We've Got Hollywood Covered

‘The Last of Us’ Creators Hail Ashley Johnson’s ‘Incredibly Poetic’ Finale Performance as Anna

”To see her giving birth to herself in a sense and to create that genetic connection between her performance as Ellie and the origin story of Bella as Ellie was just profound,“ Craig Mazin said

Note: Spoilers for “The Last of Us” Season 1 finale follow below.

“The Last of Us” finale gave audiences the first-ever look at Ellie’s mother Anna. Co-creators Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin talked about the character’s journey from an off-screen reference in the video game to being fully fleshed out in live-action for HBO’s adaptation.

When we were wrapping up the game, there was these opportunities to do other pieces of art and storytelling to help promote the game. So we did this comic book called American Dream and that’s where we developed Riley, which later turned into the Left Behind additional chapter. And there was an opportunity to do an animated short,” Druckmann told reporters last week. “I wrote this short script about Ellie’s mom and how she gave birth to Ellie, was bitten at the same time, wasn’t sure if she was infected during that birth and it just became this little character drama that felt like spoke to the same themes of parental love or their child and how much you’re willing to do even when you’re on death’s door.”

Druckmann noted that the deal for the animated short ultimately fell through and that he forgot about it until he and Mazin started planning out the HBO adaptation. 

“We started meeting to talk about the show and he was like, ‘What do you have that we haven’t seen’ or like ‘What is Ellie’s backstory?’ And I was telling him all this stuff like, ‘Oh, right, there’s this other story about Ellie’s mom.’ And I just kind of told him about it and he was like, ‘Oh my God, that has to go in the show.’ And then we talked about, okay, well, how would it fit? Where does it make sense to put it?,” he explained. 

The episode opens with Anna running from an Infected while pregnant with Ellie. She is ultimately bitten after a fight inside an abandoned house, just moments before giving birth. Unsure if her new daughter is also infected, she quickly cuts the umbilical cord with a knife. Anna is later found by Marlene, who she asks to take Ellie to Boston and take care of. Marlene is then forced to shoot Anna before she can turn.

Merle Dandrige, who reprised her role of Marlene from the video game, said that shooting the Anna scene was “interesting, difficult, fun, [and] great to play out.” 

“Being able to look at each other eye to eye in the moment that Ellie was born, this character that both of us have protected for a decade, was so good,” she added.

Troy Baker, who originated the role of Joel in the video game, recalled getting emotional watching Johnson on screen.

“I forget how fierce of an actor Ashley is and I wept harder than I did in Episode 3,” he told TheWrap. “She plays that character with such a level of authenticity and truth that it is a gut punch. It is so good.”

In addition to hinting at why Ellie is immune, Druckmann emphasizes that the scene is important to building the relationship between Marlene and Anna and elevating the stakes of the former’s final confrontation with Joel.

“When you get to the ending and we put Marlene against Joel and they have these kind of like their own opposite philosophical terms of like how to approach of the ends justify the means, knowing how close she was with Anna and that Anna’s dying wish was take care of my kid, I think is more weight and maybe more tragedy to Marlene’s sacrifice that she’s trying to make for the betterment of mankind.”

Mazin said that Ashley Johnson, who plays Anna and originated the role of Ellie, is “giving birth to herself in a sense” during the scene.

“To create that genetic connection between her performance as Ellie and the origin story of Bella as Ellie was just profound. I think everybody just felt something beautiful about it,” he added. “Neil has these very deeply connected relationships with the people who have played these parts, whether it’s Troy [Baker] or Ashley or Jeffrey Pierce or Merle Dandridge, you feel these things and those relationships carrying through to the show and giving me space to make relationships with them too, you feel like there was a family and the family has grown and it doesn’t always work like that in this business. It really doesn’t. It was honestly a beautiful thing and I’m so proud of what Ashley did in that episode.”

Johnson’s scene in “The Last of Us” finale marked the first time in years that she wasn’t directed by Druckmann on a project tied to the game. 

“Before that shoot, she called me. She was all nervous like, “I don’t know how to do this. I wish you were here.” And the thing I told her, which I wasn’t lying, I felt totally confident saying this, I’m like, “Craig is there. Trust Craig. He’s been my co-parent now for like, all these months.’ And I felt comfortable leaving the set for months at a time because I saw the love he had for the material. And I think that kind of gave her some ease to say, okay, someone else is watching me, someone else who really loves and cares about these characters. And I told her just do what you do which is collaborate. Because working with Ashley was such a collaboration that I had one understanding of who Ellie is when I was writing those scripts and in working with her, I had a very different understanding. And when we were making the game, I was writing it live. There was an outline that we were adhering to, but again, after shooting those first few scenes with Ashley, she helped shape that character in so many ways. And that’s why she metaphorically gave birth to that character and to have her literally do it in this scene just felt incredibly poetic and beautiful despite how sad that that scene is.”