Who are the Fireflies and FEDRA in ‘The Last of Us’?

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If you’re watching The Last of Us, you would have heard the words “Fireflies” and “FEDRA” thrown around in the first episode. But who are they again?

The two groups are featured both in the Naughty Dog game and the HBO adaptation by Chernobyl director Craig Mazin and The Last of Us creator Neil Druckmann. Now, it’ll be impossible for me to tell you everything about the Fireflies and FEDRA, as we’re only one episode in — if you’ve played the game, you’ll have much more knowledge of what happens with both these groups and the people in them as the story goes on. And beyond these two, there are plenty more raiders, smugglers, black market dealers like Robert (Brendan Fletcher), militant groups, and armed communities Joel (Pedro Pascal), Tess (Anna Torv), and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) come across in their travels.

But here’s what I can tell viewers of the HBO series so far about the Fireflies and FEDRA.

Who are the Fireflies in The Last of Us?

Natasha Mumba and Merle Dandridge play Fireflies Kim and Marlene.
Credit: Shane Harvey/HBO

The Fireflies are a highly-skilled, revolutionary militia group revolting against the U.S. government’s military arm FEDRA in the quarantine zones (QZs) across the country. Using repurposed (read: seized or smuggled) FEDRA gear and weapons, their goal is to liberate QZs from FEDRA forces and topple the military dictatorship — but they’re branded terrorists by the authorities. The Fireflies’ signature logo is an abstract design of a firefly, which the rebels spray all over the QZ walls along with written graffiti that reads, “When you’re lost in the darkness, look for the light.” It’s the Firefly motto, one Joel instantly recognises when approached by a recruiter in the marketplace.

When we encounter the Fireflies in the HBO series, we meet the Fireflies’ leader Marlene in their Boston QZ hideout, giving orders to put Firefly teams in place across the city. Perfectly embodied by Merle Dandridge, reprising her role from the game, Marlene is referred to by Tess as “the Che Guevara of Boston.” Having strategically blown up FEDRA targets over two weeks and ​​despite her second-in-command, Kim’s (Natasha Mumba) doubts, the plan is for all Boston Fireflies to leave the city.

A woman peers around a secret door with a torch into a corridor of bodies.
Tess (Anna Torv) did not expect to find the Fireflies here.
Credit: Shane Harvey/HBO

“We are in a war against a military dictatorship to restore democracy and freedom,” says Marlene. “Fight for 20 years and get nowhere, you’re not a rebellion. Just spray paint.”

One of these explosions is the car bomb that interrupts Tess’ conversation with black market dealer Robert — “Free Boston now, motherfuckers!” calls out a nearby Firefly sniper engaging FEDRA’s Incident Security Force from the rooftops. When Tess gets arrested by these authorities, she screams, “I’m not a Firefly!” and gets sent to lockup.

A teen sits on the floor, chained at the ankle, in a dilapidated apartment.
We first meet Ellie (Bella Ramsey) captive in the Fireflies’ Boston QZ hideout.
Credit: Shane Harvey/HBO

The bigger plan for Marlene’s Fireflies is to leave Boston and take Ellie west to a group of Fireflies supposedly waiting at the old State House in another QZ in Massachusetts. Marlene has known Ellie since her youth — Ellie was training in FEDRA’s military school, as Marlene explains she enrolled Ellie there to keep her safe — but Ellie snuck out and was bitten by an Infected. Marlene stopped her from being killed.

When attempting to find and pulverise Robert for screwing them over, Joel and Tess follow the trail to the Fireflies hideout, where Ellie has been held captive and monitored for signs of infection. Joel’s brother Tommy has had a history with the Fireflies, which means Joel doesn’t exactly have love for Marlene. But as Marlene is shot in her bad deal with Robert, Joel and Tess take on the journey with Ellie.

Who is FEDRA in The Last of Us?

A man lifts his hands in surrender to a military officer pointing his gun at him.
Joel (Pedro Pascal) is spotted by a FEDRA officer outside the Boston QZ.
Credit: Liane Hentscher/HBO

The Federal Disaster Response Agency (FEDRA) is the main authority in the U.S. following the outbreak of the Cordyceps fungus, a military arm of the government that has essentially replaced it. 

You’ll see FEDRA warning signs dotted all over the buildings in The Last of Us, as markers of quarantine zones, rules, and regulations to manage the fungal pandemic. “Safety begins with you,” reads a FEDRA sign listing the signs of Cordyceps infection. “Report Cordyceps to authorities immediately,” reads another detailing how long it takes to full infection with a diagram. FEDRA also runs factories for making ammunition and pharmaceuticals, as the FEDRA officer tells Joel in episode 1 of a factory in the Atlanta QZ that supposedly only makes both.

FEDRA acts as the law in the QZs, with surveillance marking the streets and perimeter in person or through security cameras. They enact the QZ curfew of 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. “to fight infection and insurrection,” as you can see specified on a sign Tess walks past in episode 1. FEDRA also has an Incident Security Force, which works to “secure areas,” within the QZs — this team engages a rooftop Firefly and wrongfully arrests Tess after the car bomb goes off.

Wearing navy military armor with ballistic shield helmets, FEDRA officers patrol the entrances to QZs, making sure no one gets in or out. If people arrive at the gates of the QZ, they’re taken to a processing station, where they’re checked for infection. When we first encounter FEDRA in The Last of Us, an officer is questioning a child who collapsed outside the QZ. They’re scanned with FEDRA’s bio device, and when found to be infected, they’re executed by injection.

A child sits restrained in a wheelchair next to a military officer in a dilapidated building.
Red is bad.
Credit: Shane Harvey/HBO

Infected are not the only ones executed by FEDRA, however. Joel witnesses a public hanging in the Boston QZ of people accused of violating FEDRA’s law. In these cases, unauthorised entry or exit in a quarantine zone. Each person was “tried in a court of military justice” and found guilty offscreen, but we’re not privy to how fair these trials were.

FEDRA has a list of jobs out for people in the QZ to sign up for, including street sweeping and sewer maintenance, of varying pay levels. In fact, FEDRA hires people to burn infected bodies (and probably not infected in there too) to avoid further spread, for which they can earn ration cards — Joel Miller is one of these people.

Essentially, FEDRA are the military authority in America in The Last of Us and the main focus of the Fireflies’ rebellion. And there’ll be more to each faction as the series progresses. 

The Last of Us is now streaming on HBO Max(opens in a new tab) with new episodes airing weekly on Sunday nights on HBO.

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