The Last of Us Episode 1 Recap: Video Game Easter Eggs You May Have Missed

The Last of Us Episode 1 Recap: Video Game Easter Eggs You May Have Missed
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An adaptation of Naughty Dog’s hit video game The Last of Us has been a long time coming, and now that time has finally arrived. The post-apocalyptic series has opened to rave reviews, and it’s already clear HBO has another landmark hit on its hands.

Whether you’re a fan of the games or a newcomer to the show, we’re here (as fans of both projects) to guide you through what is sure to be a rollercoaster couple of months with The Last of Us.

Here’s a recap of  The Last of Us episode 1 ‘When You’re Lost in the Darkness’ and a guide to all its hidden easter eggs.

This article contains full spoilers for The Last of Us TV show. If you haven’t seen it yet, you can watch episode 1 over on Binge now.

The Last of Us episode 1: Plot recap

the last of us episode 1
The Last of Us – Episode 1 (Image: HBO/BINGE)

The story opens on a talk show where two epidemiologists explain the dangers of micro-organisms. One of them discusses a particular fungus, cordyceps, that has been known to infect ants and control their brains. There’s no reason for this fungus to infect humans, unless, of course, it were to evolve. It’s a dire warning and one that seems all too familiar.

Moving on to one of the best parts of an HBO show – the opening credits. The Last of Us’ opening does not disappoint with a sprawling animation depicting the spread of the cordyceps fungus, accompanied by that iconic soundtrack from the video game. Readers, when I tell you I got chills hearing this again.

Cut to September 26, 2003. We’re in Texas, and a young girl, Sarah (Nico Parker), is trying to treat her busy dad, Joel (Pedro Pascal), for his birthday. They share a close father-daughter bond, built upon traded sarcastic quips. Despite his gruff personality, Joel melts around his daughter.

Joel’s brother Tommy (Gabriel Luna) arrives, and Sarah has to make do with the promise of a birthday cake when the duo return from work.

After school, Sarah heads home via a watchmaker to fix Joel’s watch. Things are a little strange in the city. There’s a high presence of emergency services, jets fly noisily overhead, and the watchmaker’s partner closes the shop early, hustling Sarah out the door.

Things aren’t quite right when Sarah stops by their neighbours, the Adlers, either. The wheelchair-bound grandma twists and convulses behind Sarah’s back as she borrows a DVD from their shelf.

When Joel arrives home, late and without cake, Sarah surprises him with his new and improved watch. Their dynamic remains very sweet and completely reminiscent of their relationship in The Last of Us. 

After Sarah falls asleep on the couch, Joel receives an urgent call that Tommy is incarcerated and needs his brother to bail him out.

When Sarah wakes up later to a storm of helicopters flying past, she’s alone. The Adler’s dog has escaped, but when Sarah goes to return it, she finds the neighbours dead, and the elderly Mrs Adler has become… something else.

the last of us episode 1
The Last of Us – Episode 1 (Image: HBO/BINGE)

Joel and Tommy arrive just in time to save Sarah from a rampaging Mrs Adler. Bundling her into the car, they explain an unknown parasitic virus has broken out, and they need to flee the city. Everyone else clearly had the same idea and the highways are gridlocked.

Joel suggests cutting through town, and that’s when shit hits the fan real quick. Planes are falling out of the sky, and people on the street are overrun by swarms of the infected.

The trio’s truck is overturned and Sarah’s ankle is broken in the accident. Joel is forced to carry her, dodging hordes of violent zombies until they’re confronted by a soldier. Despite assuring him they’re not sick, the soldier receives orders via an earpiece and lets loose with his assault rifle.

Tommy arrives in time to kill the soldier, but it’s too late for Sarah, who is shot in the stomach. In an equally heartbreaking recreation of a scene from the game, Sarah bleeds out in her weeping father’s arms.

20 years later…

A child wanders into a post-apocalyptic Boston. Taken into a quarantine zone, the child is tested and returns a positive result. The needle they inject him with is his last.

This is the world we’re dealing with now.

the last of us episode 1
The Last of Us – Episode 1 (Image: HBO/BINGE)

Joel works to dispose of corpses in exchange for a meagre supply of ration cards. It’s clear he’s a much more hardened survivor. The one they turn to when a child’s corpse needs to be burned.

It’s a necessary personality change to survive the quarantine zone, which is run under the iron fist of FEDRA, a military organisation at war with the rebellious Fireflies.

On the side, Joel is a smuggler. He swaps medicine with a FEDRA soldier for cigarettes, then trades those cigarettes with a radio operator. Upon hearing his brother hasn’t responded to his message, Joel spirals, draining his stash of whisky and plotting a course across the country to Tommy’s last known location.

We’re introduced to Joel’s partner, Tess (Anna Torv). She’s been beaten up in a fight with Robert, an arms dealer who has sold her allocated merchandise to the Fireflies.

A battle between the Fireflies and FEDRA gives Tess the distraction she needs to escape. Tess breaks the news to Joel that Robert double-crossed them, selling the car battery they so desperately needed to reach Tommy, and they agree to hunt Robert down.

Next, we meet Ellie (Bella Ramsay), or “Veronica”, as she tells the soldiers, alone in a room, chained to the wall by her red Converse. She has little patience for her Firefly wardens, questioning why she’s being held captive.

The Fireflies have a similar amount of questions for their leader, Marlene (Merle Dandridge), who reveals their goal is to distract FEDRA in order to give the group enough time to evacuate Boston and take Ellie west.

In a scene we never saw in the game, Marlene confronts an unruly Ellie, revealing she knows exactly who she is and it’s not Veronica. Ellie wants to go home, but Marlene is adamant she serves a greater purpose.

the last of us episode 1
The Last of Us – Episode 1 (Image: HBO/BINGE)

On their hunt for Robert, Joel and Tess stumble upon the Fireflies’ base. There they find Robert dead, along with basically everyone else. Marlene, her Firefly comrade Kim, and Ellie have managed to survive, although the former two are in rough shape.

Joel and Marlene have beef, with Joel blaming her for turning Tommy against him, but now Marlene needs their help. Tess and Joel agree to take Ellie to the Fireflies at the Boston State House, and, in exchange, Marlene will supply them for their journey to Tommy.

The trio hole up at home to form a plan where Ellie makes quick work of cracking their radio code. Songs from different decades have different meanings, and ’80s means trouble.

This is where we get our first proper look at Joel and Ellie’s dynamic. Joel is quick to dismiss Ellie, and she’s quick to rile him up with curious questions and fiery wit. The chemistry between them is instant and it’s a testament to Pascal and Ramsey’s performances that they completely embody the spirit of their characters from the games, but also manage to bring their own spin on them.

Tess, Joel and Ellie make a move, sneaking through the heavily guarded quarantine zone.

the last of us episode 1
The Last of Us – Episode 1 (Image: HBO/BINGE)

As they breach the city walls, they’re spotted by a FEDRA soldier; the same one Joel made a deal with earlier. He’s less lenient now, testing them all for infection. Joel and Tess are clear, but when he gets to Ellie, she lashes out, stabbing him with her switchblade. He draws his gun on her and Joel flashes back to twenty years ago, when he was in a similar position with Sarah. He sees red and beats the soldier to death.

Upon seeing Ellie had tested positive, she reveals to her companions she was infected three weeks ago and still hasn’t turned. It’s unheard of.

They don’t have time to discuss it before FEDRA is chasing them, and they flee into the dangerous Boston streets beyond the quarantine zone.

Back at Joel’s empty home, the radio lights up. It’s playing Depeche Mode’s ‘Never Let Me Down’. The 80s = trouble.

Easter eggs

The Last of Us has so many scenes that are directly lifted from the game, but there are also some things that have changed in the adaptation process along with less obvious moments that provide new information on this world.

Let’s go over the Easter eggs and interesting tidbits we spotted in The Last of Us Episode 1.

  • The DVD that Sarah and Joel watch is Curtis and Viper 2. It’s the same movie that’s referenced in the sequel game The Last of Us Part II. It’s described as a “cheesy ’80s action movie”. With a title like that? Who would’ve thought?
  • The Millers’ neighbours have had a name change in the show to the Adlers. In the game, they were named the Coopers and you only met them very briefly when Joel was forced to kill Jimmy after he became a raging infected.
  • It was always implied in the game but it’s definitely clear that Tess and Joel are in a romantic relationship in the show.
  • A bumper sticker on Tommy’s truck reads ‘Operation Desert Storm’, revealing he was in the military.
  • My colleague Zac pointed out in our screening that the eerie detection noise from the video game (which plays whenever you’re spotted by an enemy) was used when Tess, Ellie and Joel are spotted by the FEDRA soldier outside the quarantine zone. Very cool. More of this, please.
  • The TV series has given more context to how the infected feed, using scraggly fungal fibres that protrude from their mouths. It’s gross, it’s terrifying, but it’s one of those small changes that really add depth to this world.

The Last of Us episode 1: Verdict

streaming january
Image: HBO/Binge

This first episode could not be a stronger start for The Last of Us. It deftly manages to introduce newcomers to its rich apocalyptic world while welcoming back long-time fans with a take on the beloved story and characters that is both fresh and faithful.

If this is the calibre we can expect from the whole season, The Last of Us TV series is shaping up to be just as special as the game it’s based on.

The Last of Us episode 1 is now streaming on Binge.

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At Lifehacker, we independently select and write about stuff we love and think you'll like too. We have affiliate and advertising partnerships, which means we may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. BTW – prices are accurate and items in stock at the time of posting.


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