Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers for The Last of Us Season 1The world of The Last of Us is one that is dark and bleak. Humanity is just scraping by in its survival against the mutated Cordyceps fungus and each other. As there are few, the moments in The Last of Us that allow us to breathe from its pessimistic tones are the most cherished. In both the original video game and the critically acclaimed HBO adaptation, Joel Miller (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie Williams (Bella Ramsey) come across a family of giraffes while cutting through an abandoned building on their journey to Saint Mary’s Hospital. The scene is brief, but the relief it brings is greatly appreciated as it serves as a reminder that life finds a way to go on. It also reinvigorates the spirit of hope and innocence in spite of a world ravaged and left desolate by the Infected.
What Giraffes Symbolize in ‘The Last of Us’
Throughout the story, giraffes have been used as a symbol of hope, innocence, and life moving forward. In the game, Sarah keeps a stuffed giraffe in her room during the original source’s prologue which can be interpreted as scenery symbolism for the innocence of the world before the infection takes over. Within its downloadable content, The Last of Us: Left Behind, giraffes can be found in the claw machine in Raja’s Arcade when Ellie and Riley sneak off to the Liberty Gardens mall in Boston. Here, the giraffes represent another moment of innocence as the two are escaping from the state of the world and the militant war between FEDRA and the Fireflies, which they were raised and indoctrinated into. There’s even a sense of aspiration within the escapism as we see them address their feelings for each other. This brings about an underlying tone of wishing for more than what they’ve been born into and a possible future together, even at such a young age.
In contrast to both this and their later meaning within the show, as we follow Ellie, Tess (Anna Torv), and Joel making their way across the city in Episode 2 of the live-action series, they pass by a plush giraffe toy on the ground. It’s mangled, and grimy and while it may just be a simple Easter egg, it can be viewed in a couple of ways symbolically: This can be a reference towards the effects the Infected have wrought on the hope and innocence of the world, or it can be a showing of the hope that can still be found within its current, decrepit state.
As we travel the country with Joel and Ellie, this same use of symbolism can be found all across their world. Within the video game, players come across promotional posters for movies like “Giraffic Park” and zoos, all of which continue to show the audience glimpses of a past world untouched by the mutated fungus. When we go through Ish’s safehouse in the Pittsburg sewers, the children of his group made drawings of giraffes along the walls as part of the decoration to maintain a sense of the world they missed and desired to return to. Near the conclusion of the game and the show’s first season, fans can spot them along the walls of the Pediatric ward of Saint Mary’s Hospital. This portion specifically has a deeper meaning that emphasizes Joel’s desperation to return to the life he had as well as Ellie’s hope to save humanity from the terrible future she’s a part of.
Culturally, giraffes have a number of meanings that can be seen in the first season of The Last of Us. They’re often seen as the restoration of balance, a totem of aspiration, and a sure-footed guide during the toughest of times due to their size and keen eyesight. In the momentary bliss from the desolation which Joel, Ellie, and the audience are granted, we see all these come into play. We’re shown a contrasting burst of reassurance that life continues without regard to humanity, giving hope that there’s a glimmer of light somewhere in this bleak world. As we take this breather with the awestruck characters, we’re also provided comfort that beauty still exists in an otherwise wretched world.
What ‘The Last of Us’ Giraffe Scene Means for Joel and Ellie
After her harrowing encounter with David and the cannibals, Ellie is understandably distraught. She’s no longer the plucky, jovial child whom fans have come to know. Instead, she has become reserved and distant, similar to Joel, until she’s suddenly snapped out of it by something off-scene which she gives chase to. When we finally catch up to her, we find Ellie standing in front of a family of giraffes, something she’s possibly seeing for the first time. As Joel joins her, this scene serves multiple purposes: Both Ellie and Joel are provided a vibrant, colorful light in the darkness after both nearly had everything, including their lives, torn from them. Witnessing this family of giraffes existing seemingly unphased by an otherwise living nightmare serves as a reminder of the bigger picture and reinforces their resolve to push forward.
Their shared moment interacting with and feeding the giraffes not only strengthens the father-daughter bond between Ellie and Joel, it also impacts them individually. Joel is reminded of how much he’s lost and misses being a father, as well as what Ellie has come to mean to him in relation to his trauma. While this seems like a good thing, the show of life moving forward regardless of the circumstances gives him the false reason to make the decision he did in order to retake the life he desperately misses via raising Ellie as his own. When it comes to her, although Ellie is still struggling to come to terms with her recent trauma, she has a return to self during this beautiful experience. She’s emerged from her encounter with David with purpose as she’s reminded that there’s more to life than the horrific bubble they exist in and that she’s the key to the human race’s survival. This jolt of hope gives her the resolve needed to see her sacrifice through and do everything she can to help in the fight against the Infected.
Will We See More Giraffe References in Season 2 of ‘The Last of Us’?
In The Last of Us: Part II, after the time jump to Joel and Ellie living in Jackson, players can notice a giraffe plush in Ellie’s house on her bed. This can be seen simultaneously as a contextual connection between her and Sarah as well as a totem for hope, guidance for her now uncertain future, and a memory of a deeply meaningful part of her life. As this is more of an inference rather than something directly communicated with the audience, there’s no guarantee of it translating to the HBO series’ second season. However, that doesn’t negate it or something similar making an appearance. Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann are already familiar with planting Easter eggs, so they could easily find a way to sneak more giraffe symbolism or something similar in.
All episodes of The Last of Us are currently available on HBO Max.
Find out everything we know so far about Season 2 of The Last of Us, including how much it will connect to The Last of Us: Part II.