The Last Of Us Team Wanted Ellie's Original Game Actor To Play Her Mom All Along

Maybe the biggest surprise of the season finale of "The Last of Us" is that opening flashback to Ellie's birth. It's a scene that gives us an explanation for Ellie's immunity we didn't even know we needed, and it adds a lot more context to Marlene's tough present-day decision to kill off Ellie to create a cure for the Cordyceps virus. Perhaps most notably, it's a moment that introduces us to Anna, Ellie's mother. Before her identity is even revealed, most of us already figured out who she was because of how familiar she sounds. She's played by Ashley Johnson, who voices Ellie in the games.  

In the official HBO podcast for the show, showrunner Craig Mazin reflected on his early thought process for casting Johnson as Anna. "We gotta get Ashley," he recalled. "Cause who else in the world could possibly be Ellie's mother?" This reasoning makes more sense considering how surprisingly similar Johnson looks to Bella Ramsey. Before the show premiered and changed everyone's minds, Bella Ramsey's casting was controversial because of how little she looked like Ellie from the game, but her similarities to Ashley Johnson's real-life appearance make for a fun bonus. Most TV show family members don't actually look that much related, but we could believe Anna as TV Ellie's mom.

The show's unique inclusion of the voice actors

"I remember when Neil texted me and ... I just instantly burst into tears," Johnson explained in the same podcast episode, "'Cause I was like, 'Wait, are you serious? No way.' Because when they adapt a video game into a film or TV, generally the voice actors don't — it doesn't go past that."

She's not wrong: generally speaking, voice actors rarely seem to get the same level of respect and attention conventional actors get. That's part of why it's become so common for animated kids' films to be filled almost entirely with celebrity stunt casting rather than with professionals trained specifically for voice acting, and it's why it's so surprising to see the game's voice actors constantly make appearances throughout "The Last of Us." Troy Baker, who voiced Joel in the game, makes a memorable show appearance as David's right-hand man in "When We Are Need." Jeffrey Pierce, who played Tommy in the game, gets to play the show-only character Perry, who meets his grisly end at the hands of a bloater. Merle Dandridge, meanwhile, gets to play Marlene both in the game and the show. 

"The Last of Us" has largely avoided the failures of other videogame adaptations. Whereas movies like "Uncharted" and shows like "Halo" all flopped, this show has managed to win praise from both fans of the game and audiences completely unfamiliar with it. Perhaps the key to success here is the sheer extent to which this show respects its source material, and that respect extends to the voice actors. HBO's "The Last of Us" is happy to include the actors who helped the game work so well, and that's one of the best decisions the show's made so far.