With the Season 1 finale of HBO’s The Last Of Us hitting similar story beats from the game, the episode finally brought to life one of that world’s most enigmatic characters: Anna Williams, Ellie’s mom. In the game, we don’t know much about her except she had a relationship with Marlene, and she left Ellie a note encouraging her to keep fighting–and left her a switchblade.
Anna was always supposed to have a larger part in the story. Game co-creator Neil Druckmann said that Ellie’s mom had been intended for a DLC, and even a spin-off game of her own with the game leading to her giving birth. Druckmann had also said that he even tried to do both animated and live-action shorts to tell the story but things kept falling through.
Talking on the show’s official podcast, Druckmann is joined by host Troy Baker, showrunner Craig Mazin, and guest star Ashley Johnson, who plays Anna in the opening of the episode, but also voiced Ellie in both games.
“When we were working on The Last of Us II, and I started working with Craig he asked me all these questions about the world. ‘What are some stories we haven’t told?’ and I told him ‘oh here’s this short story about Ellie’s mom and how she gave birth and she got bitten right before she gave birth and had to cut the umbilical cord and she wasn’t sure if she had passed on this infection or not.'”
Mazin was more than enthusiastic about this addition to the story. “And I said, ‘holy f—! We’re doing that!’ There are times when you think ‘ooh that could be good’ or ‘hrm, if we could find a place for it.’ And I said that was one of those circumstances where I just said ‘no, no, no we’re f—ing doing it.'”
The showrunner went on to describe his relationship with Ellie the character and how important it was to tell this sort of story about her and how it ties into the greater themes of the game.
“So I’ve been in love with this kid for eight years [at the time the show’s production began] and now we’re making this new version of this kid, and this bit of backstory was so gorgeous to me and so upsetting. But it also explains something important,” Mazin said. “Because I always wanted to know ‘What was this, just some weird random genetic thing? Why is she immune?’ Well, here’s an answer, and what I loved so much about it was that answer was soaking in sadness. And there was such an opportunity to see a mother give birth. I mean, I’ve had two kids, and each time when the child emerges, there’s this release of emotion. Like there’s not anything that you even feel happening…so, that kind of moment of pure joy followed by this terrible acknowledgment that you will have maybe two or three hours or a day, and that’s it.”
Mazin said it ties back to Joel not being able to keep his daughter alive as well as keeping Ellie alive, but here’s the first person in Ellie’s life who is also failing to protect her kid. He said it was “essential” to make, as well as the decision to cast Johnson in the role.
All of Season 1 of HBO’s The Last of Us is available to watch on HBO Max.