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‘The Last of Us’ Episode 1: Why Depeche Mode’s ‘Never Let Me Down Again’ Ends It

Have you been furiously searching Depeche Mode’s “Never Let Me Down Again” today? You’ve obviously seen the first episode of The last of us.

From Chernobyl director Craig Mazin and The last of us creator Neil Druckmann, HBO’s adaptation of the Naughty Dog survival series debuted on Sunday. The emotional, intense debut episode introduced viewers to America in 2023 (eep), plunged into an apocalypse with the global outbreak of the Cordyceps fungus. Here, Joel Miller (Pedro Pascal) and his partner Tess (Anna Torv) have only one job: to get 14-year-old Ellie (Bella Ramsey) safely across the country crawling with infected and militaristic, murderous people.


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The episode ended with an elongated dolly shot, which showed a radio in Joel and Tess’ empty apartment in the Boston Quarantine Zone (QZ) playing Depeche Mode’s 1987 song “Never Let Me Down Again” from the album of the English group was played. Music for the masses. But what did it mean?

The clue to this final moment emerges when Ellie is first brought to Joel’s apartment after being handed over by Marlene (Merle Dandridge) and the Fireflies. They kill time until nightfall, before Tess, Joel, and Ellie plan to escape the QZ and embark on a journey. While Joel and Tess have a private conversation in the hallway about coming over to see their friends Bill and Frank (who are not yet in the series, but they are played by Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett) and stock up on supplies, Ellie investigates her new environment, find a radio and a copy of The Billboard Book of No. 1 Hits. She flips through the book and finds a note that reads:




80 — ❌

It’s clear Joel and Tess have been smuggling at this point for years, having set up their various channels to secure goods to trade. Part of this system is a radio broadcast from the authors of the note, B/F, which must be Bill and Frank. “The radio is a smuggling code, isn’t it?” Ellie asks Joel. Since Bill and Frank can’t trust Joel and Tess to have an encyclopedic knowledge of music, especially release dates, and Shazaming a song on a smartphone isn’t an option, the code relies on Joel and Tess to follow the The Billboard Book.

As Ellie correctly guesses, anything played over the radio in the ’60s means Bill and Frank have no new stock, the ’70s means new stock, and anything from the ’80s means trouble. Ellie suspects this by telling Joel that Wham’s 1984 single “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” played when he slept. “Code broken,” she whispers after his concerned response.

At the end of the episode, after the three escape the QZ, the radio starts playing Depeche Mode’s 1987 song in Joel and Tess’s empty apartment, meaning trouble is coming. Unfortunately, by the time the song airs, they’ve already left. Eep.

Depeche Mode’s lyrics can also be considered tongue-in-cheek thematic, in terms of Ellie and Joel’s perilous journey and their tense, tumultuous relationship: “I’m taking a ride with my best friend / I hope he never lets me down again let / he knows where he is who takes me / takes me where I want to be / I take a ride with my best friend.”

Either way, there are problems for our protagonists in more ways than one.

The last of us now flows through HBO max(opens in a new tab) with new episodes airing weekly on Sunday evenings on HBO.

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