Does Marlene die in ‘The Last of Us?’

Marlene from The Last of Us
Image via HBO

WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for HBO’s The Last of Us, Episode 9: “Look for the Light.”

The first season of HBO’s The Last of Us has come to an end and we’re not too sure what to do with ourselves until the second season drops. After dedicating our entire lives to this show over the last few months, it’s a bittersweet feeling to have finally reached a satisfying conclusion. It seems like only yesterday that we were introduced to Joel and Ellie in “When You’re Lost in the Darkness” on Jan. 15, but now, we’ve come full circle as HBO aired the corresponding finale, “Look for the Light,” on March 12. For those who haven’t caught on to that clever wordplay, “When you’re lost in the darkness, look for the light,” is the Fireflies’ recruitment motto.

Although Pedro Pascal’s Joel and Bella Ramsey’s Ellie are the shining stars of the cast, there are certain hidden gems in the ensemble — one of those being Merle Dandridge‘s Marlene, the leader of the Fireflies. We don’t see her at all besides the debut episode and then the finale, which is rather significant to the way her story unfolds. Marlene is the one who sets Joel and Ellie off on their quest to reach a Firefly base across the country and use Ellie’s immunity to develop a cure for the cordyceps fungal infection. When we next see Marlene, she’s begging Joel to rethink his change of heart and allow Ellie to sacrifice her life to save millions of people. Naturally, having bonded with Ellie during their journey, Joel begins to view the teenager as a surrogate daughter of sorts, therefore his parental instincts kick in and urge him to spare her.

Interestingly, for those who might not be aware, Merle Dandridge provided the motion capture performance for Marlene in Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us as well, so joined by Ashley Johnson (Ellie) and Troy Baker (Joel), she’s one of three returning cast members. Unfortunately for her, that means Dandridge was forced to relive her fate as Marlene once again.

Toward the final moments of the finale, Joel invades the hospital run by the Fireflies, where a surgeon is preparing to operate on Ellie to extract the necessary ingredients from her body to craft a cure. Joel, who’s since had a change of heart toward Ellie, chooses to intervene and storm the hospital, taking down all the Fireflies who dare stand in his way. That includes Marlene, whom he encounters inside. She urges Joel to reconsider, telling him to think of all the lives Ellie will save by sacrificing hers. Joel is steadfast in his beliefs, however, and shoots Marlene in the stomach shortly after, eventually killing her once she bleeds out.

That’s pretty accurate to how it happens in the game, except Joel’s a bit more savage in his execution. He first shoots Marlene in the side, then when she begs him to let her live, Joel states that doing so would only place himself and Ellie in danger, so he shoots her point blank in the head.

It looks like no more Merle Dandridge for The Last of Us‘ foreseeable future, but maybe not? Only those who have played through The Last of Us: Part II will know for certain.