The 15 Best Characters On The Last Of Us, Ranked

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Given The Last of Us‘ post-apocalyptic and Infected-ridden world, fans understood that there wouldn’t be too many recurring characters in the series. The HBO show’s story follows Joel and Ellie on their journey to deliver the latter to the Fireflies in the hopes that they can make a cure. However, if shows like The Walking Dead have taught viewers anything, it’s that even when the world effectively comes to an end, there can still be plenty of survivors.

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Such is the case with The Last of Us. New characters are revealed in every episode, and they each add something to the story and impact Joel and Ellie’s journey in some way. Some great characters have already perished, but they have all made their mark and impressed viewers.

This article contains spoilers for HBO’s The Last of Us Season 1.

Updated on March 17, 2023, by Tom Steel: The Last of Us Season 1 is now in the books, and it was a wild ride. Many unique and interesting characters were introduced and subsequently killed off, but not before they made a lasting impact on fans. This list has been updated to include even more of the very best characters in The Last of Us‘ first season. Honorable mentions have to go out to the multiple actors who provided voice and motion capture for the games and returned for cameos, including Ellie’s Ashley Johnson and Joel’s Troy Baker, as Anna and James, respectively. This provided an extra layer of connection between the games and the series, which was especially nice for fans of the franchise.

15 Kathleen

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Kathleen’s introduction immediately positioned her as a ruthless fighter and commanding leader, giving reason to how she managed to get an entire group of people to follow her. While she hesitated initially, Kathleen boldly shot her own doctor in the face, the man who brought her into the world as a baby, because he would not disclose the information she wanted.

Kathleen was a character created for the HBO series, and fans quickly grew to hate her. She was consumed by her quest to avenge her brother’s death, which saw her prioritize the manhunt for Henry over taking care of the Infected that were shut away beneath the streets.

14 Dr. Ratna

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Dt. Ratna in the lab looking sullen in a scene from The Last of Us.

Dr. Ratna was only in one scene, but she had a huge impact; her dire recommendation alerted the government about the virus. She made it clear there was no cure and might never be one. Knowing this, she quietly asked to go home to her family right after advising that the only solution was to bomb the city and eliminate everyone in it.

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As a mycologist, Dr. Ratna’s words were taken seriously. She had dedicated her life to studying viruses and teaching the next generation. Dr. Ratna’s somber delivery showed just how bad the situation was and gave a new perspective on the onset of the virus.

13 Maria

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Maria sitting at a table looking suspicious in The Last of Us.

Maria was introduced in “Kin” alongside her husband, Tommy, Joel’s brother. Maria was once a lawyer, with her strong will and aptitude for setting rules translating well to leadership at their Jackson commune. Despite being welcoming to anyone Tommy considers family, Maria is generally wary of strangers, but she was even more worried about Joel.

Maria even warned Ellie about Joel, solely based on what Tommy had told her of what the brothers used to do to survive. Maria and Joel both lost children, but they grieved in completely different ways. Maria will return in Season 2, as fans get to see Joel and Ellie back in Jackson, adjusting to the new way of things.

12 Sarah

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Sarah wears a Halicon Drops t-shirt in The Last of Us.

Sarah might have only appeared in the first episode, but she made an impact. She was Joel’s beautiful young daughter who clearly had a big heart. She took care of her father as much as he took care of her, even making him breakfast, treating him on his birthday, and encouraging him to not work so hard. She also took time out of her day to help the older woman next door.

Sadly, Sarah saw what the world had become. She was a victim of the military, who felt it was best to eliminate anyone who could be infected to prevent the spread of Cordyceps. Sarah had great potential, and even though her life was cut short, it’s clear the mark she left on Joel, which was only able to heal after he properly bonded with Ellie.

11 Tommy

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Joel and Tommy, portrayed by Pedro Pascal and Gabriel Luna, in The Last Of Us Episode 6.

Tommy’s Season 1 appearances were limited, but he remains a central part of The Last of Us. During the time jump in Episode 1, Tommy had joined and left the Fireflies and was out there somewhere. Finding him initially fueled Joel’s entire journey and was the reason he agreed to take Ellie along as “cargo.”

One of the plot twists fans were eager to see in The Last of Us was learning what Tommy had been up to since Joel last heard from him, and the brothers eventually reunited in “Kin.” Tommy is now married to Maria and settled as well as anyone can be in this world, and despite a rocky argument with Joel, they would happily welcome Joel and Ellie back to stay in Jackson, should they want to.

10 Henry

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Henry points his gun at Joel in Episode 5 of HBO's The Last of Us.

Henry and Sam’s introduction at the end of Episode 4 linked Kathleen’s story to Joel and Ellie, all while introducing some new friends for the main pair. Henry loved his brother, Sam, more than anything and would do anything to keep him safe. This is what drove him to turn Kathleen’s brother into FEDRA in the first place and what ultimately made his own demise all the more tragic.

Henry thought his luck was about to change when Joel asked if they would like to accompany Joel and Ellie on their journey, but Sam’s turn quickly changed things. As an Infected Sam attacked Ellie, he refused to let Joel kill his brother, instead acting impulsively in doing it himself. Henry’s end was tragic and upsetting and was a sad glimpse into protecting a loved one gone wrong.

9 Sam

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Sam in the attic in Episode 5 of HBO's The Last of Us.

The Last of Us Season 1 was a faithful adaptation of the video game, but there were several bits that the HBO series changed. In the series, Sam was younger and deaf, and while his death was already tragic, this alteration made it hit that extra bit harder.

Sam being eight years old meant that he really struggled to grasp the intricacies of the Infected and general survival. Sam’s heartbreaking question to Ellie of whether one still exists inside after being Infected before revealing his bite cemented one of the most devastating sequences of the entire show.

8 Marlene

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Marlene confronts Joel and Tess in The Last of Us.

Marlene was deeply complex in how she handled her emotions and kept them separate from the greater good. She really toed the line between being “the bad guy” and being rational.

Marlene was very optimistic about a better future, which is why she was so adamant that Joel should find a way to get Ellie to the right people. Despite her being friends with Ellie’s mother and looking out for the kid, Marlene accepted that killing Ellie would help research making a cure and was willing to make the sacrifice while Joel was unable to. Played by Merle Dandridge in both the game and the series, Marlene’s handle on the situation ultimately triggered Joel’s wrath and spelled her own end.

7 Tess

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Tess in The Last of Us, kneeling down and looking at someone.

Tess’ life was cut short, and her death scene is one of the most memorable in The Last of Us. Hardened by circumstance, the flashback scenes with her, Joel, Frank, and Bill showed that Tess had a much softer side before she had to deal with all the challenges life threw at her.

Tess was practical, logical, resourceful, and smart. She encouraged Joel to go on the journey with Ellie, and when she knew there was no hope for her, she sacrificed herself so they could escape. Tess was selfless and kind to the people she loved, and she could hold her own when needed.

6 Riley

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Riley in Ellie's room in The Last of Us.

Left Behind” was DLC for the original The Last of Us game, and it provided insight into Ellie’s backstory leading up to her meeting Joel. This explored her last night with her friend, Riley, and this was adapted faithfully and incorporated into the first season of the HBO series. Played by Storm Reid, Riley organized a fun night for just the two of them in an abandoned mall, as it was the only way she knew she could say goodbye to her dear friend.

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Most of the episode was Riley and Ellie having fun, going back and forth between best friends and showing that teenage sense of longing and romantic implications. Riley was stuck between wanting to feel a sense of family once again in the Fireflies and staying with Ellie. Ellie eventually persuaded Riley to stay right before they were attacked and Infected, in yet another tragic part of Ellie’s life.

5 David

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Scott Shepherd as David in The Last of Us.

“When We Are In Need” was a shocking episode for many reasons. While Ellie was doing everything she could to keep both herself and Joel safe, she stumbled across a preacher named David, who was gentle and kind in his introductions.

Yet beneath this mask was a horrifying villain who demanded to be loved and used his power in whatever twisted way he could. What appeared to be a chance meeting actually linked to his mantra of “everything happens for a reason,” as the man Joel killed at the university was one of David’s crew. Scott Shepherd put on a horrifying masterclass as David, going from calm preaching to strict leadership all the way to becoming a beacon of pure violence.

4 Frank

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Frank sitting at the piano looking at a book, Bill looking on in a scene from The Last of Us.

Frank appeared in the third episode of The Last of Us. With a great performance from Murray Bartlett, Frank made such an impact that fans are already calling for an Emmy nomination. Frank was sweet and kind, the antithesis of Bill, who he encountered when he got caught in one of Bill’s traps.

Frank was able to soften the hard-nosed survivalist and open him up to companionship and love, which was a testament to his character. Despite them not having any other human contact, Frank still cared about the little things, like tending to the front lawn and even trying to reach out to find friends. He was a breath of fresh air during a life that had gone sour for anyone who managed to survive it.

3 Bill

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Nick Offerman as Bill in The Last of Us, pulling off his mask and looking angry.

After the outbreak, Bill was not going to let the government remove him from his home. Instead, he hid until it was safe, raided local homes and shops for supplies, and set up elaborate traps to keep himself protected. He was a perfectly self-sufficient survivor.

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Bill was part of one of the most emotional The Last of Us episodes. Fans saw him grow from being a loner to letting his guard down with a new man and caring for Frank when he was unwell. His final act of sacrificing his life because he felt he had lived out his purpose had fans in tears.

2 Ellie

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Ellie looks on at the giraffes in Episode 9 of HBO's The Last of Us.

Bella Ramsey gave fans an incredible performance as Ellie throughout the first season. Ellie was presented as a typical 14-year-old, despite growing up in a post-apocalyptic world, before the events of her travels with Joel helped her to learn harsh lessons about humanity and survival.

With Ellie’s foul mouth and reluctance to listen to authority, fans have enjoyed the dynamic between her and Joel throughout. Ellie’s energy and persistence eventually got through Joel’s tough exterior and defenses, leaving their relationship much stronger by the end of the first season, even if cracks are beginning to show. Their bond has helped The Last of Us rank among the best HBO dramas of all time.

1 Joel

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Joel looking angry in The Last of Us.

It’s no shock that Joel had been seriously hardened, given what he had been through. First, he lost his daughter, and then he had to try to survive in a deadly and dangerous world for 20 years. As a result of this hardship and loss, he was generally devoid of emotion.

Through Joel’s budding relationship with Ellie and his steadfast dedication to his brother, he showed glimpses of humanity that eventually blossomed into a revived man. Fans can’t help but love Joel, even at his worst and most despicable, as there is always a reason for what he does. This fan-favorite status started when audiences found out what a great father he was before the Cordyceps virus took over, and stayed for the rest of the season.

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