March 30, 2023

After last week’s thrilling episode, The Last of Us slows down for a solid hour of character-building. We get to know Tommy better, witness a thriving community, and see the psychological effects this world has had on Joel. Deviations from the source material are vexing to long-time fans, and the show continues to prioritize character drama over horror and action, for better or worse. 


The episode opens with Joel and Ellie bumping into an old couple in a cabin played by the great Graham Greene and Elaine Miles. I liked their laid-back demeanor and quick banter. “Why didn’t you shoot him?” he asks. “The gun’s all the way over there,” she replies. This is our second example of a couple successfully enduring the apocalypse alone. I would thrive in isolation with my fam so long as I had a TV.

Joel and Ellie’s relationship continues to serve as the show’s highlight. Their playful conversations and constant bickering are fun to watch. She undermines him at every opportunity, while he constantly reminds her to be civil. At one point, she drops some F-bombs in front of Tommy and his wife, and Joel tells her to calm down. Here is an instance where the show (and the game) could have gone a little farther. I doubt a man and a child would appear as clean-cut and mannered as Joel and Ellie after all they’ve been through. At a certain point, you’d run out of things to talk about or go crazy dealing with the endless physical grind it would take to walk across the United States. Then there’s the problem of staying alert at all moments of the day, never knowing if the infected or some damned wacko humans were right around the corner. Of course, watching two crazy people wander across the wilderness may not be as compelling.

We have yet another case of a character losing sight of the larger picture to take care of his own. In this case, Tommy finds out he’s about to be a dad and decides to hang up his guns for good. He may have done whatever it took to survive with Joel in the old days, but now his priorities have shifted. Understandable and interesting. In the apocalypse, you can only look out for those you love. At least, that’s what I’m getting from this series so far. At one point, Ellie even asks Joel what he will do should her magic blood work. He looks a little spooked by the question. Even if someone can cook up a vaccine, will society ever go back to normal? (That was my conclusion as well after the first game.)

There’s a sad moment when Joel thinks he sees Sarah and nearly melts. Our boy is not in good shape in this episode.

Pedro Pascal was the MVP of this episode. I have issues with his depiction of Joel (see below), but the man can act. His tearful plea for Tommy to take Ellie was heartbreaking to watch. He’s outstanding on this show. Meanwhile, Bella Ramsey’s Ellie is a tough nut to play, and she must constantly toe the fine line between a likable smart-ass and an insufferable brat. Sometimes the performance works, but I’m not sure we’ve seen enough likable smart-ass to care about her just yet.

Those CGI monkeys were yanked straight out of Jumanji.


That little community where they found Tommy was rather cozy — and a little unbelievable if you ask me. Still, let’s say this community exists. Why don’t Joel and Ellie stay put and allow the Fireflies to come to them? I get that would make for a less exciting show, but doesn’t it make more sense to keep the world’s savior protected in a well-fortified community than risk taking her across the country where everyone and everything can take a shot at her?

Speaking of which, why does everyone attack first and ask questions later in this world? You’d think a man and a kid would pose little threat and/or carry little value. But everyone seems hell-bent on tracking them down and murdering them without hesitation. Clearly, as we’ve seen multiple times now, it’s not too hard to create a thriving community. Bill and Frank lived like kings for years, the couple at the beginning were relaxed enough not to give a shit about being held at gunpoint, and Tommy’s community has an actual film projector. The point is that no one in this world seems to suffer all that much. Maybe it’s the optimist in me, but I think people would rally together rather than tear each other apart in such a circumstance. Then again, we did have people selling toilet paper on eBay for hundreds of dollars during the pandemic.

The whole communist bit was interesting. I don’t want to touch on that topic too much, but I get what The Last of Us is arguing. In the case of a small community working together, the everyone is equal ideology could possibly work. As Joel later says, however, the United States was/is too big for communism to function successfully. “Some people wanted to own everything,” he says of the days before the outbreak, “and some people didn’t want anyone to own anything at all.”

Speaking of Joel, the show has gone to great lengths to alter his character. In the game, he was a man of action, quiet and resourceful. In the series, he can’t read maps, walks into an ambush, experiences anxiety attacks, is constantly undermined by everyone (including Ellie), and appears emotionally unstable. Video game Joel was flawed, but not in a way that rendered him incompetent. Yes, he did bad things, but only to protect Ellie. 

Season 1 seems to follow The Last of Us Part II’s depiction of Joel, where he’s suddenly transformed into a problematic figure who made the wrong choice as opposed to the difficult one — save Ellie, his surrogate daughter, or give her up and hope her magic blood saves the world? His decision to save Ellie wasn’t erratic or based on a random burst of emotion. He made up his mind and did what he had to do. I have a feeling TV show Joel is going to mentally break down and go all John Wick in the final episode without realizing what he’s doing until it’s too late. Of course, that’s just a theory.

Final Thoughts

I applaud this episode of The Last of Us despite a few nitpicks. I’d like to see Joel resemble his video game counterpart a little more, and it’d be great to get a few more action beats, but overall this is a fascinating watch.  

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