement by armed riders and their infection-sniffing dogs.
  • The duo encounter the last vestiges of civilized life of apocalypse year 2023 in the democratic communist utopia of… Jackson, Wyoming?!
  • Joel Reunites with Tommy!
  • We meet some interesting new characters including Tommy’s pregnant wife, Maria, as well as a possible cameo of Ellie’s future love interest, Dina.
  • Joel asks Tommy to take Ellie to the Fireflies instead of him, out of fear of failure. However, this notion is quickly done away with.
  • Joel and Ellie set off for Eastern Colorado University, an abandoned firefly base.
  • The episode ends with a cliffhanger, as Joel is stabbed during an ambush with some armed assailants, and the duo flee, killing one of the attackers.

Why it’s #8: “Kin” is the slowest-paced episode of the entire series. For a large portion of its runtime, the dialogue-heavy entry is an interesting character-study, that is forced to rush through some of its interesting plot threads. However, the shocking ending is one of the series’ most memorable moments.

7. Episode 5 – “Endure and Survive”

Recap:

  • Joel and Ellie team up with Kansas City public enemy number one, Henry, and his deaf younger brother, Sam.
  • The elder brother is a FEDRA collaborator, who ratted on the KC resistance’s former leader (current commander Kathleen’s brother) in exchange for life-saving medicine for his sibling.
  • The most-wanted quartet use Henry’s knowledge to navigate through Kansas City’s tunnels, away from the prying eyes of the KC resistance.
  • Before they can escape, the group is pinned down by sniper fire, and surrounded by Kansas City’s militia in a secluded suburb.
  • Out of nowhere, a horde of infected (runners, clickers, and even a bloater) burst from the ground and descend upon the militia, bringing chaos and carnage.
  • Joel, Ellie, Henry, and Sam to escape to safety.
  • Unfortunately, Sam is bitten, turning feral, and is shot dead by an apoplectic Henry, who proceeds to turn the gun on himself.

Why it’s #7: Despite my personal enjoyment of the exciting, harrowing, action-heavy nature of “Endure and Survive,” using an objective lens, I can’t rate it any higher. While I appreciated its strict adherence to many elements from The Last of Us games, it felt a little more absurd than the other episodes and the overall series, which prides itself on being more grounded in reality than most other “zombie” shows. The battle between the militia, infected, and protagonists was arguably the best action sequence of the nine episodes, and the conclusion is as gut-wrenching as the source material, but it does not change the fact that this is more of a filler episode, and a mere footnote in the broader story. You could completely erase the entire Kansas City arc with minimal impact to the rest of the series. Finally, an interesting fact is that (chronologically) this is the last time any infected appear in The Last of Us.

6. Episode 2 – “Infected”

Recap:

  • “Infected” features the first appearance of the terrifying “clickers.”
  • Viewers are given a window into the early-pandemic origins of the Cordyceps infection from the viewpoint of an Indonesian mycologist.
  • This episode also highlights the fraught, unpredictable world of The Last of Us, as prominent cast member, Tess, is bitten, and subsequently sacrifices herself to save Joel and Ellie in a blaze of glory.

Why it’s #6: Even though gamers who experienced 2013’s The Last of Us were prepared for Tess’s untimely demise, those who hadn’t played The Last of Us were likely shocked that the series would kill off one of its most important characters in merely the second episode (they have some surprises on the way in season two).”Infected” is another great episode, but has one glaring flaw: “the kiss.”

In a highly bizarre scene, a bitten Tess prepares to sacrifice herself in a fiery explosion to save Joel and Ellie from the incoming horde of infected. As she struggles to ignite her lighter, Tess receives a smooch from a fungus monster prior to sacrificing her life in a disturbing, head scratching moment. It is one of the few choices I found myself disagreeing with in the entirety of the series. Although I appreciate the creepy, grotesqueness of the kiss, it somewhat diminished the horror of the infected. Maybe it’s my fandom for the games talking, but I prefer fungus zombies ripping out jugulars instead of locking lips. Furthermore, the moment seemed highly out of character for a badass like Tess.

5. Episode 1 – “When You’re Lost in the Darkness”

Recap:

  • The epic introduction to the world of The Last of Us.
  • Has the longest run-time of any episode in the series, with a near-movie duration of one hour and twenty minutes.
  • “When You’re Lost in the Darkness” provides an authentic reimagining of the shocking beginning of Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us.
  • Gives unique insight into the world of 2003 in the beginning stages of the pandemic.
  • Viewers witness the first signs of the infection from Sarah’s perspective.
  • Sarah is killed in Austin during the chaos of the pandemic’s first night, then the story fast forwards 20 years later.
  • We get a glimpse into apocalyptic Boston 2023, meeting Ellie, and the leader of the Fireflies, Marlene.
  • Joel and Tess receive their mission to smuggle the foul-mouthed teen out of Boston for reasons unknown.
  • After being nearly caught by a FEDRA officer, it is discovered that Ellie is immune to the Cordyceps infection.

Why it’s #5: The strongest aspect of this episode and a wise choice was that we get to learn more about Joel’s daughter, Sarah. Witnessing the last remnants of normal life through her eyes only makes it more horrifying when she is gunned down in her father’s arms by the military. It’s a very strong start to the series that I would love to rank higher, but its purpose is to set the stage for future episodes, where The Last of Us really kicks into gear. There isn’t anything wrong with “When You’re Lost in the Darkness,” there simply are some episodes that slightly edge it out.

4. Episode 7 – “Left Behind”

Recap:

  • This episode serves as a flashback, providing Ellie’s origin story showing her life as a FEDRA soldier in training.
  • Everything changes when Ellie’s missing friend, and Firefly recruit, Riley returns to take her on a night of adventure in a sealed off mall, with recently restored power.
  • The episode faithfully adapts huge sections of the “Left Behind” DLC from the Last of Us videogame, while also exploring some unique angles.
  • Deviating from the source material, FEDRA and its officers are more humanized.
  • “Left Behind” also features a unique philosophical angle, as Ellie and Riley debate the politics of reform vs. revolution, with Ellie making some sympathetic arguments about FEDRA, but Riley disagrees, as she seeks to overthrow the “fascists” as a Firefly.
  • After an excursion of photo booth fun, videogames, Halloween masks, and a kiss, Ellie and Riley are attacked and bitten by an infected lurking in the mall. They decide to go insane together, rather than suicide.
  • Flashes forward to Ellie saving Joel’s life and stitching his stab wound.

Why It’s #4: This episode is an excellent character-driven, unique love story, featuring strong performances by Bella Ramsey (Ellie) and Storm Reid (Riley). “Left Behind” also combines an interesting blend of past and present, as Ellie tirelessly works to stitch up Joel’s bleeding wounds, while flashing back to a moment that is simultaneously, the happiest and saddest of her life.

3. Episode 9 – “Look for the Light”

Recap:

  • The finale to season one pulled out all the stops for its conclusion, including the scene of Ellie’s birth, providing a possible explanation for why she is immune to the Cordyceps infection.
  • In a flashback, Ashley Johnson, the original voice and motion capture performer of Ellie in the Last of Us videogames is cast in the role of Ellie’s mother, Anna.
  • In the throes of childbirth, Anna is attacked by a runner and bitten.
  • She is eventually found by her friend Marlene, who promises the mother she will take care of newborn Ellie, before mercy-killing her.
  • Flashing forward to the present, Ellie is emotionally scarred from episode 8.
  • Joel and Ellie meet a giraffe, re-creating the memorable scene from The Last of Us Part I.
  • In an emotional scene Joel reveals to Ellie that he attempted suicide after his daughter died, and insinuates that Ellie is his new reason to keep going.
  • They are captured by a Firefly patrol, Joel is reunited with Firefly leader, Marlene.
  • Marlene informs him that The Fireflies are preparing to synthesize a vaccine, ending the pandemic. However, the process for this will kill Ellie, much to Joel’s dismay. Two guards escort a furious Joel away from the hospital at gunpoint.
  • Joel overpowers his guards in a stairwell, proceeds to kill everyone in his path including Firefly soldiers, doctors, and Marlene on the way to saving an Ellie from the fatal surgery.
  • Joel chooses Ellie’s life over the rest of the world suffering from the Cordyceps infection.
  • When she wakes up from the anesthesia, Joel lies to Ellie and tells her that the Fireflies were attacked by raiders, and there are many other people like her, who are also immune.
  • At the end, Ellie is highly skeptical of Joel’s story, and makes him promise that he isn’t lying. He promises, and the credits roll.

Why It’s #3: The conclusion to The Last of Us takes everything that was great from the original game and adds to it. Not only do we witness a re-creation of the game’s hailed ironic conclusion, complete with reenactments of the exact dialogue, but there are a few new moments that stood out. The scene of Ashley Johnson giving birth to Ellie, was an emotional, powerful choice that paid homage to Johnson’s performance as the co-protagonist of Naughty Dog’s videogame series, providing a key moment in the lore of The Last of Us. Furthermore, Pedro Pascal’s performance as Joel provides a unique vulnerability to one of the toughest characters in gaming, doing justice to the role made famous by videogame legend Troy Baker.

2. Episode 8 – “When We Are in Need”

Recap:

  • We witness an unfamiliar group in prayer following a death.
  • Two unknown men discuss needing to find more food and prepare to go hunting.
  • Meanwhile, Joel is still incapacitated from being stabbed and is suffering from infection.
  • Low on rations, Ellie is forced to forage for food.
  • She fatally wounds a buck, who runs off, into the waiting clutches of the two men from the beginning of the episode.
  • Ellie encounters David (a teacher turned preacher) and James (played by original Joel voice actor and mocap performer Troy Baker).
  • David and James are survivors from a large, starving group, who trade her Penicillin for the deer meat.
  • After a conversation about religion, David chillingly reveals that the men who attacked Joel and Ellie at Eastern Colorado University are part of his group in a terrifying turn of events. His group seeks revenge for the death of their friend.
  • Ellie escapes, and administers the Penicillin to Joel.
  • David and his soldiers track down Ellie and kidnap her, David brings her back to their settlement, as the others search for Joel.
  • A revived Joel kills his pursuers and extracts information on where to find Ellie.
  • David tries to persuade a caged Ellie to join his group, revealing that they have resorted to cannibalism (unbeknownst to many of his followers), and he needs help leading his flock. Ellie breaks David’s finger.
  • James and David prepare to kill Ellie, but she tricks them into thinking she’s infected, kills James, and escapes.
  • Ellie engages in a deadly game of hide and seek, and kills David after he tries to assault her.
  • Joel reunites with a traumatized Ellie.

Why it’s #2: This episode ratchets up the horror element of The Last of Us and provides somewhat of a slow burn of terror. Once again, the episode recaptures the magic (or trauma) from the Lakeside Resort chapter of The Last of Us Part I, while providing some new concepts not previously explored in the games. “When We Are in Need” gives unique vantage point to witness the struggles of David and his group, united by their religion, but in a dire state of desperation. Scott Shepherd’s masterful portrayal of David begins as sympathetic, but slowly reveals the true evil that lurks in the heart of the Last of Us’ most feared villain, and provides a performance worthy of Nolan North’s iconic character from the first game in the series. However, unlike the game, David’s group are not shown to be evil, cannibalistic caricatures, but are desperate, hungry people who do not know the depths of their leader’s psychosis (most of them don’t even know they are cannibals). Along with being a major turning point for Ellie, “When We Are in Need” is the scariest episode of the entire series, hands down.

1. Episode 3 – “Long, Long Time”

Recap:

  • “Long Long Time” takes the focus away from Joel and Ellie and places it on two other characters, Bill, a doomsday prepper and Frank, an artist.
  • The episode entirely reinvents itself from the Naughty Dog source material, creating a standalone story of Bill and Frank’s relationship through the apocalypse in a series of vignettes spread across approximately sixteen years starting with their meeting and ending with their death together by suicide.
  • Bill leaves their possessions to Joel in a suicide note.

Why it’s #1: Not only is this the best episode of The Last of Us, it also justifies the series’ entire existence, and is proof that more great videogame stories deserve film and television adaptations. The Last of Us as a franchise has always been ahead of its time on LGBTQ+ issues, and this episode demonstrates the creators’ respect for that community. “Long, Long Time” is a poignant love story, driven by the powerful performances of Nick Offerman (Bill) and Murray Bartlett (Frank). The episode showed that videogame adaptations can be successful without being shot-for-shot remakes of what was previously done, as aside from a few elements, “Long, Long Time” is entirely original. The episode provides a unique experience that you can’t find in any Last of Us game, showing the importance of videogame adaptations in other media.


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Author
Grant Testa
Grant Testa is a writer at Prima Games, who specializes in achievement hunting and horror gaming. He is also an avid comic book reader/collector, fantasy footballer, and rock music fanatic. Thousands who have been defeated by Grant in online multiplayer games have cried to themselves, wondering, "How did he get so good?! Why can't I be a gaming demigod like him?" They would probably be surprised to learn that Grant actually inherited his elite gaming skills from his mom, Joann Hansen, one of the speediest stenographers/typists in the nation, (and probably the world). Fun fact: he is also the son of the world’s first “let’s player” and comedy legend, Tim Testa.