HBO’s The Last of Us has taken viewers by storm since its premiere on January 15th. Based on the Playstation and Naughty Dog video game, the show takes place 20 years after the fall of society due to a pandemic caused by the spread of cordyceps, a parasitic fungus, that has infected people across the globe. The show follows our main protagonists Joel Miller (Pedro Pascal), a hardened survivor burdened with grief, and Ellie Williams (Bella Ramsey), a wisecracking teenage orphan who is more similar to Joel than either of them initially realize. Together, they must trek across the country through the ravaged cities and desolate towns throughout the United States in order to reach Joel’s brother Tommy in Wyoming and bring Ellie to a lab, as she is possibly humanity’s last hope for survival.
Joel and Ellie have a rocky start to their relationship. Joel has spent the last 20 years mourning his daughter who died during the chaos of Outbreak Day, the day when people first became infected. It has turned him into a closed-off, ruthless man whose walls are always up. Ellie is a product of the FEDRA-run country, as she is only 14 years old. She lost her parents and everyone else she has ever cared about. Both of them cope with their losses in different ways. Joel is always serious while Ellie is always cracking jokes. Despite their different coping mechanisms, they balance each other out. Since Ellie has only known a destitute, disease-riddled world, she is fascinated by Joel and his ability to be violent in order to survive. Meanwhile, Joel can’t help but be reminded of his daughter when interacting with Ellie, even though they couldn’t be more different. He realizes that he would do anything to protect her, and she realizes that she needs him.
They unknowingly build a father-daughter relationship that can’t be broken. She becomes the sarcastic child who doesn’t always do what she’s told, and he becomes the overprotective parent who would risk everything for her. It is the type of relationship that has been explored in other stories before, but one that people continue to cling to. Joel and Ellie’s relationship is actually quite similar to character duos in different media. Here are ten movie and TV show duos that mirror the dynamic between Joel and Ellie:
10 Logan and Laura – Logan (2017)
James Mangold’s Logan takes place in a near future where mutants are nearly extinct. Logan (Hugh Jackman) leads a quiet life as a limo driver and also takes care of an aging Professor X. That all changes when a mutant child named Laura (Dafnee Keen) comes to him for help as a team of scientists from the lab she was born in are pursuing her.
The start of Logan and Laura’s relationship is almost the same as Joel and Ellie’s. Logan is hardened and angry from years of protecting other mutants and losing people he’s cared about, and Laura is an orphan who is has grown up in an isolated world. He agreed strictly to take her to her destination, similar to Joel agreeing strictly to take Ellie to the lab only. Both men start to develop the fierce protectiveness of a parent as they continue their cross-country journeys with the children that essentially become their adoptive daughter. Laura and Ellie share similarities as well. Both girls don’t like being told what to do and have innate survival instincts due to growing up in environments that were hostile and not nurturing. The biggest difference between both duos is that Logan and Laura are technically related due to the lab experimenting with his DNA.
9 Leon and Mathilda – Leon: The Professional (1994)
After her entire family is murdered, 12-year-old Mathilda (Natalie Portman) is reluctantly taken in by Leon (Jean Reno), a professional assassin. A rather strange dynamic forms between the two of them as she becomes his protégée and learns the assassin’s trade.
While Leon: The Professional takes place in the regular world without infected people or mutant beings, the way in which Mathilda latched onto Leon mirrors the way in which Ellie latches onto Joel. Both of them are at first resistant to the thought of having a man they just met become ultimately responsible for them. However, they quickly become infatuated with Leon’s and Joel’s skill sets and capabilities. Mathilda learns the ways of an assassin through Leon, and Ellie learns how to properly defend herself through Joel. In turn, both Leon and Joel watch out for their adoptive daughters and put themselves in harm’s way for them.
8 Dean Winchester and Claire Novak – Supernatural (Seasons 10-13)
From seasons 10-13 of the massively adored (and critiqued) CW show, Supernatural, Sam and Dean Winchester (Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles) had quite a few encounters with Claire Novak (Kathryn Newton), the daughter of Castiel’s human vessel, Jimmy Novak. After Castiel took over Jimmy’s vessel, Claire’s mother left her in the care of her grandmother, so she could find herself. When her grandmother died, she ended up bouncing around different group homes and was ultimately betrayed by her surrogate father Randy when he gave her up to a loan shark. After that, Claire went off on her own and ended up becoming a hunter, much like Dean.
The similarities here lie mostly with Claire and Ellie. Both of them are teenage orphans who either lose or are betrayed by everyone they have ever trusted. The trauma of their pasts have left both of sarcastic and with a tendency for violence. While Dean was never a father figure for Claire, he was someone who would stop at nothing to keep her safe, just as Joel is with Ellie.
7 Theo Faron and Kee – Children of Men (2006)
Set in 2027, Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men follows a future where the women of the world have become infertile. A former activist named Theo (Clive Owen) agrees to help transport a miraculously pregnant woman to a sanctuary at sea.
Albeit it’s a unique take on the post-apocalyptic genre, the characters in Children of Men lead somewhat similar lives to the characters in The Last of Us. Society in both worlds have fallen apart because of a widespread anomaly that has effected the entire planet. Much like Joel’s situation, Kee was essentially placed in Theo’s lap, and he was tasked with delivering her to safety. Not only were they both given the task of protecting someone who could possibly be humanity’s only chance at true survival, but it was the dying wish of someone close to each of them to bring these girls to safety.
6 Joe Goldberg and Ellie Alves – You (Season 2)
Season 2 of Netflix’s hit series You finds its problematic protagonist Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) living on the West Coast in L.A, hoping to put behind him the crimes he committed back in Brooklyn. Of course, Joe quickly falls back into his bad habits again, but this time he has a teenage neighbor, Ellie (Jenna Ortega) to be weary of.
Joe is obviously not a good person. He thinks he is, but he is not. He is obsessive, arrogant, and possessive. He believes he is a good person because he cares deeply about people, but that “care” becomes toxic quickly and always leaves a body count behind him. Nonetheless, he actually did care about Ellie, the teenage sister of his landlord. He made sure that she never knew about the awful crimes he had committed, and ended up murdering a man who was being predatory towards Ellie. When Ellie’s older sister inevitably wound up dead at the hands of Joe and Love Quinn (Victoria Pedretti), he helped Ellie set up a new life for herself and would send her money frequently. Joe and Ellie Alves’ journey is not at all like Joel and Ellie’s journey, but their dynamic is similar. Both girls are wisecracking, independent individuals who can take care of themselves. Joe and Joel are only alike in the sense that they have killed innocent people, although in extremely different circumstances, but neither of the two men can help but care for these two girls.
5 Carl Fredricksen and Russell – Up (2009)
In Disney and Pixar’s Up, 78-year-old Carl Fredricksen finally decides to fulfill the childhood dream that he and his late wife shared. They wanted to travel to Paradise Falls, so he attaches a thousand balloons to his house in order to lift it off the ground and take it to the falls. However, his young neighbor ends up coming along for the adventure.
Carl and Joel are amusingly alike. They are both grumpy men who can’t take a joke and want as little to do with people as they possibly can. When they reluctantly end up taking care of a child they initially wanted nothing to do with, Carl and Joel become even grumpier before they naturally start to form a bond with their respective child cargo. Both Carl and Joel have experienced profound loss in their lives, and for both of them it takes a kid to heal their pain.
4 Kirsten and Jeevan – Station Eleven (2021-2022)
Set in a post-apocalyptic society after a deadly flu has ravaged the world, Station Eleven tells the stories of numerous survivors through different timelines as they try to rebuild and renew while still trying to hold onto the best of what they have lost.
Even though Kirsten was born before the devastating flu impacted the planet, she basically grew up in the post-flu world, just as Ellie has grown up in the post-pandemic world. Kirsten met Jeevan the night that society changed forever. Jeevan tried to send Kirsten back to her parents, but her parents were already gone when she arrived home. Jeevan assumed responsibility for her, and together the two of them figured out ways to survive as their way of life collapsed around them. Like Joel and Ellie, Jeevan and Kirsten traveled around the country to get to the next safest place and could only trust each other. Over time, they formed a special bond similar to that of a parent and child. Just as Ellie came to the realization that she can’t go through this world without Joel, Kirsten realized that she could not go through without Jeevan.
3 Tony Stark and Harvey Keener – Iron Man 3 (2013)
After the events of the Battle of New York, Iron Man 3 finds Tony Stark suffering from anxiety and PTSD. When a menacing terrorist by the name of the Mandarin personally threatens Tony, he embarks on a journey to find him and those who work for him. During this journey, he ends up finding help in the form of a precocious kid named Harvey Keener.
Tony basically set up shop in Harvey’s shed, so he could have a place to recharge his Iron Man suit and have a place for his A.I. Jarvis to work out of. Harvey’s mother worked long hours and his dad left years prior, so Harvey looked at Tony as a role model. Tony was reluctant in the beginning to let Harvey truly help, but it was more out of fear of the kid getting hurt. Ellie is definitely more crude than Harvey, but both of them share the inherent ability to get under the skin of whoever is helping them. They are both incredibly smart but also goofy. Just as Joel and Ellie end up relying on each other to make it through their journey, Tony and Harvey ended up relying on each other to get the suit to work and to navigate Tony to the Mandarin.
2 Steve Harrington and Dustin Henderson – Stranger Things (2016 – present)
When Netflix’s mega-hit series Stranger Things first started, Steve Harrington was not the lovable character he is now. Steve had the wrong friends in the beginning and was a bit of a bully. By the end of the first season, though, he had turned himself around and helped Nancy and Jonathan battle the Demogorgon that was in the Byers’ house. By the second season, he was the babysitter. Steve has been looking out for everyone’s favorite kids since then, and whether he admits it or not, he enjoys taking care of them.
Steve shares a special connection with Dustin that he doesn’t have with the other kids. Steve helped Dustin with his insecurities in the second season, and from then on they have been friends. Steve complains about always being the babysitter or the fact that there’s always a problem whenever the kids are involved, but Steve cares about Dustin. He is like the little brother that Steve never had. It is very similar to the relationship between Joel and Ellie. He may not admit it, but Joel wants to take care of Ellie and has developed a father-daughter relationship with her. He may remark about how she never listens or that she’s never serious, but he cares about Ellie.
1 Din Djarin and Grogu – The Mandalorian (2019 – present)
Pedro Pascal is good in everything he’s in, but if there’s one thing he is absolutely incredible at, it’s begrudgingly taking a child as cargo to deliver to safety only to eventually become said child’s surrogate dad who is willing to burn down the world for that child. Whether it’s as Din Djarin in The Mandalorian or as Joel Miller in The Last of Us, Pedro Pascal is the ultimate reluctant care taker of children.
Grogu and Ellie’s stories are predominantly the same. They are each a science experiment in the eyes of the people interested in them. For Grogu, it’s the Imperial Remnant. For Ellie, it’s the Fireflies. The Fireflies view Ellie as the only chance to develop a cure for the fungal plague that has been spreading around the world for two decades, turning people into the Infected. The Imperial Remnant views the post-Empire galaxy as a lawless land that needs order restored and although it’s unclear what their exact plans for Grogu are, they are desperate for him and his Force abilities. Grogu and Ellie have also watched everyone in their lives pre-Mando and pre-Joel either die or leave. Ellie grew up in a monster-filled wasteland, and Grogu witnessed the annihilation of the Jedi and was forced to repress his entire identity.
Both Mando and Joel are formidable warriors who have sacrificed much over the years in order to survive. They have seen and done things that no one would want to be part of. Most importantly, despite not having any desire to be responsible for anyone but themselves, they risk their lives and their worlds for the safety and protection of their adoptive children.