March 30, 2023

The move to television gave the creative team the chance to show Joel’s fear of losing Ellie.

The strongest thread in HBO’s The Last of Us will always be the relationship between Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey). The dynamic between the pair is compelling as audiences root for the two to succeed in their cross-country trek to try and save humanity. However, the love between the two is starting to come at a cost, with Joel’s trauma over losing his daughter Sarah (Nico Parker) casting a shadow – and growing within him just like the Cordyceps fungus which took over the planet – by giving him crippling panic attacks, which he tries to dismiss to a frightened and suspicious Ellie.

The closer Joel becomes to Ellie, the more terrified he is at losing her, and being the one responsible for doing so. In the game, this manifests itself as a distance. The more love he feels for Ellie, the harsher he treats her in order to push her away from him – and to protect himself. However, as showrunners Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin revealed to host Troy Baker on The Last of Us Podcast, the move to television gave them the opportunity to show the impact anxiety is having on Joel differently, via the intimacy of close-up camera shots. Joel’s worries are magnified greatly as a result of seeing the horrific events of the previous episode’s climactic scene, where he witnesses a pair of brothers lose their lives in seconds due to a careless mistake.


It’s established that Joel has had issues with anxiety in the games – keen-eyed players will notice anti-anxiety medication within Joel’s home during the prologue – but the show has allowed for a much more pronounced depiction of his fear at losing the surrogate daughter he has found:

We wanted to explore the impact of what’s happened to Joel in the wake of Henry (Lamar Johnson) and Sam (Keivonn Woodard), despite time having passed significantly and it’s shown when he exits the cabin and seizes his chest. What’s happening is Joel is having a panic attack and he doesn’t know why. It’s your body telling you that you’re in terrible danger but you don’t understand why. This episode is about Joel coming to terms with how terrified he is that she’s going to die and it’s going to be his fault. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll see as many times Joel has helped her, he’s failed her. And those are the things he dwells on. Like a lot of us, if you have core trauma the way Joel does, the things you do well are discounted but you will magnifiy your failures and tragedies until they threaten to subsume you.

He is convinced what’s best for Ellie is to let her go but it’s to protect himself. In the game, the camera is quite far back. You swing it around the character, there’s no way to see what’s going on in the faces so we did it with dialogue. We just made Joel distant, like their relationship has gone backwards. Here, we can have intimate close up moments with the camera, we can show this in subtle ways. Ellie’s reaction is when you look at your parents who have protected you forever, you don’t want to accept they have any sort of weakness.

Pedro Pascal as Joel in The Last of Us Episode 5
Image via HBO 

RELATED: ‘The Last of Us’ Episode 7 Trailer Prepares for the Arrival of Storm Reid’s Riley

There are three episodes remaining of The Last of Us Season one, with the seventh episode “Left Behind” set to air on Sunday evening on HBO. Check out the episode preview below.

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