In 2013, Joel is a single father living near Austin, Texas, with his twelve-year-old daughter Sarah . One night, an outbreak of a mutant Cordyceps fungus ravages the United States, transforming its human hosts into cannibalistic monsters. As Joel, his brother Tommy , and Sarah flee the chaos, Sarah is shot by a soldier and dies in Joel’s arms.
Twenty years later, most of civilization has been destroyed by the infection. Survivors live in heavily policed quarantine zones, independent settlements and nomadic groups. Joel works as a smuggler with his friend Tess in a Boston quarantine zone. They hunt down Robert an arms dealer, to recover a stolen weapons cache. Before Tess kills him, Robert reveals that he traded the goods to the Fireflies, a rebel group opposing the quarantine zone authorities. The leader of the Fireflies, Marlene , promises to double their stolen cache in return for smuggling a teenage girl, Ellie , to Fireflies hiding outside of the quarantine. Joel, Tess, and Ellie sneak out in the night, but after an encounter with a patrol, they discover Ellie is infected. Full infection normally occurs in under two days, but Ellie claims she was infected three weeks ago and that her immunity may lead to a cure. The trio make their way to their destination through hordes of infected, but find that the Fireflies there have been killed. Tess reveals she has been bitten by an infected; believing in Ellie’s importance, Tess sacrifices herself against pursuing military soldiers so Joel and Ellie can escape.
Joel decides to find Tommy, a former Firefly, in the hope that he can locate the remaining Fireflies. With the help of Bill a smuggler who owes Joel a favor, they acquire a working vehicle. Driving into Pittsburgh, they are ambushed by bandits and their car is wrecked. They ally with two brothers, Henry and Sam after they escape the city, Sam is bitten by an infected but hides it from the group. As his infection takes hold, Sam attacks Ellie, but Henry shoots him and then commits suicide out of grief.
In the fall, Joel and Ellie finally find Tommy in Wyoming, where he has assembled a fortified settlement near a hydroelectric dam with his wife Maria . Joel contemplates leaving Ellie with Tommy, but after she confronts him about Sarah, he decides to stay with her. Tommy directs them to a Fireflies enclave at the University of Eastern Colorado. There, they find the university abandoned, but learn that the Fireflies have moved to a hospital in Salt Lake City. As they leave, they are attacked by bandits and Joel is severely wounded.
During the winter, Ellie and Joel shelter in the mountains. Joel is on the brink of death and relies on Ellie to care for him. Hunting for food, Ellie encounters David and James scavengers willing to trade medicine for food; David reveals that the university bandits Ellie and Joel killed were part of his group. Ellie manages to lead David’s group away from Joel, but is eventually captured; David intends to recruit her into his cannibal group. She escapes after killing James but David corners her in a burning restaurant. Meanwhile, Joel recovers from his wounds and sets out to find Ellie. He reaches Ellie as she kills David; Joel consoles her before they flee.
In the spring, Joel and Ellie arrive in Salt Lake City and are captured by a Firefly patrol. In the hospital, Marlene tells Joel that Ellie is being prepared for surgery: in hope of producing a vaccine for the infection, the Fireflies must remove Ellie’s infected brain, which will kill her. Joel battles his way to the operating room and carries the unconscious Ellie to the parking garage. There he confronts and kills Marlene to prevent the Fireflies from pursuing them. On the drive out of the city, Joel lies to Ellie about what happened, telling her that the Fireflies had found many other people who are immune, but were unable to create a cure and have stopped trying. The pair arrive on the outskirts of Tommy’s settlement. Ellie expresses her survivor guilt and asks Joel to swear that his story is true; he does.
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- Chapter 1: Chapter 1