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The best characters in The Last of Us season 1, ranked

Now that we’ve seen the entire first season, it’s safe to say that The Last of Us is going to be remembered as one of the great shows in recent memory. While the show’s story has been deeply compelling from the jump, what got most people invested in it was the wealth of great characters that exist in this universe.

In addition to the memorable season 1 The Last of Us cameos, the show had a cast of characters that were among TV’s best. As difficult as it was to narrow it down to just 10, these are the characters from the show’s first season that have stuck with us the most.

Note: the following list contains spoilers for season 1 of The Last of Us.

10. Sam

Sam in "The Last of Us."
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Sam’s death is undeniably one of the most heartrending, emotional moments of the entire show, and that has a lot to do with the innocence that is lost with his death.

Sam is a normal kid, and his brother has had to be incredibly creative in finding ways to make sure that he doesn’t lose all hope amid dire circumstances. Sam’s superhero makeup will make it hard to forget him, as will the genuine bond that he and Ellie seemed to form in their short time together.

9. Tommy

Tommy The Last of Us
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Joel’s brother, Tommy, is someone Joel describes as a “joiner,” but when we finally meet him in the present day, it’s hard to deny that Tommy has things much more figured out than his brother. He’s living in Wyoming with his wife and has a baby on the way, and Joel is devastated to learn that Tommy doesn’t need him the way he might have when they were both younger.

Tommy’s best scenes come during his interactions with Joel, as they both find ways to hurt one another, even as they ultimately reconcile.

8. Kathleen

Melanie Lynskey in The Last of Us.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The show’s best example of a villain who becomes much more complicated on TV, Kathleen is the leader of a resistance movement that took out Kansas City’s FEDRA forces. In the process of taking down FEDRA, Kathleen became hell-bent on capturing and killing Henry, who sold out her brother to save his younger brother, Sam.

Kathleen’s all-consuming quest for revenge is what leads to her ultimate undoing, but before her death, we come to understand how brutal and efficient she can be, and how right she might have been about what it means to let someone die in this world.

7. Henry

Henry in The Last of Us.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Henry is, in the eyes of many, a collaborator who teamed up with FEDRA to take on the resistance. Of course, he did that because he needed medicine to save his brother’s life, complicating the picture and illustrating that making the right choice in this kind of universe is almost impossible.

Henry’s singular attention to his brother is all the proof you need that he meant well, even if his efforts to save Sam were ultimately in vain. Henry wanted to prove that he could be a good protector, and when he failed, he couldn’t handle the consequences.

6. Frank

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One half of the duo that provided one of the more memorable hours of the entire first season, Frank builds a life with Bill over the course of almost 20 years. Bill is all sharp edges, a man so convinced of the darkness of the world that he was prepared for an apocalypse long before one actually came.

Frank, on the other hand, brings joy and light to their lives, and ultimately gets Bill to open up in a way that no one else could. They had a great life together, and at the end of it all, they chose to depart together too.

5. Riley

Two girls ride a merry-go-round in The Last of Us.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Ellie’s burgeoning relationship with Riley in the Left Behind episode shows us what Joel refused to believe: Ellie already knows what it is to lose people. Although Riley only appears in a single episode, her relationship with Ellie feels so genuine and deep that you understand how much they mean to one another.

You also understand that, while Ellie may be glad that her bite didn’t kill her, the moment she was bitten, she also lost the person who mattered most to her in the whole world. Once we meet Riley, we understand why Ellie thought she was so important.

4. Tess

A woman walks ahead of a man and a girl in The Last of Us.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Joel’s postapocalyptic partner, Tess is someone that Joel cares about, but she could never crack through the many walls that he had put up after the death of his daughter, Sarah. Their relationship begins to feel a bit like a tragedy as we come to understand just how much more deeply Tess felt for Joel than she felt for him.

We don’t ultimately know a ton about Tess, but we do know that she connected with Ellie almost immediately, and that she was willing to sacrifice herself to get Joel and Ellie to safety. Her final moments, as she attempts to flick a lighter on before succumbing to a zombie bite, are among the more chilling in the entire series.

3. Joel

Joel stands with a bleeding neck in The Last of Us Episode 9.
Liane Hentscher/HBO

Joel is, for all intents and purposes, the hero of the first season of The Last of Us, and as we see in the opening moments of the series, he’s scarred by the loss of his daughter. What makes the story so affecting, then, is the way that Ellie gives Joel a second chance to open himself up.

In the end, we know that Joel makes the terrible choice to protect Ellie above all else, but that decision is informed by the character’s belief that his sole purpose is to protect those he loves. It’s that love, and its terrible corrosive power, that leads Joel to kill so many people.

2. Bill

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Bill is, in many ways, a direct parallel to Joel. He’s a lethal doomsday prepper who was proven right when the world actually ended. And while he could have ended up dark, cynical, and deeply lonely, he instead found a partner who got him to open up and realize that there was so much more to life than being prepared for the next bad thing.

He made it his sole purpose in life to protect Frank, and the two lived out more than a decade of bliss before dying in each other’s arms. They had their own little corner of perfection at the end of the world.

1. Ellie

Ellie sits on a truck bed in The Last of Us Episode 9.
Liane Hentscher/HBO

Ellie’s journey has been central to the way The Last of Us unfolds. A young girl immune to the cordyceps virus, she initially seems like a charming and funny, albeit inexperienced, piece of cargo for Joel and Tess. As we learn more about her, though, we come to understand everything she’s already lost, and the way those losses have made her terrified of being alone.

When she confronts David, we see something break in Ellie, and have to wonder if it will ever heal. She’s a 14-year-old scarred by a dark world who has to get up every day to find a way to live.

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Joe Allen
Joe Allen is a freelance writer based in upstate New York focused on movies and TV.
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