The Last of Us: Episode 5 Review

Very much the second part of last week’s Kansas City adventure, episode 5 of HBO’s The Last of Us is equal parts thrilling and distressing. Fugitive brothers Henry and Sam add a welcome layer of warmth to Joel and Ellie’s relationship, helping our protagonists progress on both their physical and emotional journeys, as well as leading them to one of the action high points in the series. It’s an unforgettable and explosive end to a powder keg of a chapter whose fuse steadily burned throughout this and the previous episode.

This ending comes in two segments, each presenting the two distinctly different horrors of the world of The Last of Us. The first plays out over an extended action scene that rides crashing waves after a spell of calm(er) sea. Joel’s sniper standoff is a sequence ripped straight from the game and presented with an equal amount of tension. The tight, scrambling cinematography that follows him really helps to reflect the scene’s taut atmosphere, only to be later broken by a single gunshot and the rumble of Kathleen’s trucks. Melanie Lynskey’s sinister turn as Kathleen continues superbly, which persists even after we are shown a softer side to her as her motives are revealed. Once again the show refuses to pigeonhole humanity into columns of good and evil.

Below the surface, though, lies something distinctly post-human. The Last of Us has kept its infected cards relatively close to its chest so far, and it’s a surprise that it has gone over two and a half episodes without much more than a glimpse of them at this point. When the horde does emerge, however, it’s to great effect. Infected erupt from the earth and flood the screen like orcs from Moria mines before a monstrous Bloater makes its troll-like entrance. The frenzied cutting from close to wide shots gives a great sense of scale and terror, as the trademark chattering of Clicker throats is met with that of gunfire.

Memorable images aplenty are painted, but none as harrowing as the arrival of a young girl Clicker who flings herself around the car that Ellie finds herself trapped in. It’s a moment of pure terror matched only by the look on Joel’s face as he’s rendered unable to help her. Interestingly, in a twist of fate, it’s that young Clicker who ends up saving Ellie when faced with the threat of Kathleen’s pistol. The theme of children saving children, which unfortunately won’t continue for too much longer is a sad reflection of the innocence this new world has taken away. It’s one of the season’s standout action scenes, full of horrors beautifully silhouetted against a fiery backdrop.

It’s one of the season’s standout action scenes, full of horrors beautifully silhouetted against a fiery backdrop.

For the most part, though, this isn’t an overly adrenaline-fuelled episode, but one that focuses on Henry, Sam, and their relationship with Joel and Ellie. Lamar Johnson shines as Henry, exuding charisma and a smile that settles his brother. In contrast to the game, Sam is now portrayed as deaf, something that Henry uses in an attempt to shelter him from some of the horrors of the world. It helps maintain a fleeting level of innocence, as well as delivering some heartbreaking final moments. In sharing with Sam only the most positive of information, Henry protects his younger brother; it’s neat symbolism that reflects Sam’s own superhero paintings.

Ellie and Sam instantly bond due to their shared innocence of youth. There’s a natural lack of judgement and therefore an increased sense of trust. Sam’s willingness to open up to Ellie almost gives her a sense of responsibility and her first taste of what it’s like to be in charge of someone’s safety – an important step towards her understanding what it’s been like to walk in Joel’s shoes for the time they’ve spent together. Previously Ellie has only had to think and worry about herself, much like Joel did for the best part of twenty after divorcing himself from any emotional ties to the world. Now halfway through their journey together, though, they have gained strong connections to each other and regrown one back to the human experience itself.

Henry and Joel on the other hand, are mostly opposites. Youth and gentleness versus experience and violence. Optimism versus pessimism. It’s a great dynamic, and the moment they realise their motives are shared is a great instance of bonding. Joel’s non-reply to Henry’s admission of guilt also works as brilliant foreshadowing for what’s to come later in his journey. It’s a testament to all four performers that such a short trip together is made to feel like a lifetime of camaraderie, albeit one curtailed in a brutal manner.

The scenes taking place in the underground tunnels are a particular treat to fans of the game. Not only do they serve as an effective fakeout as we’re expecting them to be littered with infected, but they also pay homage to a story that could have been a standalone flashback episode in another timeline. The remains of Ish’s community – one of the most devastating side stories from the game – is a treasure trove of Easter eggs, ranging from the joy of a Savage Starlight comic to the tragedy of the doomed commune’s abandoned nursery toys. Another harrowing reminder of the impermanence of life in this world.

The continued stellar scriptwriting and compassionate performances contribute immensely to the rawness of this chapter’s final moments. 

And so comes the episode’s second, much more starkly horrific ending. The heartbreaking reveal of Sam’s bite is shown in a way only a child could in a touching scene played out superbly by the young actors. Much like we saw back in episode three, it is again a great credit to the show that it manages to connect us so deeply to characters over such a limited amount of time. The continued stellar scriptwriting and compassionate performances contribute immensely to the rawness of this chapter’s final moments. Lamar Johnson in particular displaying a remarkable level of emotion across his face as Henry comes to terms with what he’s done.

Joel and Ellie need not say a word, though, as another companion is lost along the way. It becomes Ellie’s turn to burden the heavy weight of grief; her final apology to Sam is one last punch in the gut. A tragic end that shows even the most good-natured of souls aren’t able to combat nature itself.