The Last Of Us Finale: Who Is The Real Villain In Season 1?

Joel and Ellie looking at mass grave in The Last of Us
(Image credit: HBO Max)

The Last of Us Season 1 is now over at HBO, and man, it was a lot to take in. For those who didn't play the game, the events of the finale had to be a real shock and had them questioning just about everything they'd seen prior. I know it certainly did for me, and now I'm wondering, who is the true villain of Season 1? 

It's a thought-provoking question I've been mulling over in the days following Season 1 finale, and I've managed to make justifications for a handful of candidates. Here are my top picks for the big bad in Season 1 and the reasoning behind why they all could be worthy of the title. Hey, we have to think about something while waiting for The Last of Us Season 2, right? 

Pedro Pascal as Joel in The Last of Us.

(Image credit: HBO)


As CinemaBlend's Nick Venable eloquently laid out, The Last Of Us didn't really paint Joel as anything but the hero until this season's final episode. In fairness, Joel wasn't particularly villainous until the Season 1 finale, when the thought of losing Ellie to the experimental procedure was too much for him to bare. He went on a killing spree by killing most all of the Fireflies in the facility and possibly destroying the chance humanity had at nullifying the Cordyceps virus. 

What made Joel's actions so irredeemable, however, is his subtle acknowledgment that Ellie would've been ok with sacrificing her life for the greater good. If she weren't, Joel wouldn't have felt the need to make up that story when she woke up. Unfortunately for him, Ellie didn't believe his story, and should she find out the truth one day, I can think she'll see Joel in an entirely new light. 

Marlene in The Last of Us.

(Image credit: HBO)


Marlene is the mastermind behind the Fireflies' whole mission, and I think it's easy to point the finger at her as the villain of The Last Of Us. Sure, her efforts to develop a cure for the Cordyceps virus are noble, but the way she went about it was pretty awful. Had she been upfront with Ellie or Joel from the start about what was going to happen, this all could've been avoided. 

Even the worst case scenario, where Joel never agreed to take Ellie or she backed out of sacrificing her life, is better than the gruesome end she and many other Fireflies met by Joel's hand. Marlene likely wasn't aware of Joel's past trauma, so I can excuse her ignorance, but the lie is inexcusable. Regardless of what Joel did, it likely wouldn't have happened had Marlene just been honest from the start. 

abandoned street in HBO's The Last of Us

(Image credit: HBO)


The Federal Disaster Response Agency managed to maintain order following the outbreak of the Cordyceps virus, though not in an ideal way. Granted, I don't think there was really any great way to contain a spontaneous outbreak, but the organization could've gone without indiscriminately killing people in the original outbreak zones. Even after things settled down, it appears the FEDRA was not looked upon too kindly in The Last Of Us

And while there may be good people working within FEDRA, there appear to be frequent occurrences best described by the phrase, "Absolute power corrupts absolutely." FEDRA's officers are the peacekeepers and enforcers of quarantine zones. Some of them can use that power to make life difficult for those living inside, and as we saw, there's a limit to what folks will take. Had FEDRA spent a little more time trying to fight the infected rather than the survivors under their care, the Fireflies wouldn't exist. 

The main group in The Last of Us.

(Image credit: HBO)


Marlene was affiliated with the Fireflies, so if you're a fan of The Last of Us who feels she's the villain in this, you'd also have to lump in them as well. The organization at large was created to combat FEDRA injustice and influence, but as we saw early in Season 1, their tactics were rather extreme. For example, we heard of numerous bombings committed by Fireflies within the quarantine zone. It's hard to believe that those bombings were free of collateral damage or made life easier for the folks caught in the crossfire. 

The Fireflies also had a pretty radical mindset in finding a Cordyceps vaccine at all costs. Let's be honest, as wild as Joel's reaction was, he had every reason to be skeptical of Marlene and the Fireflies' grand plan. There was a "chance" they'd develop a vaccine by studying Ellie's immunity. Vox pointed out that we have yet to develop successful fungal vaccines in the real world. Should we really so readily believe some random doctor in a post-apocalyptic hospital with limited supplies had the answers and resources that we currently lack? In my opinion, I think Ellie would've ended up dying for nothing, and humanity wouldn't have been any closer to a vaccine. 

The first bloater in HBO's The Last Of Us

(Image credit: HBO Max)

Cordyceps Virus

If we're really digging deep into who or what is to blame for the worst parts of The Last of Us, I have to point out none of this would happen without the existence of the Cordyceps virus. Obviously if it never existed, none of these events were set into motion. Could it really be as simple as saying the Cordyceps virus is the true big bad of The Last of Us

So much of The Last of Us is focused on the infighting amongst humanity that it's easy to forget the virus is responsible for all of this. Sure, we're living proof that there's still plenty of conflict in the world where a virus didn't collapse society as we knew it back in 2003 and create a bunch of freaky monsters. Humanity could be better, but it's that damn virus that got things so messed up!

Ellie riding carousel in HBO's The Last of Us

(Image credit: HBO)

Does Everyone Suck But Ellie? 

While it may be difficult to definitively nail down who the real villain is of The Last of Us, I think it goes without saying that Ellie is the true hero. Sure, she's not exactly squeaky clean or a role model for morality, but she does genuinely seem concerned with doing the right thing most of the time. 

I would also agree with what Marlene said to Joel before she died. Even if I don't agree with the odds of the procedure working, I think Ellie would've willingly laid down her life if she thought she could stop the Cordyceps virus. She may not be the greatest hero in television history, but she's certainly the least villainous in The Last of Us. Hopefully, that doesn't change in Season 2!

The Last of Us is done for the season at HBO, but anyone who wants to relive it all can do so with an HBO Max subscription. Personally, I may need a little time to recover and maybe do a little soul-searching before I can lock down my definitive pick for Season 1's villain.

Mick Joest
Content Producer

Mick Joest is a Content Producer for CinemaBlend with his hand in an eclectic mix of television goodness. Star Trek is his main jam, but he also regularly reports on happenings in the world of Star Trek, WWE, Doctor Who, 90 Day Fiancé, Quantum Leap, and Big Brother. He graduated from the University of Southern Indiana with a degree in Journalism and a minor in Radio and Television. He's great at hosting panels and appearing on podcasts if given the chance as well.