This post contains mild spoilers for episode 6 of “The Last of Us.”
There are two quiet, existential scenes shared between Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) that parallel each other at the beginning and final moments of “The Last of Us” episode 6. Right before running into Tommy (Gabriel Luna) at the Jackson Commune, our loveable duo sit underneath the stars and talk about their dreams and ambitions. Ellie begins to wonder, “then what?” Hypothetically, if the Fireflies are able to make a cure from her blood, what do they do next? If they can cure society and become free to do or be anything, what would it be?
Off the cuff, Joel answers that he’d get an old farmhouse and herd sheep. “They’re quiet and do what they’re told” he quips. When it’s time for Ellie to share, she looks up to the stars and gushes about the spectacle of outer space. As a kid who’s lived her entire life behind the walls of a Quarantine Zone, she’s been obsessed with the escapism of the concept. Ellie’s studied everyone from Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell, but her favorite astronaut is “Sally f*****g Ride!” Later, at the University of Eastern Colorado, Joel changes his answer. He admits that when he was a kid, he would have liked to become a singer.
To fans of the original 2013 game, this is all familiar territory. We’ve all played the Fall chapter of the original game and watched Joel and Ellie have these conversations before — but in this week’s official “The Last of Us” podcast for episode 6, showrunners Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann revealed these character details are deeply owed to Joel and Ellie’s original voice actors, Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson.
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson are one with Joel and Ellie
Why is Ellie so obsessed with outer space? Why did Joel want to be a singer growing up? The truth is, these are facets of Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson’s own personalities that have been forever imbued into Joel and Ellie. Over the course of the production process for the game, Druckmann became close with Baker and Johnson and got to know them as their own special individuals.
“Ashley loves space, and astronauts, and knows everything about it,” he explained on the podcast. “And I’m like, ‘I want to make Ellie even more like Ashley.'” Meanwhile, Joel idly dreaming of being a singer is a reflection of Baker’s own career as a musician. Joel and Ellie were already characters that are so near and dear to Druckmann himself that he figured: why not blur the lines between character and actor, and make Joel and Ellie more like Baker and Johnson?
“Yeah. There’s just something — I get a little emotional about this ’cause, like, we’ve all put, like, so much of ourselves in this,” Druckmann said to Baker, who also hosts the official “The Last of Us” HBO podcast. “And the combination of all that makes for something greater.”
A key resource that informed the direction of “The Last of Us” adaptation is the foresight that Mazin and Druckmann have now that “The Last of Us Part II” exists, allowing them to emphasize and go deeper on some themes in the original story in retrospect – paving the way for season 2 and beyond. Ellie’s fascination with space is taken from a heartwarming scene between Joel and Ellie in the second game, so bringing it into the first season of the show helps flesh them out as characters (as well as providing a fun reference for fans of the games).
Look out for Baker and Johnson in future episodes
Other than these nice little nods to the original actors that they wonderfully preserved in Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey’s versions of the characters, you can expect to see both Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson pop up in future episodes as well. Based on trailers for the show, it appears Baker is playing a member of David’s crew in the Winter chapter of the story. Excitingly, Ashley Johnson seems to be playing Ellie’s mother, Anna, who was only mentioned in passing in the original video game.
If you’re curious to hear Joel and Ellie sing, Baker and Johnson have also performed together on the album “The Last of Us Part II: Covers and Rarities,” which is a lovely listen if you’re like me and also spend entire commutes thinking about these characters and every detail of “The Last of Us” universe in excruciating detail.
No matter if you’re a casual or a hardcore “The Last of Us” fan, let’s all remember to appreciate the amazing voice acting and motion capture performances that brought these characters to life in the first place.
“The Last of Us” airs Sundays at 9/8c on HBO and HBO Max.