The Last of Us Part II is right around the corner, and understanding the events of the first game is essential to getting the most out of the second entry. The Last of Us is a masterpiece — we gave it a near-perfect score — but if you don’t have the time to play, we’re here to get you up to speed. Here’s what you need to know before playing The Last of Us Part II.
This primer is aimed at those who haven’t played the first game, as well as those who played it all the way back in 2013 and need a refresher. It should go without saying, but there will be spoilers in this article, so you’ve been warned! We’re going to talk about every detail in The Last of Us. We won’t, however, discuss any of the leaks for The Last of Us Part II.
Before diving into the overall story, there are some names you should be aware of. We’ll talk about the characters as they’re introduced in the story, but a few of them run the length of the plot.
Throughout your journey, you’ll have multiple encounters with the infected. Sure, they’re zombies, but their roots are more grounded in reality than you may think. The premise of The Last of Us is based on a fungus known as ophiocordyceps unilateralis. This fungus, predominantly found in tropical forests, hijacks the bodies of ants and alters their behavioral patterns. The infected in The Last of Us are infected with a similar pathogenic fungus, one that was able to make its way to humans.
There are five stages of infection. In the first stage, the host loses all control over their body and becomes a runner. These zombies still maintain their eyesight but will stop at nothing to infect others. The second stage is mostly the same, though the fungus grows more heavily over the face. Those in the second stage of infection are called stalkers. In the third stage, the infected lose their eyesight as the fungus creates a wedge in the center of the skull. Without eyesight, clickers, as they’re referred to in the game, use echolocation to find more hosts.
Beyond that, we have bloaters, which grow armor-like plating and distribute infectious spores through grenade-like projectiles. Finally, in the fifth stage, the human host is used up by the fungus, and it grows into the environment. The life cycle isn’t over, though. Once a part of nature, the fungus will distribute airborne spores to infect others.
At the center of The Last of Us is a paramilitary group known as the Fireflies. In a revolutionary response to the militaristic state imposed by the U.S. government, the Fireflies joined arms to find a cure for the infection and restore the three branches of the U.S. government. We’ll talk more about the Fireflies throughout our plot summary, but just know that they’re paramount to the narrative.
The Last of Us is based around a fictional pathogenic fungus that causes Cordyceps Brain Infection (CBI). CBI is first discovered in 2013 before it quickly spreads and infects over 60% of the world’s population. When the World Health Organization isn’t able to produce a vaccine, the U.S. government abolishes its structure in favor of a civilian government that’s closely watched by the military. Our story opens in 2013 in a small house in Austin, Texas, where we meet a single father and his 12-year-old daughter.
Joel, a single father in his late 20s, is celebrating his birthday with his daughter, Sarah, when alarms start going off. Cars crash, buildings crumble, and gunshots sound as the military forces its way into suburban Austin to find and exterminate anyone who’s outside of the quarantine zone. Joel and Sarah quickly make it out of their house and onto the streets to head across the quarantine line. Along the way, they meet up with Joel’s brother, Tommy. However, they’re quickly separated as Tommy deals with a group of the infected.
Sarah and Joel continue to make their way out of Austin, but they’re stopped by a soldier who’s ordered to fire on them. Both suffer bullet wounds before falling down a hill. The soldier follows them down a hill and turns the barrel toward Joel to finish the job. Before the soldier can pull the trigger, however, he’s shot in the head by Tommy. Although wounded, Joel quickly turns to his daughter, who’s holding onto every breath. She dies in his arms.
The game officially begins in the summer of 2033. Joel, now in his 40s, has crossed too many moral lines to count, torturing and killing non-infected people in order to loot their corpses. In the 20 years leading up the main story, Joel is accompanied by Tommy. However, after witnessing Joel’s shrinking humanity, Tommy has abandoned him and joined the Fireflies.
Joel, along with his partner, Tess, is a smuggler inside the Boston quarantine zone. After a deal gone wrong, Tess explains to Joel that a local arms dealer named Robert had stolen weapons from them and traded those weapons to the Fireflies. The pair hunt down Robert, who desperately tries to explain what happened to the guns. Tess listens briefly before putting two bullets into Robert’s head. In search of the weapons cache, Joel and Tess then make their way to the Fireflies.
They quickly find Marlene, the leader of the Fireflies, who promises the weapons cache and a significant payment if Joel and Tess smuggle something out of the city. That something is Ellie, a 14-year-old girl who’s very important to the Fireflies (more on that in a moment). Tess and Joel agree and set off to meet a group of Fireflies at the Capitol building to hand Ellie over.
Things go wrong fast. The group is stopped by two soldiers who subject them to CBI scans. Joel and Tess pass the tests, of course, but Ellie doesn’t. In a panic, Ellie stabs the soldier scanning her with a switchblade, and Joel and Tess dispatch of the other one. Ellie explains that, although she’s been bitten, she hasn’t been infected in the three weeks since the bite. Joel and Tess reluctantly buy the story, as the infected turn within no more than two days.
The group heads underground to flee a new onslaught of soldiers pursuing them. While underground, the three encounter the infected, but everything seems to be going according to plan. That is until they reach the Capitol building, where in lieu of a group of Fireflies, they find a group of dead bodies. Joel, fed up with the ordeal, says they should make their way back to Marlene. Tess reveals that while they were underground, she’d been bitten, and begs Joel to find Tommy. Maybe he’d know how to reach the Fireflies, and maybe Ellie holds the key to a vaccine. Knowing that her time is short, Tess stays behind to fend off the military as Joel and Ellie flee to find Tommy.
Tess dies, though it’s unclear if the infection or the bullets take her first. Free from threat, Joel and Ellie make their way to find one of Joel’s old friends, Bill. Bill can help them get a car running so the two can look for Tommy. The trio eventually finds the necessary parts to fix a car. In order to do so, though, they pass through Bill’s old house, where he discovers his former partner Frank hanging from the ceiling.
Joel and Ellie make it to Pittsburgh, but their ride is cut short when a group of hunters attacks them, forcing the pair to escape on foot. Along the way, they meet Sam and Henry. Henry, a 25-year-old from Connecticut, is in Pittsburgh with his younger brother, Sam, to search for supplies. The four of them join arms, though they’re quickly separated, as a group of hunters has them pinned in a blocked alleyway. Henry and Sam make it out unscathed, but Joel and Ellie are forced to jump off a bridge to escape certain death.
Eventually, Henry and Sam find Joel and Ellie and rescue them. The four decide to stick together and set up shop in an abandoned house for the evening. Sam and Ellie bond over comic books and toys, while Joel and Henry discuss leading teenagers through the wasteland. In the morning, Ellie goes to wake Sam, only to find his eyes bloody and mouth drooling. Sam is infected.
He pounces onto Ellie, and in a moment of panic, Henry shoots his younger brother dead. Henry then turns the gun to Joel, blaming him for Sam’s death. Before Joel can make a case for himself, Henry turns the gun to his chin and pulls the trigger.
We meet back up with Joel and Ellie a few months later, and they’ve stumbled upon a guarded community in Jackson County, Wyoming, where Joel hopes to find his brother. They find Tommy, and Joel tries to convince Tommy to deliver Ellie and collect the payment on his own. After some debating — and a brief shootout — Tommy agrees. Ellie, locked away in another room during this conversation, takes a horse into the woods alone.
Joel and Tommy make their way out, too, and eventually find Ellie. In a turning point in the story, Ellie pleads with Joel, saying that she’s not Sarah. Joel responds coldly, saying, “You’re not my daughter, and I sure as hell ain’t your dad, and we are going our separate ways.” The three of them fight their way back to Tommy’s safe haven through a group of raiders. Looking back on the argument and seeing Ellie as capable, Joel decides to finish the job. He and Ellie make their way for the University of Eastern Colorado, where Tommy believes they’ll find the Fireflies lab.
Joel and Ellie make it to the University of Eastern Colorado on horseback — probably the most unbelievable event in the story — but they don’t find the lab. Instead, they find the decrepit remains of a fictitious but still prestigious university. The Fireflies lab isn’t there, though Joel and Ellie stumble upon a recorder with some hints as to the group’s current whereabouts.
Before they can escape, a group of raiders enters the university. Although Joel and Ellie fight most of them off, one pins Joel against a railing on the second floor, eventually pushing him off and onto a metal beam on the floor. Ellie assumes the attacking role, as Joel fights not only to make it back to the horse but to survive. The two eventually make it to safety, with Joel barely clinging to life. Ellie quickly learns that she’ll need to kill in order to stay alive.
A few more months go by, and the third chapter of the game opens with Ellie hunting in the woods. She kills a rabbit for Joel and herself before moving onto a bigger meal: A deer. Ellie wounds the deer and follows the blood trail to an abandoned shack. She’s successfully caught her hunt, but before she can reap the rewards, she’s stopped by David and James. These two men are part of a nearby settlement, and they offer to take Ellie out of the cold. Fearful, Ellie points her bow at them, saying she’ll trade the deer for some antibiotics.
Joel’s still alive, though his condition is dire. James makes his way back to the settlement, while Ellie, gun drawn, stays with the deer and David. They don’t stay that way too long, though. The infected make their way toward the shack, and Ellie and David are forced to fight them off.
After the fight, Ellie and David set up a fire and wait for James to return. In a not-so-wholesome campfire story, David reveals that they’re a part of the group that attacked Ellie and Joel at the University of Eastern Colorado. Ellie turns her gun on David right as James shows up with the medicine. David instructs James to let her have the medicine and be on her way. Ellie quickly makes her way back to Joel and administers the medicine to him. She falls asleep by his side.
When she wakes up, she hears the group that David and James are part of circling the area. In an attempt to draw them away from Joel, Ellie escapes. She doesn’t make it far, though, as David finds her and knocks her unconscious. Ellie wakes up in a cage across from David, who is butchering human bodies. Although it’s never explicitly stated, it’s heavily implied that David’s group has resorted to eating humans to stay alive, and Ellie is the next one on the chopping block.
Meanwhile, Joel wakes up and finds Ellie missing. Still wounded, he makes his way into the snowstorm and captures two men from the settlement. He ties them up, tortures them, and eventually kills both, but not before getting Ellie’s location. Back at the settlement, Ellie is dragged to the operating table by James. Before David plunges a fixed blade hunter’s knife into her chest, Ellie reveals that she’s infected, buying just enough time to stab James in the neck and narrowly escape David.
Unsurprisingly, she doesn’t make it far. Ellie is trapped in an abandoned restaurant that’s caught fire. She sneaks her way around the booths and tables, stabbing David multiple times. David overpowers her, however, kicking her wounds and pinning her to the ground. Nearly dead, Ellie struggles to grab the machete dropped by David. She finally reaches it and, in a fit of rage, starts splitting David’s head in two. Still beating away, Joel makes his way to the restaurant and pulls Ellie away. She collapses in his arms in a fit of tears, coming to terms with what she just did.
The new year is here, and we join back up with Joel and Ellie in late April 2034. They’re nearly at Saint Mary’s Hospital, where the Fireflies should be located. Along the way, they find a group of giraffes, providing a glimpse of hope in an otherwise desolate world. Realizing how good things could be, Joel suggests that they return to Tommy and be done with the whole ordeal. Ellie, determined as ever, insists that they make it to the lab.
They slowly make their way to the hospital, passing abandoned medical tents along the way. In a climactic moment, Ellie brings up Sarah again. Unlike the previous time she did so, Joel doesn’t react in anger. Joel has finally become the person he’s been searching for since 2013.
In order to reach the hospital, the two must take a flooded underground tunnel. Along the way, Joel falls, uprooting an abandoned train car to be swept away by the current. Ellie jumps on the car to save Joel. She then falls into the water and is knocked unconscious. Joel rescues her and starts chest compressions. When armed Fireflies find them, Joel ignores them. He already lost his daughter; he’s not going to lose Ellie.
Before he can save her, the Fireflies knock Joel unconscious. He wakes up to Marlene, who assures Joel that Ellie is safe. She explains that the Fireflies will be able to reverse engineer a vaccine by extracting the infection from Ellie. Joel, knowing that the infection grows over the brain, quickly connects the dots. He’s escorted out of the room by a Firefly, who Joel dispatches. Now free, Joel makes his way through the hospital searching for Ellie.
Eventually, Joel finds her and fights ruthlessly to escape. In the parking garage, Joel is stopped by Marlene, who insists that he “do the right thing.” We then cut to Joel driving away. Ellie is shown in the back seat asleep, and the story cuts back to Joel shooting Marlene from under Ellie’s limp body.
A short time after, we get one final scene with Joel and Ellie. Now safe in Jackson County, Ellie asks Joel about what happened at Saint Mary’s Hospital, wondering if she could hold the cure for all of those who’ve died. Joel lies to her, saying that the Fireflies have stopped looking for a cure and that there are others like her who are immune to CBI.
The Left Behind DLC isn’t critical to understanding The Last of Us Part II, but it provides some context for how Ellie ended up where she is in the main game. It’s a prequel story that follows Ellie and her best friend Riley as they explore an abandoned mall.
Both part of the Fireflies, the two play inside the mall, watching the stores light up as they restore power. Riley tells Ellie that she’s being reassigned to another group of the Fireflies and asks Ellie if she should go. Although Ellie initially says yes, she quickly changes her mind. The two dance in the middle of the abandoned mall, and Ellie sneaks in a kiss with Riley.
The sweet moment doesn’t last long, though, as the infected invade the mall and bite both girls. As Ellie talks about in the base game, they decide to ride it out instead of committing suicide. Ellie survives, obviously, but Riley doesn’t.
We won’t discuss anything leaked about The Last of Us Part II. However, we know some basic information about the story from videos and articles released by Sony. If you want to go in completely dry, skip this section. That said, we still know very little about the story.
The Last of Us Part II takes place five years after the original game. Joel and Ellie are still in Jackson County, and everything seems to be going well. Ellie has a new love interest, Dina, and Joel has started mending his relationship with Tommy. There is some sort of inciting incident that sends Ellie on an adventure for revenge. Of course, we have no idea what this incident is. We do know, however, that Ellie is the main protagonist of the game, so you’ll mainly be playing as her. Joel is in the game, too, though we don’t know if you’ll be playing as him.
- New art for The Last of Us multiplayer spinoff teases its seaside setting
- The Last of Us Part 1: All Training Manual locations
- The Last of Us Part I beginner’s guide: 9 tips and tricks to get started
- The Last of Us Part I remake: release date, trailers, gameplay, and more
- The Last of Us Part 1 boasts a groundbreaking accessibility feature