In any apocalyptic setting, whether it be AMC’s The Walking Dead or Netflix’s Korean drama series All of Us Are Dead, survivors are quick to realize that more often than not, the biggest threats to their survival aren’t zombies; it’s other people. Viewers of The Last of Us were introduced to a new group that poses a threat to Ellie and Joel as they try to make their way through Kansas City but naturally it doesn’t come without its obstacles.
Spoilers ahead (episode 4 and 5 will be combined in this review)
“Please Hold My Hand”
In episode four, “Please Hold My Hand”, we see Joel and Ellie making their way across the country in Bill’s old truck. Given how dire the situation is, if you excluded all the doom and gloom and zombie fungi, it would look like a normal father/daughter outing where they go off-road and camping in the woods. But we’re quickly reminded of their predicament when Joel and Ellie make their way through Kansas City and are attacked by raiders. Crashing into an old laundromat, the raiders then pursue Ellie and Joel and the scene quickly turns into a shootout. Unfortunately for Ellie, she finds herself in a difficult position when Joel is attacked and is forced to shoot his assailant. Ellie is visibly shaken by this and as Joel learns later in the episode, this isn’t the first time that she has shot someone. She doesn’t give any details and he doesn’t push her for any which is another step forward in their relationship.
While Joel and Ellie seek refuge in an abandoned building, we’re introduced to a group staying in Kansas City. Kathleen, a member of this new group, is interrogating a man about someone named Henry. Don’t be fooled by Kathleen’s sweet face; she’s deadly and doesn’t seem to be afraid of getting her hands dirty, as seen when she shoots the man she’s interrogating. When the bodies of Joel and Ellie’s attackers are brought back to her, she then orders her henchmen to seek out who killed them.
The biggest thing to make note of in the fourth episode is the slow yet inevitable crumble of the walls around Joel’s heart. Despite the stressful situation they’re in, Ellie manages to ease the tension with a book of puns that she found. “What did the mermaid wear to math class? An algae-bra!” Ellie seems to find this hilarious while Joel just scowls and comments on how terrible that was. But at one point later in the episode does Joel finally crack and laugh at her joke, prompting them both to giggle and laugh together.
Other great moments include Ellie not liking the smell of coffee but loving the taste of 20 year old Chef Boyardee ravioli, Joel going into protective dad mode, the “breathing” floor that hinted something huge underneath, and seeing Henry and Sam at the end of the episode. Everything (including that moving floor) seems to be leading up to something big and it’ll be interesting to see what exactly that is (which I discuss later in this article).
“Endure and Survive”
Another hard hitting episode, this one introduces fans to Henry and Sam, a brother duo trying to escape the city from Kathleen and her crew. Henry is the protective older brother trying to do right by Sam, who’s deaf in a world full of infected that hunt using mainly sound. We see a flashback to a week before Ellie and Joel show up where they’re hiding out in the attic of an old building while waiting for the right opportunity to escape. Their plan is thrown off when Henry witnesses the shootout in the laundromat involving Joel and Ellie versus Kathleen’s goons and decides to wait until nightfall to make a move. They find where Joel and Ellie are hiding and quickly turn into temporary allies in order to escape Kansas City.
One of the most notable changes made to this episode was the choice to cast a deaf actor to portray Sam which adds a whole new angle to the character compared to his game counterpart. Keivonn Woodard, the actor who plays Sam, absolutely nails it when it came to being an 8 year old living in a world full of infected individuals. While he may be deaf, that’s not the thing that defines him. He’s also a child with hopes and dreams. Fears and nightmares. He loves to draw and read comics about superheroes and Henry even paints a mask on his eyes at one point to help him not be afraid. He quickly became a fan favorite because of his sweet personality and his innocence.
As a deaf person myself, it always makes me happy to see deaf representation in popular media, especially with the apocalypse genre. The Walking Dead did it with Connie (played by Lauren Ridloff) accompanied by her sister Kelly (Angel Theory) who is also hard of hearing. A lot of media (tv, movies, books) tend to forget and/or leave out the fact that disabled people are in the same situation as everyone else when it boils down to the apocalypse occurring. We don’t just stop existing when all hell breaks loose. If anything, our hell is even worse because now the individuals who have suffered before in the normal world pre-apocalypse due to lack of accessibility, they’re now disabled in a world of flesh eating monsters (ex: The Walking Dead or The Last of Us). The choice to cast a deaf actor for a previously non-deaf character was the right choice (even if Sam’s character sort of played a role in the plot point of able bodied characters, but I’d rather be seen as a plot point than not be seen at all). It was a great choice and it showcased that people with disabilities don’t just disappear in difficult times. Realistically, we’d still be there fighting to survive just like everyone else.
Another huge part of this episode that I have to praise is the VFX and SFX. The scene where the infected all rush out of the sinkhole was jaw dropping. The best part about that was the silence right before they all came running out making screeching noises and attacking. What’s even more impressive was our first encounter with the big boy Bloater himself. I was hit with immediate goosebumps when that sucker crawled out of the ground and just began demolishing everyone in its path. The fact that the Bloater was played by a 6’6 man and it was all makeup is very impressive because I sat there the entire time wondering if he was CGI or not so I’m glad that was all costume and makeup. Phenomenal scene.
As sad as it is, we’re nearing the end of the season already. Two more episodes (and reviews) under our belts and two more episodes left to watch. Will it end the same way as the game or will there be another twist? Only time will tell.