Detailed spoilers for The Last of Us below!
Ashley Johnson created a beautiful full-cycle moment for The Last of Us.“fans.
The actor who rose to fame playing Chrissie on the 1990s sitcom Growing Pains played Ellie’s (Bella Ramsey) mother in the season 1 finale of the HBO drama Sunday Night.
And in the video game from which the series is based, Johnson voiced a fairly significant character, as co-creator Craig Mazin explained in the “Inside the Episode” video for HBO Max.
“Here we are at the end,” Mazin said of Johnson’s first scene in the season finale. “And we go all the way to the very, very beginning of Ellie. Which is her mother Anna, played by Ashley Johnson, who is Ellie’s true beginning because Ashley played Ellie in the game.”
Yep, that’s right – Johnson voiced Ellie in the 2013 video game The Last of Us and got the opportunity to play the character’s mom in the HBO adaptation.
“It was special for me to play the mother of this character that I care so deeply about,” Johnson told HBO Max in the same video.
“There is a genetic link between the two Ellies we know,” Mazin told HBO. “And that moment brings them together.”
The opening scene of the ninth episode is a flashback sequence where we see the pregnant character Johnson running through the woods trying to dodge a fungal zombie chasing her.
At this point in the scene, the audience has no idea who Johnson is playing or what the flashback is about.
Johnson’s character eventually takes refuge in an old farmhouse, and as she climbs the stairs in search of a place to hide, she realizes she has gone into labor. She finds an old nursery, barricades the door and holds a knife in preparation for an attack. When the infected breaks down the door, she fights for her life and eventually stabs the zombie in the neck, killing him.
Shortly after, Johnson’s character goes into labor. But she notices that she was asking, which means that she has contracted the Cordyceps from the show and will soon turn into a zombie. Realizing this, she quickly cuts the umbilical cord with the same knife she used to kill zombies in an attempt to prevent the infection from spreading to her baby.
She then picks up her newborn, and as she holds the crying baby, she seems to instantly understand her daughter’s identity. She says, “You fucking tell them Ellie.”
It is then that the audience realizes that they are watching Ellie’s birth story and that this scene may vaguely explain Ellie’s unique immunity to Cordyceps infection. This origin story is not included in the game and brings brand new information to fans of the game and the series. This was announced by Neil Druckman, the creator of the game and co-creator of the show. Hollywood Reporters that this scene is a “hint” to Ellie’s immunity and gives “some theories as to why Ellie [is] immune, although we do not give a definitive answer to this.
Later in the episode, Ellie’s mother’s name is revealed to be Anna when her longtime friend Marlene (Merle Dandridge, who voiced the same character in the game) finds Anna at the nursery farm. Anna holds baby Ellie in one hand, singing to her, and with the other holds a knife to her own neck.
Anna lies to Marlene and tells her that Ellie’s umbilical cord was cut before she asked. Marlene then agrees to fulfill Anna’s dying wish: for Marlene to kill her, save Ellie, and give Ellie Anna’s knife. Fans of the show and the game know that Ellie is growing very fast. included with this knife.
Johnson told The Hollywood Reporter that she was “shocked” and “brought tears” when she was offered the role of Anna in the HBO adaptation. She explained that voice and motion capture actors involved in video games are “generally not brought in to participate” in a television or film adaptation.
“Being able to still be a part of this story and this world, and being the first character to fight for that character to live means peace,” Johnson said.
Johnson also said that it was a “surreal” experience to have someone else play the character she once portrayed. But she said she was “overwhelmed” by Ramsey’s performance, and that the young actor’s personality embodies the “essence of Ellie.”
She told THR that she loved the way Ramsey approached many of her scenes.
“There was a moment when Joel [Pedro Pascal] finally gave Ellie the gun,” Johnson said. “She has this look on her face when she starts smiling because she feels so cool, but she also tries to keep it a secret. Like, “I’m scared of this.” I filmed it and sent it to Bella and I was like, “Dude, this is fun.”