March 25, 2023

Just as we have seen the capacity for cruelty in the apocalypse, this episode showed that a life worth living is possible when people come together.

Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers for Episode 6 of The Last of Us.With every new location that has been visited in The Last of Us, there has been the looming question of whether we could rebuild after all else has been lost. Though it is very much a story of two people making their way across the country, both the game and this more expansive adaptation reflect on what can be found in the dwindling few that are left of humanity. No matter who you are, there is both peril and promise that exist within all of us. In the show, we have witnessed this in all forms be it with scenes of immense cruelty, overwhelming compassion, or everything else in between. This has now been made most central in key moments in the most recent episode, simply titled “Kin,” where Joel (Pedro Pascal) reunites with his brother Tommy (Gabriel Luna) after the two went their different ways long ago. It is an episode that expands upon the only brief moment in the game that took place between action sequences to give everything more texture and life. As we come to see the society that has been established in Jackson, it offers a balance to the brutality that preceded it in the prior episode. While the world remains a harrowing one, this episode offered a glimmer of hope built upon the foundation of something that is real and tangible.

After a bit of a rocky introduction, both Joel and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) are guided into the thriving community they never knew existed. It is almost a miracle after the desolation they have found elsewhere. This culminates in a moment of rare emotion from Joel that is felt in Pascal’s performance as he begins laughing through tears after embracing Tommy. It is a bittersweet reuniting as the two have a history that is defined by the loss of close family at the hands of others and killings that they have carried out themselves. It is that which drove them apart to different sides of the country. Yet now, after navigating a world that seemed to be dominated by humanity’s capacity for destruction, they found each other in the same collective that showed a different way of living. It is one where people look out for each other and challenge the individualistic streak that is present in many post-apocalyptic stories. As this adaptation has continued to demonstrate time and time again, there remains rich thematic territory for it to dig into that had only been briefly touched on up until now.

The Last of Us Episode 6 Gabriel Luna Tommy Pedro Pascal Joel
Image via HBO

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We Have The Capacity To Save Each Other

Where the introduction to this story was primarily about Joel taking on the decaying remnants of the world however was needed to survive and push away connections with others, this episode slowed things down to show how that is not the only way to move forward. It did so without being sentimental or glossing over what remains a harsh world with danger at nearly every turn. It just also established in the simplest of scenes that there remains the capacity for good which is always there no matter how much has been lost. Be it in a conversation in a bar or while getting a haircut, these moments are not just valuable because they recreate things from the old world. Rather, they offer the chance for connection and support in small ways. Even just when Joel is trying and failing to fix a boot carries with it this underlying idea. While he clearly has no idea of what he is doing, he still did not ask for help and Tommy had to take the initiative to give him a new pair. It was a small gesture that proceeds a far more full conversation the two then have, but it speaks to their different perspectives on the world.

Joel has rejected vulnerability or community, believing that no one can be trusted after so much has been taken from him. After seeing humanity at its absolute worst, he has sworn off ever risking opening himself up to it again. He is more capable of protecting himself and Ellie than most though, for those that know where their story goes, we already see this can’t last forever. Where the game merely treated it as a small diversion, this episode takes the time to let the introduction to Jackson sink in for longer and plant thematic seeds that will flourish in the future. It feels like a living and breathing place, complicating the cold cynicism as opposed to being just yet another setting at which to do battle. Though this could be overlooked as being a lull of an episode to those expecting action, it gives greater weight to these sequences. When Joel is seriously injured in the concluding scene, we know that he has now more to lose than just Ellie. Their relationship is obviously the core of the story, but it is now also about how they could become part of a community of caring people. For every step they take towards their destination, there is now something they can return to. It is imperfect, like all of humanity is, yet it offers a frank portrait of what can be when people come together.

The last of Us Rutina Wesley Maria Episode 6
Image via HBO

Perhaps knowing how this may be received by some audiences and wanting to embed a small joke preemptively poking fun at them, there is a pointedly playful little scene that is sprinkled in throughout the more serious ones. As they give a tour to Joel and Ellie of what they have built, the newly introduced community leader Maria (Rutina Wesley) owns the label of “communists” in a way that makes her husband Tommy visibly uncomfortable. It is as if he knows that he can’t dance around the reality of the community he has become a part of yet still harbors a fear that this somehow makes him a person he would have dismissed as an idealistic hippie before the world fell apart. It is good fun in this brief moment, but it also serves as an encapsulation of where the episode stands apart from all that have preceded it.

Rather than running from its implications, the show voicing them through Maria feels refreshingly honest. She isn’t naive as a character either. A heart-to-heart with Ellie that is overflowing with foreshadowing where she tries to give her advice about the value of being with people you trust makes the show’s thematic ideas even more explicit. While this trust is not something that can be created overnight, this community that Maria helped build at the end of the world where people look out for each other has a value greater than any resource or weapon. When all else is gone, it is community that is the lifeblood of survival as it both gives you the greatest chance to survive and provides a reason to even do so in the first place.

You can watch the sixth episode of The Last of Us on HBO and HBO Max.

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