Following up on last week’s cliffhanger of an episode, this week’s The Last of Us gives viewers a look into Ellie’s somewhat troubled past. Despite the fact that Joel got stabbed last episode (which is sad and all), we see Ellie’s fear and panic take center stage as she scrambles to save Joel’s life. We’re also given a glimpse into her life before she sets out on the journey with Joel.
This particular episode takes place during the bonus DLC “Left Behind”, set weeks before Ellie and Joel officially meet. Ellie goes to a school that trains FEDRA officers and doesn’t exactly have a lot of friends. We see her doing laps in the gym with other students and it isn’t long before another girl named Bethany comes up and snatches her headphones from her. The girl makes a snarky comment about Ellie not being a fighter because her friend does all the fighting and WHAM. She gets a knuckle sandwich and ends up in the infirmary (with 15 stitches according to Ellie).
Fast forward to nighttime. Ellie is awake reading a comic book that has panels looking very similar to her and Joel in the present day. When it’s lights out, she turns in and goes to sleep but is woken up by someone sneaking in through the window. Turns out the intruder is Riley, her roommate that ran away. Riley explains to Ellie that she joined the Fireflies and had no plans on returning to school. She then asks Ellie to come with her for a few hours just to have a good time. Ellie reluctantly agrees but soon finds herself loosening up a little bit as Riley takes her to the roofs of the buildings above, with a bottle of liquor they found on a dead body in hand. Watching a dead body fall to the floor prior doesn’t dampen their mood, but instead lifts it and sets the tone for their little adventure.
When Riley turns on the lights to the sealed off building that they enter, she introduces Ellie to all the wonders of the mall, including the carousel and arcade. Ellie is smitten by everything she sees, starting off with something as simple to us in 2023 as an escalator; this is everything that she read about in books and is now experiencing in person. There’s so much to do and see but Riley has plans, explaining there were things that Ellie absolutely needed to see. While they play games at the arcade, viewers are given a look at another part of the mall that showcases an infected that’s growing into the wall. It wakes up when it hears Ellie and Riley laughing, and we’re given a general idea of what’s about to happen next. Aside from learning about the wonders of the mall, Ellie also learns that Riley was hiding bombs and the Fireflies had her posted there as a part of her training. This upsets Ellie and she leaves Riley for a brief moment, obviously angry that her best friend was a part of a terrorist group and the fact that she was leaving the QZ (quarantine zone).
Here is where it gets good. Ellie returns to Riley in a Halloween store after hearing a scream which actually belonged to one of the decorations where they reconcile and begin to dance to music while wearing Halloween masks. The two then remove their masks and Ellie makes the first move–and kisses Riley. But their beautiful moment is ruined when they hear something moving around in a dark part of the store. Turns out it’s the infected that we saw earlier and it attacks the girls. They struggle to kill it but eventually it does go down when Ellie stabs it in the head. She hears Riley gasp and looks at her arm; she’s bitten, which is our first introduction to how she was bitten and where she likely discovered she was immune. But that’s not all. Riley is bitten as well. Both girls then share a heartbreaking moment where they realize they’re both going to turn. The scene then switches back to Ellie and Joel where Ellie returns to Joel’s side with a needle and thread, determined to save his life in a way we can only assume she couldn’t save Riley’s.
What does this mean for the future?
While some have argued that this is a “filler episode” (which has been the excuse as well for Bill and Frank’s episode interestingly enough), it actually isn’t. This is very much an origin episode packed with background information crucial to character development. We see where Ellie came from and how she ended up in the situation with Joel. Another huge part of the episode is seeing how she got bitten and why Joel’s statement “you don’t know what loss is” wasn’t true and why she refused to elaborate when Joel asked her about what she meant when it wasn’t her first time shooting someone. This episode mirrors Bill and Frank’s story where they make the decision to go together, except that clearly wasn’t the case and didn’t go exactly as Ellie wanted. We’re not given any further information on what happened to Riley but that’s the beauty of the imagination; we don’t need it to know what happened next and the show does a phenomenal job of leaving things up to the viewer’s imaginations.
For those of us who are familiar with the games, we were also given a very brief glimpse of an angry, vengeful Ellie when she’s smashing the glass of the Halloween store with a piece of metal. This sets up the premise perfectly for season two (possibly) where we see Ellie get revenge for an event I won’t name. We only got just a taste of what’s to come and it’ll be fascinating to see how Bella Ramsey handles the emotionally heavy scenes that come with the second game. I have complete faith in Bella; Ramsey has proven time and time again that they are perfectly capable of pulling off emotional scenes in just a few seconds, so the second season will be a walk in the park for her.
Next week’s episode promises to be just as emotionally draining as we reach that point in the journey where Joel and Ellie’s are put to the test when a new group is introduced. We can’t wait to see how that plays out.