HBO’s The Last of Us’ warring factions, explained


Life in The Last of Us is hard, to put it extremely, extremely mildly. Traveling anywhere is tough and involves siphoning off 20-year-old gas from abandoned cars. Zombies are everywhere, in increasingly terrifying forms. No one will laugh at your pun book. Perhaps worst of all, there’s the sense that danger is all around, even from the other people around you.

The Last of Us universe is filled with factions, all clamoring to dominate in one form or another. Pretty much wherever Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) find themselves, they find groups posing a threat, either trying to enlist them, menace them, or worse. In a world with so many contingents one might be forced to wonder: What is the difference between all of these factions? What do they all want? And what exactly is there to fight over in a post-apocalyptic wasteland anyway?

The short answer is power. They all want it, most are willing to kill to get it, and the difference is in who has it, or how much they are able to exert it. As a collective, The Last of Us’ factions further the aims of the show (and the game), each one its own exploration of how connections to others are their own threat in this world. But each group’s actual goal within the story is a little different, hence all the division.


Photo: Shane Harvey/HBO

What they want: To be a government agency, ostensibly, and also govern the people (possibly by brutal means; see below).

The Federal Disaster Response Agency is the dominant ruling authority in The Last of Us’ United States. It’s a militarized government that oversees the quarantine zones, presiding with punitive force over cities around the U.S.

Though they’re ostensibly the highest authority in the show (or at least the figures with the most organized power, including manufacturing necessary goods), The Last of Us doesn’t prominently feature them. Mostly they’re a force in the narrative, with soldiers lining the streets of Boston in the early episodes, sometimes attacking or bartering with Joel as part of his smuggling work. Still, we’ve heard about how harsh they are: Neither Ellie nor Joel seem to speak very highly of their education work, and when Frank (Murray Bartlett) bemoans that Bill (Nick Offerman) thinks the government is all Nazis, Bill yells: “The government are all Nazis!”

Frank’s rebuttal — “Well, yeah, now! But not then!” — doesn’t paint a rosy picture of what FEDRA does in the Last of Us’ 2023.


Marlene (Merle Dandridge) talking to another Fireflies member

Photo: Shane Harvey/HBO

What they want: To overthrow FEDRA and restore something closer to pre-outbreak governmental authority.

While at this point in the season we mostly understand the Fireflies as a small faction rebelling against FEDRA’s rule, the guerrilla network has groups around the country. Marked as terrorists by the federal government, the Fireflies have been largely unsuccessful, though there have been a few cities where they’ve seen victories. Plus, they have graffiti all over the place — “When you’re lost in the darkness, look for the light” — and possibly the most powerful trump card in the world: a person with immunity to zombie bites.

It’s unclear, exactly, why the Fireflies would want to keep that a secret and not immediately use it to boost their profile against FEDRA. But it provides the reason to throw Joel and Ellie together and get them to Colorado. Plus, we know they at least sometimes have better connections than FEDRA — at least as Ellie seems to flaunt when she eats the chicken given to her by Boston Firefly leader Marlene (Merle Dandridge).


Kathleen (Melanie Lynsky) surrounded by other Hunters looking intense

Photo: Liane Hentscher/HBO

What they want: To overthrow Kansas City FEDRA (specifically, at least for starters).

In episode 4 we’re introduced to the Hunters (as they’re known in the game), a group that has ousted FEDRA from their city. Though Kansas City is now freshly couped, the Hunters already command a lot of frightening machinery — like the “RUN” plow — and are quick to violence to exert their rule. They’re led by Kathleen (Yellowjackets’ Melanie Lynskey), who is eager to hunt down a man named Henry who she believes had a hand in her brother’s death.

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