The Last of Us HBO: Who are the Fireflies?

This post contains mild spoilers for the game series The Last of Us to contextualize a group of people in the HBO series.

After the 2011 release of Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us game, it didn’t take long for the concept to dip its toe in the world of the multimedia franchise. A prequel comic dropped not long after, and since then, we’ve seen board games, remasters, TTRPGs, and more. After some starts and stops on a potential film series, HBO’s TV adaptation is finally here, and longtime fans and newcomers alike are ready to see a live action take on this grim apocalyptic tale.

One major teaser dropped in The Last of Us trailers has been the introduction of the Fireflies, a major rebellious faction in the games that just about every character is tied to in some way or another. As gamers know, The Last of Us loves to throw in a shocking twist that makes us question everything we’ve learned, so it’s hard to say exactly what role they’ll play in the first season of the show. However, the trailers have featured people painting over the Fireflies insignia, and that gives us the heads up that they might not be universally beloved. To find out more, we can always look to where it all began – the games.

How the Fireflies Came to Be in the Game

The Last of Us is based in a post-apocalyptic world where a mutation of the cordyceps fungus broke out and decimated the population. Those infected behave much like zombies and are prone to hungrily attacking the uninfected, but unlike a standard zombie, they are very much alive and simply suffering from an illness that has fundamentally changed them. As such, they exist in stages, with the recently infected displaying a different set of characteristics than more advanced cases. Though the TV series will no doubt make plenty of changes to previously established canon, we know that the game’s main characters, Joel Miller and Ellie Williams, will be bringing their classic father/daughter bond to the small screen as they attempt to navigate this devastated world together.

When the outbreak first occurred, the authoritarian group known as FEDRA (Federal Disaster Response Agency) declared martial law and took control of the military, establishing a new world order on a terrified populace. They control the QZs (Quarantine Zones), forcing most survivors to comply with them. In opposition to this, the Fireflies were formed, but they aren’t necessarily without major systemic flaws of their own.

What Do The Fireflies Want?

In the beginning, the Fireflies not only wanted to end FEDRA’s violent rule and return to a more democratic form of government, they were also a primary group actively searching for a cure. In many ways, that’s how the story kicks off. In the The Last of Us: American Dreams prequel comic, we see that Ellie and her friend Riley were captured by the Fireflies, and the latter worked hard to join the group only to die after being infected through a bite. This is how Ellie is revealed to be immune to the infection, as she suffers no side effects from a bite whatsoever. As such, Firefly Marlene sends Ellie with Joel in hopes that her immunity will help develop a cure, though this hope fades with time.

Overall, the group often relies solely on instigation and using desperate civilians to do their fighting for them. Though they occasionally succeed in overthrowing FEDRA chapters, they are likewise scattered via various factions and don’t always see eye to eye with one another or even share common goals. While the Fireflies ostensibly exist to wrest power out of FEDRA’s hands, what the group would do with that authority remains in question, leading many, such as Joel, to believe they would simply be another group of oppressors given the chance. In game continuity, the group officially disbanded, but as of its sequel there have been attempts at a revival.

Which Characters Are Fireflies?

Fireflies can be identified by their clothes, as they usually dress in green, yellow, or occasionally brown, but a major way the group discerns between real members and spies is through their pendants. They have a slogan, “When you are lost in darkness, look for the light,” which appears spray painted on walls across the country. Other than that, the group is mostly marked by an idealistic outlook that is inspiring to some, and off-putting to others. The game introduced us to a number of Fireflies, but it’s hard to say for sure who will be making appearances in the show.

For the moment, the confirmed Fireflies that will be making the jump from game to screen include leader Marlene and a former Firefly — Joel’s estranged brother — Tommy. In a game full of morally complicated characters, Marlene remains among the most complex, devoting her life to what often appears to be a lost cause in searching for a cure but sometimes neglecting the human cost of her choices. Meanwhile, Tommy became disillusioned with the group, but he was the one that pointed Marlene in the direction of Joel in case she needed anything, helping to kick off this whole story.

What Role Will the Fireflies Play in The Last of Us HBO?

This, we don’t know for sure. Though the trailers have given us a glimpse that much of the premise will follow along with the original game, chances are there are going to be a lot of shake ups along the way. The Fireflies may very well take on a more complicated political overtone, or we may barely see them at all. What we do know is that the casting is top-notch, with Marlene’s voice actor from the game, Merle Dandridge, taking on her role in the series, and Gabriel Luna stepping up as Tommy. For the rest, we’ll just have to wait and see.

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