Ellie's Dream Job In The Last Of Us Nods To One Of The Second Game's Most Touching Moments

This post contains spoilers for HBO's "The Last of Us" and the video game series of the same name.

Early on in "The Last of Us" season 1, episode 6, "Kin," Ellie (Bella Ramsey) shares a hypothetical around the campfire: If her blood is successfully reverse-engineered into a cure, and she and Joel (Pedro Pascal) are free to do whatever they want, "Then what?" What are their dreams and ambitions in a world without the infected? Joel fantasizes about owning a farmhouse and herding sheep, and Ellie looks up to the stars. As a teenager who's been trapped behind Quarantine Zone walls her entire life, she's always wondered what it would be like to explore the cosmos as an astronaut.

In addition to paying tribute to Joel and Ellie's voice actors, this scene serves as a slight alteration of a similar one from the original 2013 video game. In the show, however, we get to linger more on Ellie's fascination with space than we got to in the game. Ramsey's Ellie gushes about how she's read everything about outer space in school libraries, studied Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, and her favorite astronaut is Sally Ride.

One exciting aspect about the live-action "The Last of Us" adaptation is that showrunners Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann are revisiting the original story with the foresight they've since gained from the game's 2020 sequel, "The Last of Us Part II." Speaking on the official "The Last of Us" HBO Podcast, Mazin confirmed that this episode's emphasis on Ellie's fascination with space is a direct nod to one of the second game's most touching moments: Joel and Ellie's trip to a museum on her 16th birthday.

Pure childlike wonder in a desolate world

According to Craig Mazin, inspiration for the show's campfire sequence struck way back when Neil Druckmann was developing the second game:

"When I first started working with Neil on this adaptation, it was before 'The Last of Us 2' had come out and I went over to — It was the first time I'd ever gone over to Naughty Dog, and sat with him there. And he said, 'You wanna see something from the second game?' And I was like, 'Yeah.' And he showed me a sequence from the second game that touches on Ellie's, you know, interest and fascination with being an astronaut and space travel. And it's an incredibly beautiful moment. And that's one of those times where I said, 'Hey, we have this opportunity that Neil didn't have when he was making the first game, which we know more now.'"

For those who haven't experienced the museum scene in "The Last of Us Part II," it's a flashback sequence in which Joel takes Ellie on a hike for her 16th birthday. Soon, they come across the abandoned Wyoming Museum of Science and History, a tip Maria gave to Joel. Controlling Ellie, the player is allowed to linger and explore the museum at their own pace, musing on different skeleton models and cracking jokes with Joel.

Soon, Joel and Ellie discover there's an outer space exhibit on the second level. Excitingly, Joel and Ellie lay inside the space pod together. To make her special day even more special, Joel gives Ellie a cassette to play on her walkman for full immersion: a recording of the Apollo 11 launch. We linger on Ellie's face as she gets lost in her own imagination, capturing a moment of pure euphoria and childlike wonder.

Laying the groundwork

Although it serves to lay the groundwork for future developments in the story, the campfire scene was also a crucial moment for Craig Mazin to show how much Joel and Ellie have grown to understand each other. Mazin explained on the podcast:

"It was also a moment to show that Joel knew Ellie, because she says, 'But you know my favorite astronaut?' And he says, 'Sally Ride.' He knows. Even if Joel doesn't know why Sally Ride means so much to Ellie. And even if Ellie doesn't know why Sally Ride means so much to Ellie, instinctively, he's already in her head. He knows this kid. And she's not shocked by this either. She's not like, 'Whoa! How'd you figure that out?' She's like, 'That's right. Sally F*****g Ride, best astronaut name ever.'"

"Kin," which takes Joel and Ellie on a tour of Tommy and Maria's Jackson community, is chock full of references to "The Last of Us Part II." In the original game, we only ever get to see the commune from afar, so the design of Jackson in the show takes its cues straight from the sequel. In one scene, Ellie meets Shimmer, her future horse that she takes on her revenge-quest to Seattle. In the mess hall, Ellie even encounters a girl who appears to be Dina, Ellie's future girlfriend, who becomes a major character in "Part II."

It begs the question: Are there more teases for the second game to come in season 1? Could we even potentially see Abby once Joel and Ellie make their way to Salt Lake City? Only time will tell, but it's clear genuine effort was made to lay the foundation for future seasons early.

"The Last of Us" airs Sundays at 9/8c on HBO and HBO Max.