Portrayed by Merle Dandridge, Marlene is one of the important supporting characters in the HBO post-apocalyptic drama series ‘The Last of Us.’ Introduced in episode 1, Marlene is the leader of the Boston Quarantine Zone faction of the Fireflies, a revolutionary group fighting against the fascist dictatorship of FEDRA. She tasks Joel and Tess to take Ellie to a secure Firefly facility as the girl in question is immune to the Cordyceps fungi. In the season 1 finale, ‘Look for the Light,’ we learn that Marlene also traveled across America and lost half her team along the way. After Joel learns what the Fireflies intend to do with Ellie, he reacts violently. If that has made you wonder whether Marlene is dead and Dandridge left ‘The Last of Us,’ we got you covered. SPOILERS AHEAD.
Is Marlene Dead?
Yes, Marlene is dead in ‘The Last of Us.’ As many of you may know, the HBO show is based on the 2013 Naughty Dog video game of the same name. Dandridge portrays the character there as well. In both renditions, she serves an antagonistic role. At the start of episode 9, Joel reverts to his older, jovial self from before the pandemic, with his relationship with Ellie becoming almost the same as the one he shared with Sarah.
However, Joel and Ellie are soon ambushed and the former is knocked out. When he wakes up, he finds himself inside a Firefly facility, with Marlene there with him. She seems to marvel at the fact that Joel has been able to bring Ellie across the country in one piece. When Joel remarks that it was mostly because of Ellie herself, Marlene dismisses it, noting that the girl wouldn’t have survived if she had been alone.
When Joel enquires about Ellie, Marlene is initially reluctant to say anything, but she eventually reveals Ellie is in surgery. Ellie’s mother became infected while she was pregnant, and Ellie was born immune to Cordyceps. As the fungi affect the brains, the Firefly doctors have to extract Ellie’s brain to create what they believe will be a cure.
Realizing the implications, Joel demands to see Ellie, but Marlene orders her people to escort him out. But as they try to do so, he manages to surprise them. He kills them and most of the Fireflies at the facilities on his way to rescue Ellie, including the primary doctor performing the operation on the 14-year-old. As Joel takes an unconscious Ellie toward his car, Marlene intercepts them. She pleads to him to return Ellie to the Fireflies and even lowers her gun as a show of trust. But that only allows Joel to shoot and kill her. Afterward, he lies to Ellie that there were others like her at the facility, but the doctors failed to develop a cure. He adds that the facility was attacked, and most of the people there, including Marlene, are dead.
Did Merle Dandridge Leave The Last of Us?
With her character dead, it’s safe to assume that Dandridge left The Last of Us.’ Dandridge is the only actor in the show who got to reprise her role from the video game. Besides ‘The Last of Us’ video game, she lends her voice to Alyx Vance in the ‘Half Life’ universe and Kate Collins in ‘Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture.’ For the latter, Dandridge received a BAFTA for Best Performer accolade.
With Dandridge, series co-creators Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann felt she closely resembled her character in the game. The only thing they added was a wig. Reflecting on how different the experience was to play the character for the HBO series, Dandridge told Slash Film, “I think there was a heavier stillness to her that ended up coming through, which surprised me, because I think I’ve always remembered and understood her as in front of the microphone with a fist in the air and all of that. But there was the weathered-ness of the 20 years of living in this very dark world and not knowing whether or not another side is actually going to happen. You can believe, you can have faith, you can hold the beacon up, but do you actually have evidence? And what does that do to you in your daily walk?”
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