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The Entire Last Of Us Timeline Explained

The world of The Last of Us has dangers waiting around every corner. Filled with deplorable humans who have seemingly lost their humanity and creatures of genuine nightmares, it isn't a franchise for the faint of heart. And yet, the series is one of gaming's most celebrated and its characters are instantly recognizable to most players. There's even an exciting TV adaptation in the works.


There are a lot of elements of The Last of Us that draw players in, from the unique take on zombies to the stunning visuals to the intense performances. But the duo of games also prove that developer Naughty Dog is a powerhouse when it comes to worldbuilding. It isn't just about presenting the player with a post-apocalyptic world after a deadly outbreak — it's about studying humanity as it progresses, or arguably regresses, following such an event.

The Last of Us and its sequel excel in environmental storytelling. Both games leave key information within collectible items that greater explain in-game events and groups like the Fireflies and the WLF. By studying these in tandem with dialogue and cutscenes, the greater timeline is pieced together.


Beware: spoilers for both The Last of UsThe Last of Us: Left Behind, and The Last of Us Part 2 lie ahead.

The spread

The Cordyceps Brain Infection, or CBI, can turn a regular human into a rage-filled, ravenous beast in a matter of hours. The fungus spreads through bite and grows on a host's brain to control them. And although it's terrifying to see how time and environment can cause CBI to mutate, it's also pretty scary that it's based on a real-life fungus.


Luckily for the world, the real cordyceps only targets small insects like ants. With different strains existing for different insects, Naughty Dog wanted to explore what could happen if one existed for humans. The fungi's point of origin remains the same in the games. During the opening chapter, players can find a newspaper that explains where CBI came from.

The fungus grew on crops in South America that were imported into various places around the world. However, the FDA warned against crops from Central America and Mexico as well. Unfortunately, the discovery of contaminated crops was too late as the same newspaper shows hospital admittance in Austin, Texas alone had risen 300% due to a mysterious infection.


Outbreak Day

CBI began to spread around the world very quickly, and on Sept. 26, 2013, it reached critical mass. That date has lived on in infamy for The Last of Us fans, partially because Naughty Dog celebrates it every year with sales and limited run merchandise. But there's also the fact that Outbreak Day begins the first game in truly brutal fashion.


Joel shares his birthday with Outbreak Day. And although the game starts with a loving scene between him and his daughter Sarah, it obviously doesn't stay that way for long. In the early hours of Sept. 27, their home quickly becomes unsafe and the two attempt to flee with Joel's brother Tommy. But with the infected quickly overrunning Austin, the Army and National Guard are mobilized to contain the outbreak.

In a scene that sets the tone for the rest of the series, a soldier opens fire on Joel and Sarah fearing they may be infected. While Tommy arrives in time to save his brother, Joel holds Sarah in his arms as she dies.

FEDRA Quarantine Zones

Following Outbreak Day, the Federal Disaster Response Agency, or FEDRA, set up Quarantine Zones within major cities. But the group's power grew out of the fall of bureaucrats and an implementation of Marshall Law. FEDRA may have had good intentions at first, quarantining large groups of uninfected citizens inside the US's largest cities. But as The Last of Us shows, its treatment of citizens was anything but just.


In 2033, 20 years after Outbreak Day, there aren't many Quarantine Zones left. But FEDRA is in full power within those that remain. Joel's journey begins in the Boston Quarantine Zone, a police state where soldiers uphold strict curfews and checkpoints while citizens are often drafted for work duty lest they be kicked out of the zone or have their food rations restricted.

However, it seems that FEDRA has always treated citizens rather poorly. Joel and Ellie's journey takes them through the Pittsburgh Quarantine Zone, which FEDRA abandoned long ago following a rebellion of citizens. FEDRA also inadvertently created some of its biggest enemies, such as the Fireflies.

The Fireflies

The Fireflies were formed in direct opposition to FEDRA after witnessing its militaristic oppression of citizens. But they were also formed on the hope of finding a cure for CBI and returning the world to some sense of normalcy.


It's unclear exactly where and when the Fireflies were first formed. The scattered news coverage during the opening credits of The Last of Us implies the group formed early on before the fall of media outlets. And there seem to be groups of Fireflies in multiple cities across the country given their strong presence in Boston at the beginning of the game and the fact that some of them helped liberate Pittsburgh. It's also unclear who the Fireflies' founder or founders are. Although Marlene is the leader in The Last of Us, it's never stated that she created the group.

Regardless, by the time Joel and Ellie reach the end of their journey, the Fireflies are mainly headquartered in Salt Lake City. And due to their constant war against FEDRA, they are decreasing in numbers.


The Washington Liberation Front

The Washington Liberation Front, whose members are known as "Wolves," is a militaristic group seen in The Last of Us Part 2. But their foundation came long before the events of the second game. They are another group that formed to combat FEDRA, this time in the mid-2020s. But unlike the Fireflies, they had no goal of finding a cure for CBI.


The WLF was formed within the Seattle Quarantine Zone due to constant food shortages and FEDRA's expulsions of its citizens. The group was formed by Jason and Emma Patterson alongside Isaac Dixon, though many fought back against FEDRA by stealing supplies and handing out anti-FEDRA propaganda. FEDRA eventually labeled the WLF as a terrorist organization and killed the Pattersons, which left Dixon to step in as the sole leader.

Under Dixon's leadership, the WLF grew increasingly violent and all-out war against FEDRA broke out. The WLF overtook Seattle and formed its own community within the city's stadium to consolidate resources. But the WLF would soon find its battles were far from over.

The Seraphites

The WLF wasn't the only group to form out of FEDRA's occupation in Seattle. The Seraphites, a group of violently religious fanatics in The Last of Us Part 2, also formed around this same time. They were founded by an unnamed woman known only as their Prophet, who believed CBI was a result of humanity's sin and overreliance on machines. And her following grew larger as FEDRA and the WLF continued to wage war against each other.


Not much is known about the Prophet; even her death remains a mystery. But her message resonated with a lot of Seattle's citizens, eventually leading to the formation of their own community on an island off the coast.

Over the years, violence between the Seraphites and the WLF grew exponentially, especially so following a broken truce. The Prophet's followers and the community's Elders often use her words to justify their own acts, which include disembowelment and marrying underage members.

Ellie's upbringing

Ellie, the series' most crucial character, was born in 2019. Her mother, Anna, passed away shortly following Ellie's birth and left her in the care of Marlene, her close friend and leader of the Fireflies. However, the environment the Fireflies typically find themselves in isn't exactly the best place for a child. Therefore, Marlene sought to keep Ellie safe by keeping her inside the Boston quarantine zone.


The American Dreams prequel comic opens with Ellie joining a new military boarding school within the zone. It's here where she meets Riley, another orphan who quickly becomes Ellie's closest friend. The two go on an adventure, surviving an infected attack, before having a run-in with the Fireflies.

Despite Marlene's connection to Anna, American Dreams is when Ellie officially meets her. Marlene gives Ellie a letter from her mother, as well as her mother's switchblade, which Ellie carries with her across the series. But Riley's introduction is probably the most important aspect as she becomes an important piece to Ellie's development.

Left Behind

By the end of American Dreams, it is clear that Riley wants to join the Fireflies rather than be turned into a soldier at a FEDRA military school. And in the Left Behind DLC, she finds Marlene and leaves Ellie for months, only to come back to break the news that she plans to leave Boston soon.


The night that Riley returns, she and Ellie go on one last adventure to their favorite spot inside the quarantine zone: an abandoned mall. The two take funny pictures in a photo booth, explore a Halloween store, and have a shootout with water guns. Unfortunately, after the two share an adorable kiss, they are attacked by a group of infected.

This is a defining moment in Ellie's characterization. The two are bitten and decide to turn together. But in a scene that players hear about but never witness, Ellie doesn't turn. She learns she is immune and loses the most important person in her life in the same moment.

Joel and Ellie's journey

In the Summer of 2033, Marlene hires Joel and his partner Tess to smuggle Ellie out of the Boston quarantine zone into the care of other Fireflies. On top of being shot herself, the Fireflies' ongoing confrontations with FEDRA have spread Marlene's resources pretty thin.


Tess and Joel don't find out about Ellie's immunity until after they've accepted the job. But with the Fireflies they're meant to meet killed and Tess bitten, it becomes much more than a job to Joel. Tess sacrifices herself to fend off FEDRA troops and thus begins Joel and Ellie's nearly year-long journey in The Last of Us.

The two are consistently confronted with infected, Hunters, cannibals, and dead ends in their search for more Fireflies. But with the allure of using Ellie to develop a cure for CBI, the pair persevere and eventually find them in Salt Lake City. But despite having access to impressive doctors, reverse-engineering a vaccine isn't such a simple thing.

The slaughter of the Fireflies

After many hardships, Joel and Ellie discover the Fireflies have made the abandoned quarantine zone in Salt Lake City their headquarters. They reach the city in Spring of 2034, though their arrival is rocky to say the least. Following an encounter with a group of infected, Ellie nearly drowns and Joel is knocked unconscious by a pair of Fireflies while trying to resuscitate her.


Awakening in a hospital, Joel is informed of Ellie's fate by Marlene. The CBI has mutated inside Ellie and in order to create a vaccine, the doctors must remove the fungus. Since CBI grows on the host's brain, it means certain death for Ellie. Joel's loss of his daughter and his growing attachment to Ellie over the past year culminate in one of the most famous endings in modern gaming.

Joel murders all Fireflies that stand in his way, including Marlene and the lead surgeon, Dr. Jerry Anderson. He then lies to Ellie about the Fireflies, saying their research has hit a dead end and that they've stopped looking for a cure. Dr. Anderson's daughter, Abby, and many other Fireflies go on to join the WLF.


Life in the commune

In the epilogue of the first game, Joel and Ellie arrive at Tommy's commune in Jackson County, Wyo. Although Tommy's prosperous life is mentioned in The Last of Us, players get a taste of the happiness at the beginning of Part 2.


When the game begins, Joel and Ellie have been living there for four years. And while it was a mostly happy existence, Ellie's mistrust of Joel grew until she returned to Salt Lake City and uncovered the truth. She then broke ties with Joel as she believed his decision ruined the chance for her life to mean something.

And all along, vengeance was festering inside Abby Anderson. Though she and her friends had been taken in by the WLF, she never forgot about the man who murdered her father in cold blood. In late 2037, information from some ex-Fireflies led to her finding out about Tommy's commune. And in early 2038, she and her friends traveled to Jackson and murdered Joel right in front of Ellie.


Those three days

The majority of The Last of Us Part 2 takes place in Seattle over the course of three days. After Joel's murder, Tommy leaves his home and wife behind in search of revenge on Abby. Ellie, her romantic interest Dina, and, eventually, Dina's ex Jesse go after him. Ellie spends those days tracking Tommy and Abby, but also taking out Abby's team of allies that helped in killing Joel.


As the days go on, Ellie commits more and more violent acts to reach her goal. The process causes her to almost lose herself, though the safety of a pregnant Dina and a particularly violent murder cause her to rethink things.

Meanwhile, Abby has her own journey of self-discovery. In addition to being hunted by Tommy and clashing with Seraphites, she becomes entangled in the lives of Yara and Lev. These siblings are Seraphite outcasts, looking for safety after the transgender Lev broke the strict rules of their community. Abby attempts to help them and begins to show a different side. But after discovering her friends dead at the hands of Ellie and Tommy, Abby confronts the Jackson crew, kills Jesse, and nearly kills Dina until Lev stops her.


The farm

Abby and Ellie's fight on Seattle's third day, while intense, left both of them alive. With Dina pregnant — with the recently deceased Jesse's child, no less — the two wanted to settle down and live a quiet life. And that's exactly what they did, at least for a time, by fixing up an abandoned farmhouse near Tommy's commune in Jackson.


In 2039, the two are living there and taking care of Dina's child, JJ. However, Ellie still suffers from PTSD. And a visit from Tommy convinces her that killing Abby is the only way to find peace. Even though she breaks Dina's heart in the process, Ellie follows up on Tommy's information.

Meanwhile, Abby and Lev have long left Seattle. The deaths of their loved ones and the war between their communities meant it was no longer home for them. The two follow up on a lead that the Fireflies have reformed and are in Santa Barbara. And while this leads to them making contact with the group, which is on Catalina Island, it's still a long while before they get their happy ending.

Santa Barbara

Abby and Lev have their hopes ripped away when they are taken by the Rattlers, a group that captures travelers and forces them into slave labor. Unluckily for them, Ellie comes looking for Abby with an arsenal.


After slaying the Rattlers and freeing the prisoners, Ellie finds Abby and Lev tied to posts by the shore: a fate reserved for the Rattlers' more inconvenient captives. While it's unclear how long Abby and Lev have been imprisoned, their dilapidated appearances point to it at least being a couple of months.

However, after giving up her peaceful life in pursuit of Abby and nearly killing her, Ellie finds she can't take Abby's life and lets her and Lev go. The ending image of a boat on shore implies that Abby and Lev made it to the Fireflies.

But for Ellie, the ending is much sadder. She returns to her farmhouse to find it abandoned save for her belongings. But she leaves them behind, walking towards the horizon and perhaps leaving room for The Last of Us Part 3.