Apparently, there's no way to extricate the parasite without eliminating the host. Fancy way of saying we gotta kill the fucking kid. And now they're asking for my go ahead. The tests just keep getting harder and harder, don't they? I'm so tired. I'm exhausted and I just want this to end... so be it. [...] Oh I miss you Anna. Your daughter will be with you soon.
— Marlene's insight on Ellie's surgery
As a Firefly, Marlene fights against the totalitarian rule of the military within the Quarantine Zones to restore a form of functional government. The Fireflies have been successful in overthrowing military rule in several zones, but their efforts have not always achieved the desired results. Despite her and her organization's attempts to restore order, their numbers have begun to dwindle as the military begins to push back and kill members found within the zones. In addition to all this, Marlene had her organization keep a close eye on Ellie as part of her promise to Anna.
She was once close with Joel's brother, Tommy, when he was a member of the Fireflies. After a while, however, Tommy gave up on the cause and decided to leave. Before he left, he told Marlene that if she ever needed anything, she could count on Joel to help her.
Events of The Last of Us: American DreamsEdit
- Main article: The Last of Us: American Dreams: Issue 4
After retreating from a losing firefight with the Boston military, Marlene arrived in time to save Ellie and Riley from the infected in an abandoned mall outside the zone. She had the two girls gagged and tied up before taking them to a smugglers' tunnel. Coming back from finding some bread and other things, Marlene later frees the girls of their bindings. Riley immediately requests that she join the Fireflies but Marlene denies her, reasoning that too many men had died for the cause. Their argument is cut short when hostile smugglers arrived and opened fire on the group.
Once the smugglers were killed, Riley persisted in joining and dying for the cause if necessary, prompting Marlene to point a gun at her. Thinking that she would shoot, Ellie grabs Trevor's gun and points it at Marlene to drop hers. Marlene does but states that she never intended to kill Riley. She then reveals that she was friends with Ellie's mother Anna and gives Ellie a switchblade as well as a letter. Marlene then directs the two girls back to the military boarding school in the quarantine zone.
Events of Left BehindEdit
- Main article: The Last of Us: Left Behind
Sometime afterwards, Marlene had the Fireflies lure Riley to her, who was still looking to join the Fireflies. Her men cornered Riley in an alley when she tailed Trevor, and took the girl to Marlene, only stating "what took you so long?" and revealed that she wanted to test her resolve when they last met. As part of Riley's initiation into the Fireflies, Marlene had the girl kill an infected. When Riley asked whether Ellie can join the organisation, Marlene told her that she wanted Ellie to stay safe at the military school and forbade Riley to see her again.
Six weeks later Ellie and Riley were bitten at the same abandoned mall. Marlene took Ellie back under her wing, almost shooting her when she found out she'd been bitten. When Ellie failed to succumb to the CBI as her friend Riley did, Marlene realized that she was immune. This is key to their cause which is to find a vaccine.
Events of The Last of UsEdit
Looking to keep up the morale of the Fireflies, Marlene makes a deal with a smuggler named Robert and purchases a cache of guns. She goes to close the deal and, during events unseen, she is badly injured. When she finally locates Robert, Tess and Joel have killed him. Tess demands her guns from Marlene, who refuses to give them up at first. Marlene decides to concede when she asks them to smuggle something out of the city for her. Tess agrees on the basis that she is allowed to see the weapons before committing entirely.
Marlene guides them through the docks and around the military patrols still searching for the Fireflies that attacked the checkpoint within the city. She explains that the Fireflies have attempted to leave the city, but the military mean to use the Fireflies as scapegoats by inciting violence. As a result, the Fireflies have fought to defend themselves.
Marlene successfully leads them back to her hideout as she collapses. Assuming Marlene is in danger, Ellie tries to attack Joel from behind with a switchblade, but Tess stops her. Marlene assures her friend she will recover, but she cannot come with her. Ellie wants to stay with her, but Marlene reminds her that this may be their only chance to get her out of the city. Marlene asks Joel to watch over Ellie during their journey to the capital building, an idea Ellie objects to. Marlene assures her that she can trust Joel. Once Ellie is safe with Joel, Marlene takes Tess to verify the weapons.
Once Marlene recovered from her injuries, she and the rest of her surviving men left Boston and moved to join up with the rest of the Fireflies in Salt Lake City. Along the way, she and her men were attacked by the Infected losing two of their members, leading to the group entering a dismal phase. However, they soon brightened up, much to Marlene's happiness. By March 2034, Marlene barely made it to the city with the rest of her men intact. They reached the hospital, the group and Marlene entering better spirits at bring reunited with friends they hadn't seen in as long as ten years. She soon finds out that the Fireflies that were supposed to meet Ellie and the smugglers at the Capitol Building were already killed. With no way of knowing where they are, coupled with the losses she endured during her trek with her men across the country, she sinks into anxiety and depression over her capabilities as a leader, even being unable to eat. Just a month later, April 25th, Marlene even begins to doubt her cause as a Firefly, feeling a need to run away from her team though she doesn't go through with it.
On April 28, 2034, Firefly scouts report that they spotted an older man and a young girl in the tunnels, who turn out to be Joel and Ellie. Joel was knocked unconscious by a Firefly while Ellie, having nearly drowned, was taken to the surgery room to be examined. Initially overjoyed to see them, the doctors tell Marlene that the unique mutation of CBI within Ellie may make it possible for them to reverse-engineer a vaccine. However, the doctors cannot operate on her friend’s brain without killing her. The doctors ask for her “permission” to go ahead with the procedure, a formality Marlene assumes is done merely on principal as she does not think she could stop the operation regardless. She decides to make the choice and allows them to proceed. The decision is painstaking on her. She records two ruminations to Anna over the choice she is about to make, but remains firm that it needs to be done.
Marlene thanks Joel for looking after Ellie, grateful they both survived the ordeal to get to the hospital. When she tells him of Ellie’s situation and the possibility of a vaccine being produced, he objects to the idea. Marlene, sympathetic to his turmoil, tells him that Ellie’s death is necessary and far more important than anything either of them may feel for her as surrogate parents. She tells the Firefly with her, Ethan, to lead him out but only shoot him should he attempt to stop the operation. Earlier, other Fireflies suggested to Marlene that she just kill Joel, but she refuses to kill the one person who understands what she’s going through.
Her decision to keep him alive allows Joel, having escaped from and killed Ethan, to stop the operation and force Ellie from the doctors. Marlene waits for Joel in the parking lot of the hospital to dissuade him at gunpoint. She tries to intimidate him with terrible scenarios that could happen to Ellie; death at the hands of Clickers, sexual assault, and/or murder committed by thugs.
Marlene tells him that Ellie would want to follow through with the surgery and that he can still do the right thing by handing her over. She lowers her gun and raises her hands in a show of peace, but Joel shoots her in the side and places the unconscious Ellie inside a car. Bleeding out, Marlene begs Joel to let her live. He appears to hesitate, but kills her anyway, stating that she will pursue Ellie to get her back anyway. After driving away, Joel lies to Ellie that the Fireflies gave up looking for a cure, so that she can get back to living and get over her survivor's guilt.
This can be interpreted in many ways as there is a tape by the surgeon who was going to perform the procedure himself. It is for the most part, ambiguous, and overall states how Ellie can be used for a cure. However, near the end, he states "All the sacrifices of those men and women or worse, will not be in vain." This puts forth to the fact possibilities that there were others like Ellie. It also twists the fact that Joel's statement changes from supposed lies to mysterious truth when he addresses Ellie in the end, putting Marlene's judgement up to interesting conversation as a true martyr to her group's cause.
It is implied that Marlene and Tess knew each other before the events of the game; Marlene going so far as to call Tess by name. Whether their relationship is personal or through mutual knowledge of their respective notoriety is unknown. Tess cared about her to some degree, asking if she was okay when showing signs of pain due to her bullet wound. However, Marlene was viewed as untrustworthy by Tess, by how she refuses to do any smuggling until she sees the merchandise she promised, yet goes with her to check it out, trusting that the Firefly won't harm her. Their relationship appears to be one of business, the two only interacting with each with the interest in using the other for personal gain; Marlene by giving guns to Tess, and Tess by escorting Ellie to safety for Marlene.
Joel has known Marlene as the leader of the Fireflies, ever since his brother Tommy joined the militia group. Before leaving, Tommy told her that if she was ever in a jam she could rely on Joel for help. Joel is quite cynical of the Fireflies' promises of hope, which is flowed on to Marlene.
When Joel does finally deliver Ellie to the Fireflies, Marlene compares his bond with Ellie to her own and understands that as Ellie's surrogate parents, the decision to kill her to develop a vaccine is hard on her and Joel. However, Marlene reluctantly makes the decision to kill her while Joel attempts to save Ellie from that fate, demonstrating how different the pair's philosophies are; Marlene has always been about saving humanity no matter the cost despite how personal it has become for her, while Joel had always been about himself, learning to detest humanity rather than want to save it. The clash of these juxtaposed philosophies culminates in Joel killing Marlene in fear that she will come after Ellie.
Marlene was described by Ellie as "just a friend, I guess." Marlene treated Ellie as her surrogate daughter, following her friend Anna's dying wish. Despite the affection she gained for Ellie, protecting her from the military and later believing she was immune, Marlene was still willing to sacrifice Ellie in order to find a vaccine. She pleads her guilt to Joel, remarking that what he's been through is "nothing to what [she's] been through".
The pair were close enough that Ellie didn't want to part from her with Joel and Tess and felt a need to protect her when she saw Joel enter the room with a visibly wounded Marlene.
Although not much is displayed of her relationship with him, Marlene respected Ethan, the man being an ally of hers due to their shared beliefs. Although she orders him around, Ethan doesn't mind, he is merely following her commands as a loyal Firefly. Marlene puts faith in him to escort Joel out of the hospital though this overconfidence in Ethan enables Joel to escape.
Marlene became close with Tommy during his time as a Firefly. They were close enough that he told her about his brother Joel and even recommended him if she "was ever stuck in a jam". The two rarely saw each other after he left the Fireflies, but she still believed "he was a good man".
- "Wait! Let me go! Please." (Last Words)
- "Apparently, there's no way to extricate the parasite without eliminating the host. Fancy way of saying we gotta kill the fucking kid. And now they're asking for my go ahead. The tests just keep getting harder and harder, don't they? I'm so tired. I'm exhausted and I just want this to end … so be it.
- "Hey Anna... It's been awhile since we spoke. I uh... I just gave the go ahead to proceed with the surgery. I really doubt I had much of a choice, asking me was more of a formality. I need you to know that I've kept my promise all these years... despite everything that I was in charge of, I looked after her. I would've done anything for her, and at times... Here's a chance to save us... all of us. This is what we were after... what you were after. They asked me to kill the smuggler. I'm not about to kill the one man in this facility that might understand the weight of this choice. Maybe he can forgive me. Oh I miss you Anna. Your daughter will be with you soon."
- Tess: "Look, let's go find a Firefly."
- "You won't have to look very far."
- "I don't give a damn about ration cards. I need something smuggled out of the city."
- "Been planning on leaving the city, but they need a scapegoat. They've been trying to rile us up."
- "We can sneak by them, even though I know that's not your style."
- "Goddammit, they got Warren. Goodbye, friend.'"
- Joel: "You're recruitin' kind of young, aren't ya?"
- "She's not one of mine."
- "You'll follow me. You can verify the weapons. I can get patched up. But she's not crossing to that part of town."
- "Welcome to the Fireflies."
- "Look … you can still do the right thing here."
- "I lost most my of crew crossing the country. I pretty much lost everything. And then you show up and somehow we find you just in time to save her. Maybe it was meant to be."
- "Don't waste this gift, Joel."
- "Because this isn't about me. Or even her. There is no other choice here."
- "I'm not about to kill the one man in this facility that might understand the weight of this choice."
- "You can't save her. How long before she's torn to pieces by a pack of Clickers? And that's if she hasn't been raped and murdered first."
- Ellie refers to Marlene as "just a friend, I guess" even though Marlene took care of her shortly after she was born. As such, it is unusual that she thinks Joel is closer to her than Marlene, possibly because Marlene sent her to a military boarding school. Given Ellie's emotionally closed-off personality, it is also possible that she may have felt uncomfortable opening up to talk about Marlene as a close friend.
- Marlene carries the same kind of 9mm Pistol as Ellie.
- Her outfit during the finale of the game bears resemblance to Elena Fisher's outfit from Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, a game also made by Naughty Dog.
- Creative director Neil Druckamann has remarked in the in game commentary of the game's cutscenes that he unintentionally had Marlene have a similar belief to David, "that everything happens for a reason" which Marlene indirectly reiterates to Joel; "maybe it was meant to be".
- Originally, Marlene was meant to die in the surgeon room during a cinematic that wasn't used in the final version of the game. Naughty Dog nixed the idea and removed the cutscene.
- During her initial conception, Marlene was merely a doctor who knew of Ellie's immunity and where the people developing a cure could be found. She escorted Joel and Ellie to the outskirts only to be bit and die of infection. It was later suggested by a programmer at Naughty Dog that Marlene should be brought back and expanded upon, eventually becoming the leader of those still finding a cure (who later expanded into the Fireflies).