Who Is Riley? The Last Of Us’ Ellie Tease Explained

The Last of Us episode 1 features a big hint at Ellie’s past in both the games and the show by having Marlene mention a character named Riley.

Warning! This article contains spoilers for both HBO’s The Last of Us episode 1 and the original game.

HBO’s The Last of Us episode 1 featured a big tease to Ellie’s story through the mention of a character named Riley. The Last of Us episode 1 introduces Ellie as a captive of the Fireflies, a revolutionary militia group searching to end military oppression across the post-apocalyptic United States. After a scene in which Ellie is seemingly tested for an unknown reason, later revealed to be due to her immunity to the Cordyceps virus, she is introduced to Marlene.


Marlene, played by Merle Dandridge, reveals herself as the leader of the Fireflies in the Boston quarantine zone and frees Ellie (Bella Ramsey). During this conversation, Marlene – a character taken from the Last of Us game – reveals she knows Ellie’s true identity after the latter uses the alias Veronica. Ellie then accuses the Fireflies of being terrorists, to which Marlene replies “Was Riley a terrorist?” This mention of Riley is a big tease for the character development of Ellie, who is visibly moved by the mention of the name.

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Who Is Riley? HBO’s Last Of Us Tease Explained

Riley is a character from the DLC content of the original The Last of Us game. The DLC, titled The Last of Us: Left Behind, focuses on Ellie’s time in the Boston QZ and explores how she got bitten by an infected. Ellie, living at a FEDRA military school which was also mentioned in HBO’s The Last of Us episode 1, reunites with Riley, a former student of the school. Riley sneaks in and convinces Ellie to visit an abandoned mall in Boston. There, Riley and Ellie’s bond is shown, with the DLC featuring a kiss between the two. However, Riley and Ellie are tragically bitten and both agree to spend their last few hours together.

Eventually, after Riley seemingly turns, Ellie realizes the truth of her immunity which eventually is revealed to Marlene and the Fireflies, kickstarting the events of The Last of Us. The mention of Riley from Marlene in The Last of Us episode 1 hints at this story, which took place only weeks prior to the scene in question. Iconic scenes from the Left Behind story can be seen in the trailer for HBO’s The Last of Us, with Riley played by Storm Reid. This means that future episodes of The Last of Us will undoubtedly delve into the Left Behind storyline to further flesh out Ellie’s time before the events of the series.

Is Riley A Firefly? How Marlene Knows About Ellie’s Past

Marlene’s mention of Riley seemingly confirms that the latter was a Firefly after the former quested Ellie over whether Riley is a terrorist, considering Ellie deems the group as such. This begs the question of how Marlene knows about both Ellie’s past and her connection with Riley. The Last of Us: Left Behind answers this, with Ellie and Riley’s reunion coming after Riley sneaks back into the FEDRA compound after leaving the institution for the Fireflies. In the DLC, Riley explains that her group of Fireflies is being moved out of Boston and that she came to see Ellie one last time.

If HBO’s The Last of Us follows this storyline accurately and includes important game scenes from The Last of Us, which both the scenes of The Last of Us episode 1 and the trailers seem to confirm, Riley was indeed a Firefly under Marlene’s command. This, combined with the game knowledge that Marlene was close friends with Ellie’s mother Anna, confirms how the head of the Fireflies knows who Ellie is. Marlene confirms in The Last of Us episode 1 that she was the one who put Ellie in the FEDRA school to keep her safe, which hints at her connection with Anna also being explored in the show.

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The Last Of Us’ Riley Tease Exemplifies HBO’s Game Changes

One thing that this Riley tease in The Last of Us episode 1 confirms is how HBO will be changing elements from the game. The game initially told the story of Joel – played by Pedro Pascal in HBO’s show – and Ellie, with only a few hints at Riley sprinkled throughout. The story of Riley and Ellie was then told in DLC after players finished the events of the base game. However, Riley’s mention in The Last of Us episode 1 proves how the show’s TV format will allow it to explore its characters in ways the game could not.

From flashbacks littered throughout episodes and longer-form storytelling allowing for deeper explorations of the game’s characters, it is clear that The Last of Us will alter the game’s timeline. This is evident by the opening sequence of episode 1 which takes place in 2003 rather than 2013 and places a bigger focus on Sarah, changing The Last of Us’ timeline somewhat. However, the mention of Riley this early on in the story proves that the main change HBO will make to the game is by incorporating elements from DLC additions into the main story, as opposed to a spin-off or prequel series to The Last of Us.

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

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