Home » ‘The Last of Us’ Taunts Us With a Brutal Cut to Black

‘The Last of Us’ Taunts Us With a Brutal Cut to Black

If you’re still reeling from the ending of last week’s episode, you’re not alone. There are a lot of character deaths in The Last of Us, but the death of Henry and Sam will always hit hard—whether you knew it was coming or not. And the audience is not the only one feeling the loss, as there is a strong sense of melancholy that hangs over this episode.

Considering how this episode ends, I recommend a pillow to scream into. Ominous, right? Let’s dig in.

(Warning: Spoilers ahead for The Last of Us episode six.)

Once again we open with a little time jump. It has been three months since Henry (Lamar Johnson) and Sam (Keivonn Woodard) tragically perished in the unforgiving world of the Last of Us. Ellie (Bella Ramsey) and Joel (Pedro Pascal) are now in Wyoming, where they hope to inally reunite with Joel’s brother, Tommy (Gabriel Luna). The duo, however, are not exactly sure where they are, so they stop in at a random couple’s home to get some directions.

The couple, who went into hiding in a remote area long before the outbreak, are amused by Joel and Ellie’s efforts to threaten them into revealing the location. After episode five’s extremely dark ending, this is the kind of levity we needed. It not only allows Ellie to be a bratty teen, but it also shows that some people remain immune to the horrors of the current world—whether they are immune to the fungus or not.

Eventually, the couple tell Joel and Ellie where they are in Wyoming and give them a warning to not go past the river, as only death waits beyond there. Joel, a little rattled by this information, decides to press on regardless. But this is when we also get our first inkling that all might not be well with Joel’s health. His ears start to ring, his hearing is muffled, and he clutches his heart—it looks a lot like a panic attack, but worse. Once he catches his breath, he waves off Ellie’s concerns, but she remains skeptical of what’s going on with Joel.

Liane Hentscher/HBO

As they approach the foreboding river, Joel suggests they wait until morning to cross and set up camp for the night in a cave along the river. It’s here where finally we get to see a moment that was only shown in early concept art for the video game. The two sit around a fire and talk about what they want to do once this mission is over: Joel wants to live in a farmhouse and raise sheep, whereas Ellie would love to live in outer space. (Joel’s farmhouse comment is a nod to the second video game;, for more about that, check out our Easter egg story.)

After expressing her deep love for space and Sally Ride, Ellie asks Joel if he really thinks the vaccine will work, before telling him how she tried to save Sam with her blood. Joel tells her it probably is more complicated than just her blood (duh) but reassures Ellie that if Marlene (Merle Dandridge) says it can be done, then it can be done. It’s in these quieter moments that Pascal and Ramsey’s performances really shine. They are doing a masterful job of building up the Joel and Ellie bond.

In the morning, the two set off to cross “the river of death” and find it surprisingly not full of death. However, when they come across a hydroelectric dam, they start to wonder if that is the real “river of death.” As the two make their way past the dam, they become surrounded by several people on horseback. What follows is a very tense encounter. Luckily, Ellie ends up befriending the group’s dog, while Joel successfully convinces them that he and Ellie are not a threat.They then meet Maria, played by Rutina Wesley—the True Blood and The Last of Us crossover I absolutely needed. Once she realizes who Joel is, she brings him and Ellie swiftly back to Jackson.

Liane Hentscher/HBO

Seeing Tommy’s town of Jackson this early on in the story is quite a treat for players of the 2013 game; we never got to see Jackson until the sequel. As Joel and Ellie ride through the town, Joel quickly spots his brother Tommy and the two have quite the emotional reunion.

Figuring they must be starving, Tommy and Maria bring Joel and Ellie to the cafeteria to get some food. This is where one of the biggest moments of the show takes place: Ellie is being her normal foul-mouthed self, as she is ravenously eating. All of a sudden, she looks up and yells “What?” at a girl staring at her. The girl, startled, quickly leaves. It is not a long moment, but it’s a significant one. There is no confirmation (as of this story’s publishing) yet, but fans of the games will recognize her immediately: This brief cameo is of the beloved Dina.

TikToks with love songs will be made, schools will call for a half day, and parades will be thrown in their honor. Okay, maybe not all of that—but it is big, because this is the first ever interaction between Ellie and Dina. Without spoiling the video games, I can’t say more about who Dina is. But just know this is significant and probably the most on-brand first interaction between the two—hopefully Season 2 comes sooner and later so we can see them again!

Liane Hentscher/HBO

Meanwhile, Ellie remains skeptical of Maria, mainly because of the scare tactics her group uses to discourage people trying to harm the town—oh, and because she took Ellie’s gun. Tommy desperately tries to defuse the situation, while Joel asks Maria to leave so he can have some family time with his brother. But Tommy informs Joel that Maria is family—they are married. Ramsey’s delivery of “Oh, shit, congrats,” followed by Joel, say congrats” is a high point of the episode.

After some food and a tour of the town, Joel and Ellie go off in separate directions—Joel and Tommy go off to discuss everything that has happened, and Ellie goes with Maria to get a shower and clean set of clothes. Joel and Tommy grab a drink in the Tipsy Bison, the local saloon, whereJoel cryptically inquires about the location of the Fireflies. Tommy tells him they have a base set up at the University of Eastern Colorado, but that he cannot join Joel on the journey, since Maria is pregnant.

Now, it is time to check in with Ellie who is enjoying the opportunity to shower and get in some fresh new clothing—an apocalypse miracle. Along with a new outfit, Maria also leaves out a diva cup for Ellie that provides another moment of comic relief. Ellie also gets a haircut from Maria—another apocalypse miracle—and the two start chatting about Joel. Maria, while talking about losing her child, spills to Ellie that Joel had a daughter (Sarah), who died at the beginning of the outbreak. All of sudden, Joel’s closed-off attitude makes sense to Ellie.

Liane Hentscher/HBO

Maria takes this opportunity to express her concerns about Joel. She does not trust him after hearing all the things he used to drag Tommy into, and she lets Ellie know that. Wesley is a powerhouse in this scene, especially as Maria doesn’t get much screen time in the first game; any moment of bonding that she has with Ellie takes place off-screen. In the show, however, we get to spend more time with Maria and watch her build a relationship with Ellie and a reluctance towards Joel, which is a testament to Wesley’s excellent performance. Ellie vehemently defends Joel, but Maria reminds her to “be careful who you put your faith in, the only people who can betray us are the ones we trust.”

After their conversation, Maria and Ellie head off to the movies, but the ever-curious Ellie sneaks out and stumbles upon Joel and Tommy talking about her. Joel is telling Tommy everything—that Ellie is immune to the cordyceps and that he is bringing her to the Fireflies to create a vaccine. And then comes a heartbreaking moment: Joel pleads with Tommy to take Ellie. Which, of course, she overhears. Joel doesn’t think that he can keep her safe anymore. He also finally explains how these medical episodes he has been having are the fear and his past trauma coming back to him. Joel’s gruff exterior is crumbling, and Pascal perfectly portrays just how scared Joel feels about this development.

Tommy agrees to take Ellie to the Fireflies lab in Colorado, but Ellie confronts Joel about leaving her first. Ramsey devastates when she says that “everybody I have cared for has either died or left me. Everybody, fucking except for you.” And Pascal once again brings a new level of vulnerability to Joel when he tells Ellie that they are going their separate ways, although we all can tell how torn he feels about the choice.

The sadness radiates off Ellie as she walks with Tommy to the horses so they can make their way to Colorado. However, when they arrive at the stables, Joel is there and gives Ellie the choice of going with him or Tommy. She needs not even a second to decide before her and Joel take off. But there will always be a place for Joel and Ellie in Jackson when their mission is over, Tommy says.

When the two finally make it to the university in Colorado, the Fireflies are gone; they’ve relocated to a hospital in Utah, according to a clue left behind in the lab.

Just when it seems like Joel and Ellie are able to move forward on their journey, raiders ambush them. Joel is able to fend off his attacker and kill him, but not before he himself gets stabbed. Ellie helps Joel up and back onto the horse in time to get away from all the other raiders coming their way, but once they are at a safe distance, Joel collapses. Ellie is left pleading for him to wake up, as the screen goes to black.

Yup, it really ends like that. I told you that you’d need a pillow to scream into.

In this episode, the growing relationship between Joel and Ellie takes centerstage. Obviously, Joel and Ellie are at the heart of everything in The Last of Us, but if you don’t feel for them or believe their growing father-daughter bond, nothing works. I may already know the full Ellie and Joel story, but there is something new about watching Ramsey and Pascal at the helm. They have made these characters unique from the game, imbuing them with more emotional depth while maintaining the game’s sense of gravitas. It’s a hard feat to pull off, but they’re making it look easy.

Now, I can’t tell you whether or not Joel survives the attack. You’ll have to wait until next week to find out. See ya then.


February 2023