Over the course of its first season, HBO’s The Last of Us has repeatedly gone out of its way to honor the 2013 video game that inspired it. Not only has the critically acclaimed, postapocalyptic series stayed surprisingly faithful to its source material. but it’s also included references to the original Last of Us that only longtime fans of the property could catch. From a child’s drawing on a wall to a specific needle drop in its seventh episode, The Last of Us has snuck in plenty of deep-cut Easter eggs throughout its first season.
The live-action series has also featured a handful of cameo appearances from actors who were involved in the Last of Us video games. Here’s what new fans of the series should know about the cameos in question, including one actor’s major, but easy-to-miss appearance in the Last of Us season 1 finale.
Note: This article features spoilers for The Last of Us season finale.
Ashley Johnson as Anna
The Last of Us episode 9 opens with a surprising flashback. The season finale’s opening minutes follow Anna Williams, the mother of Bella Ramsey’s Ellie, as she not only gives birth to her daughter, but also experiences the infected attack that resulted in her death. By the end of the tragic sequence, viewers finally know, among other things, how Ellie was born, how her mother died, and how Ellie’s immunity was (accidentally) created.
The sequence would be noteworthy for just those reasons alone. However, what new fans of The Last of Us might not realize is that Ellie’s mother, Anna, is played by none other than Ashley Johnson. The BAFTA-winning actress portrayed Ellie in both of the original Last of Us video games, as well as the series’ 2014 DLC, Left Behind. Last of Us creators Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin have repeatedly noted how important Johnson’s performance was to the creation and formation of Ellie as a character, which only makes her role in the HBO series as Ellie’s mother that much more moving.
Troy Baker as James
In The Last of Us episode 8, Ellie and Joel (Pedro Pascal) run into a cult of religious fanatics-turned-cannibals that are led not only by the predatory David (Scott Shepherd). but also his lethargic right-hand man, James. The latter character is, notably, played by Troy Baker, who portrayed Joel in Naughty Dog and Sony’s Last of Us video games. Unfortunately for him, Baker’s James doesn’t make it out of his Last of Us episode alive.
Unlike Johnson, Baker’s role in HBO’s adaptation of The Last of Us doesn’t have any major connection to the character he played in the original games, either. That doesn’t make his appearance in episode 8 of The Last of Us any less noteworthy, though.
Laura Bailey as a Firefly Nurse
The season 1 finale of The Last of Us features the easiest-to-miss cameo of the entire series. Near the end of the episode, Joel marches into the Fireflies’ operating room and proceeds to gun down the surgeon who was preparing to operate on an unconscious Ellie. The room’s only other occupants are a pair of Firefly nurses, including one played by Laura Bailey. Bailey’s name will be familiar to anyone who has played 2020’s The Last of Us Part II as she portrayed Abby, the secondary protagonist of that divisive sequel.
As gamers will attest, Bailey’s scene in the HBO show’s season 1 finale will go on to be an important moment for the character she played in The Last of Us Part II. It’s also worth noting that Bailey originally voiced one of the Firefly nurses at the end of 2013’s The Last of Us. The actress was, however, replaced in the minuscule role when Sony and Naughty Dog remade the game last year.
Jeffrey Pierce as Perry
In its fourth and fifth episodes, The Last of Us introduces viewers to not only the militaristic leader of Kansas City’s rebel faction, Kathleen (Melanie Lynskey), but also her capable and devoted second-in-command, Perry. What first-time viewers might not know is that Perry is portrayed by Jeffrey Pierce, the actor who played Tommy, Joel’s brother, in the Last of Us video games.
Pierce is one of only a handful of Last of Us voice actors who were given the chance to appear in the new HBO series (others include Johnson, Baker, and Bailey). Only the next actor on this list, however, was cast as the same character in both the original Last of Us games and the current HBO adaptation.
Merle Dandridge as Marlene
In both the original Last of Us and its HBO adaptation, it’d be hard to classify Marlene, the leader of the Fireflies, as a “cameo” character. That admittedly makes her inclusion on this list a bit of a cheat. However, in keeping with the spirit of this list, it’s important to note that Marlene is played in the HBO series by Merle Dandridge, the actress who also played Marlene when she was originally brought to life as a video game character.
Dandridge isn’t just the only original Last of Us actor who got to play the same role twice, though. Thanks to the live-action series’ season 1 finale, she and Johnson are also the only members of the Last of Us video game cast who actually share a scene together in the HBO show.
The Last of Us Season 1 is streaming now on HBO Max.