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One The Last Of Us Episode 1 Moment Hints At Ellie And Marlene's True Relationship

Contains spoilers for "The Last of Us" Season 1, Episode 9 — "Look for the Light"

Not everyone makes it out of the ending of "The Last of Us" Season 1 alive. Such is certainly true of the Fireflies, as Joel makes the controversial decision to turn against the group in favor of saving Ellie. Merle Dandridge's Marlene is just one of the many casualties resulting from the heel turn, but before she goes, the audience gets to learn quite a bit more about her past and her relationship to Ellie. In fact, Marlene's final bout massively recontextualizes a throwaway line from "The Last of Us" Episode 1 into a major hint about the pair's true history.

At one point in the show's first episode, Marlene speaks to Ellie, only for the teenager to sardonically reply: "What are you, my mom or something?" That's exactly the sort of dismissive line one might expect an angsty kid to say, but the moment holds more weight once fans learn about how extensive a role Marlene actually has played in raising Ellie. As it happens, several members of the show's cast and crew confirmed the true significance of the line in a post-premiere episode of HBO Max's official "The Last of Us" podcast.

Marlene basically is Ellie's mom (kind of)

In the ninth episode of HBO Max's "The Last of Us" podcast, series co-creator Craig Mazin explained how Ellie's "mom" line in Episode 1 is retroactively a tease at the history between her and Marlene. "It was a joke then, but here we kind of answer the question of who the mom is and, in a way, Marlene was her mom, because basically from two hours after she's born, Marlene becomes the woman who looks after her," the showrunner said.

This reveal crucially positions Marlene as an inverse force to Joel. Having essentially adopted the role of Ellie's father, Joel refuses to let her die for the sake of saving humanity. Meanwhile, Marlene serves as Ellie's surrogate mother, but she makes the difficult decision to sacrifice her loved one for a noble cause. Merle Dandridge thinks that these parallels between the two characters is what makes it so intense when they come to blows. "I'm overwhelmed by her choices, and by the situation both of them are in," the actress told Vulture. "Perhaps it's because it's so fraught, and so emotional, but it is black and white to both of them."

With the way that "The Last of Us" subtly plants these narrative seeds in early episodes, it seems like there's some definite value in fans going back and viewing old scenes in a new light. Perhaps a rewatch marathon is in order before "The Last of Us" Season 2 drops.