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

Living in Last of UsIt is difficult, to put this mildly. To travel to any place is hard and requires siphoning 20-year old gas from cars that are no longer in use. In ever more terrifying ways, zombies are all around. Your puns will be laughed at by no one. Perhaps worst of all, there’s the sense that danger is all around, even from the other people around you.

There are many factions in the Last of Us Universe, each clamoring for dominance. Joel (Pedro Pascal), and Ellie(Bella Ramsey), find that there are groups trying to threaten them or enlist them. It is easy to ask: what’s the difference in all these contingents when there are so many? They all have different goals. What are they all fighting for in this post-apocalyptic wilderness?

It is simple: power. All want it and most will kill for it. The difference lies in how they can exert power or who holds it. Collectively, 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.


A FEDRA officer standing over a child strapped to a wheelchair

Photo: Shane Harvey/HBO

They want this:Ostensibly to be a government agency and govern the people (possibly with brutal means, see below).

Federal Disaster Response Agency rules supreme 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), 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, Get it now! But it’s 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

They want this: FEDRA to be overthrown and a governmental system restored closer to the pre-outbreak period.

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. This gives Joel and Ellie a reason to come together 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

They want this:Kansas City FEDRA to be overthrown (at least temporarily).

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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