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The Last Of Us ep 6.png

Did Anyone Die On 'The Last Of Us' This Week? Plus: Menstrual Cups!

By Tori Preston | TV | February 20, 2023 |

By Tori Preston | TV | February 20, 2023 |


The Last Of Us ep 6.png

Last night, The Last Of Us did the unthinkable: It showed us a couple of lovebirds who are absolutely thriving in this apocalypse, better even than Bill and Frank. I’m talking about Marlon and Florence, or at least that’s what IMDb says they’re called — to the rest of us they’re Graham Greene (Dances with Wolves) and Elaine Miles (Northern Exposure), two of the most prolific and successful Native American actors around. Functionally their characters are little more than signposts for Joel and Ellie, pointing the way forward and offering hints of potential doom along the way, but they’re a refreshing change of tone in a show that’s grown increasingly dour with each rise in the body count. Joel comes to their cabin the way he comes into most situations, gun held high and ready to take hostages until he gets the information he wants, and these two couldn’t care less for his act of bravado. It’s utterly wasted on them. They left society behind long before the outbreak, and their self-sufficient life off the grid has continued nearly unchanged in all the years since. In a show that has cataloged numerous horrible ways that people have twisted themselves to justify their struggle for survival, it was damn near delightful to meet a pair so completely unbothered by it all, humanity and humor intact.

Anyway, Joel and Ellie come upon this couple in the wilds of Wyoming after three months of trekking on foot (since the events in Kansas City), and they leave on foot again with a warning to watch out for the “river of death” still ringing in their ears. So it may come as a surprise that, barring the Bill and Frank flashback episode, this is probably the most peaceful episode of the season so far! There’s no danger on the way to the river, or after they cross it. Sure, they’re almost immediately picked up by bandits on horseback, but those turn out to be scouts from a commune in Jackson — and that’s where Joel finally reunites with his brother Tommy! Half of Joel’s mission is accomplished, now that he knows Tommy is safe. In fact, you could even say he’s thriving too: Tommy has married a woman named Maria (Rutina Wesley), and they’re expecting a baby. They live in a lovely house in Jackson, where there’s power and running water and where all the responsibilities are communally shared under the oversight of a democratically elected council. The whole “river of death” thing is just a reputation they’ve fostered to keep raiding parties away (by… tossing bodies in the water?!) — otherwise they’re just a nice, normal community of 300 people who gather for movie nights and distill their own whiskey. So, you know, another new option in the catalog of “how’s humanity adapting to the end of the world.”

Still, Joel has the other half of his mission to accomplish, and that’s to deliver Ellie to the Fireflies so they can make a cure. He asks Tommy for help, since his brother was a former Firefly himself, and Tommy says their lab facility is about a week’s ride away at the University of Eastern Colorado. But then Joel asks for even more help. He asks Tommy to take Ellie there personally, because he’s afraid he’s not strong enough to protect her anymore. His confession explains the strange panic attacks he’s been having (which I thought were mini heart attacks all episode), and traces a deep fear of failure that’s rooted in Sarah’s death and extends through Tess, Sam, and Henry. If Ellie was still just a job to him, it wouldn’t matter — after all, it’s not like he’s getting paid at this point anyway. But she isn’t. She’s more than that, and though he can’t admit it directly we see it in the way his body is reacting to the idea of losing her. He’s afraid of failing his loved ones once again.

Ellie overhears Joel trying to pawn off his responsibility (her) onto Tommy and confronts him about it, in what is probably the only scene this week that is lifted almost directly from the game. If he can’t bear the thought of failing her, then she can’t stand the thought of going on without him. Everyone she has cared about has died or left her, and as she told Sam last week, she’s afraid of ending up alone. The only exception — the one person who has stayed with her — is Joel himself. Joel still can’t admit his feelings to Ellie, but she finally takes the initiative and opens up to him herself — only to make the mistake of bringing up Sarah. “I’m not like her, you know,” Ellie says, and you can see Joel just shut down. He leaves the room, with the expectation that Ellie will indeed depart Jackson with Tommy in the morning.

I should backtrack for a second here, because how exactly did Ellie learn about Joel’s daughter? Not from the man himself, obviously. While Joel was catching up with Tommy all day, Ellie had her own bonding sesh with Maria and learned about a lot of new things. Menstrual cups, for starters — no more scavenging Tampax for this girl! Maria outfitted her with fresh clothes, bartered for a new winter parka in a lovely (to me, sorry Ellie) shade of eggplant, and even trimmed the girl’s hair. She also spilled the beans about Sarah, because Ellie saw the memorial that Tommy had set up to honor Joel’s daughter alongside their own son Kevin. Ellie didn’t even need to ask for details, because simply learning that Joel had lost a kid made his gruff, keep-Ellie-at-arm’s-length behavior come into focus for her. Unfortunately, Maria is not so moved by Joel’s pain, and it’s obvious she distrusts him after all the stories she’s heard from Tommy about their old survival tactics (you know — the murdery ones). This is why she offers her own doom-and-gloom warning to Ellie: “The only people who can betray us are the ones we trust.”

She’s trying to warn Ellie away from Joel, but it’s too late. This episode proves that Joel and Ellie have grown close after all this time on the road. They trust each other with their lives, and they care about each other enough to hurt one another. In last week’s recap, I talked about how The Last of Us has so far been defined by the stories of others, and we only got to know Joel and Ellie through their experience of these third parties (Tess, Bill and Frank, Henry and Sam). Unlike the game, where huge swaths of time were devoted to Joel and Ellie navigating the world together, we haven’t really been given much time to see their relationship grow. That imbalance was corrected in one fell swoop in this episode, which suddenly (too suddenly?) demonstrated exactly what has flourished between this pair. That quiet journey through the countryside to get to Jackson was filled with comfortable banter, and once there we see Joel beg his brother to take Ellie for her own sake, while Ellie defends Joel to Maria. It culminates with Ellie laying her heart on the line and admitting her fears to Joel, and Joel relenting in his own way. Come morning, Joel surprises Ellie and Tommy at the stables and gives Ellie the chance to choose who she’d rather leave with. Without hesitation, she chooses Joel. It’s not exactly a heartfelt apology, but in his own way he’s chosen to prioritize easing her fears over his own.

See, it’s all so peaceful and nice! What a pleasant episode, with absolutely no bad news to sour the proceedings at all! Joel and Ellie even make it to the University of Eastern Colorado unscathed. Everything’s going just fine for a change!

Until they discover that the Fireflies have packed up their lab and moved it to Salt Lake City, get jumped by a group of raiders, and Joel gets shivved by a broken baseball bat during their escape, only to tumble unconscious from their horse while Ellie is left alone with no way to save him. But like, other than that everything’s fine!

Stray Thoughts:

- In some ways, the University scene was a bit of a letdown, because Joel only actually confronted one dude (even if he did use a chokehold on him — a tried-and-true stealth tactic from the game). We’ve seen Joel handle way more adversaries at once in the show, and this setting was a huge showdown in the game. Thematically, though, it works precisely because it pays off all of Joel’s fears about his own weakness. Failing Ellie doesn’t just mean getting her killed — it means getting himself killed and leaving her unprotected.

- If you want to know more about the movie Maria took Ellie to, and what it might say about Ellie’s relationship with Joel, our dear friend Kristy Puchko unpacked it in a wonderful explainer over on Mashable!

- Ellie’s choice was to leave with Tommy or Joel, not Tommy and Joel, and that is purely for plot reasons. How’s Joel gonna get stabbed if Tommy’s around to help, huh?

- Based on the preview for next week’s episode, it looks like the show is going to do its version of the game’s DLC called “Left Behind” — which will be another big flashback introducing Ellie’s friend Riley, played by Storm Reid. We’ll probably find out how Ellie got infected! And how she’s gonna save Joel! Because duh, he’s not going to die yet. Probably.