Why THAT Had To Happen To Sarah In The Last Of Us Episode 1

Joel holds Sarah's face in The Last of Us Episode 1 

The Last of Us episode 1 features a huge plot point from the game concerning Sarah’s character, something that had to happen for the show’s story.

Warning! This article contains spoilers for The Last of Us episode 1 and the original game.The Last of Us episode 1 features the tragic death of Sarah at the end of the 2003 section of the episode, something that had to happen to properly set up the show’s emotional core. The Last of Us episode 1 begins in 2003 with Sarah, Joel, and Tommy living normal lives in Austin, Texas. This section culminates in the outbreak of the Cordyceps brain infection which results in the tragic death of Sarah.


After escaping the various infected humans they encounter yet being separated from Tommy, Joel and Sarah are saved by an armed soldier. The soldier holds the two at gunpoint for fear of them being infected, before shooting at them. Sarah is tragically fatally shot, with Joel about to be killed also before Tommy saves his life. The 2003 timeline of The Last of Us ends with Sarah dying in Joel’s arms, something that had to happen in order to make The Last of Us’ upcoming emotional story truly affect audiences.

Related: Last Of Us’ Ellie Promise Proves The Show Can Avoid An Adaptation Curse

The Last Of Us Show Uses Sarah’s Death To Set Up Joel’s Big Twist

Warning! Major game spoilers for The Last of Us ahead.That emotional story centers on the characters of Ellie and Joel. In the original game, the story revolves around Joel trying to get Ellie across the country so that a cure for the Cordyceps virus can be extracted from Ellie’s immunity. Despite being cold, distant, and detached from Ellie for the first half of the game due to the trauma of Sarah’s death, Joel eventually opens up to Ellie and becomes a surrogate father to her. This ends with Joel’s controversial decision to save Ellie’s life rather than allow the Fireflies to kill her in order to synthesize a cure.

The main purpose that Sarah’s death serves in this story is to set up Joel’s decision. While Joel – played expertly by The Mandalorian’s Pedro Pascal in HBO’s adaptation – killing the Fireflies all but dooms humanity to the virus and is certainly a selfish choice, the backstory of Sarah’s death and Joel’s trauma because of this perfectly set up Joel’s motivation for the decision, no matter the morality of it. Without the heartbreaking scene of Sarah’s death in The Last of Us episode 1, Joel and Ellie’s eventual relationship would not be as heartwarming, and Joel’s divisive decision would make far less logical sense.

Sarah’s Death Sets Up Joel & Ellie’s Story

While a large portion of Ellie and Joel’s relationship surrounds Joel’s decision, Sarah’s death sets up the more simple aspects of their connection. For one, Sarah’s death and how tragically it is presented makes Joel’s stand-offish nature in The Last of Us after the Cordyceps virus outbreak in episode 1 make perfect sense. The first scene of Joel after the time jump is him heartlessly burning an infected child’s body, which he has no qualms doing due to the way he has closed himself off after Sarah’s death. The cold nature of Joel’s personality in 2023 will slowly be broken down by Ellie throughout the series.

Without Sarah’s death, this relationship and the change in how Joel and Ellie act around each other would be meaningless. However, in showing how Sarah’s death impacted Joel as a person, The Last of Us can drive home how much Joel comes to care about Ellie when he eventually opens up to her. Regardless, it is clear that, for a multitude of reasons, Sarah’s death had to happen in HBO’s The Last of Us episode 1, no matter how heartbreaking it was.

New episodes of The Last of Us release every Sunday on HBO.

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