This review contains full spoilers for episode six of The Last of Us, now available to view on HBO Max. To stay spoiler-free, check out our The Last of Us Season 1 Review.
After last week’s action-packed ending, episode 6 of The Last of Us slows things down by pairing its characters up and letting them engage in heartfelt conversation after heartfelt conversation. It’s a fantastic chapter that almost completely delivers exactly what it sets out to achieve thanks to a top-tier script and nuanced performances throughout.
Three months have passed, winter has come, and it’s clear that the pair’s relationship has developed off-screen. Bella Ramsey continues to be electric throughout, effortlessly able to express explosive emotion before returning to zipping off barbs and jokes with enjoyably regular abandon. Joel is now happier to answer Ellie’s questions rather than abruptly deflecting. He’s still not ready to fully open himself up to her, however, which creates a tension that eventually bubbles over in the episode’s most memorable scene.
The Last of Us HBO Series Character Guide
In a fantastic execution of one of the game’s biggest moments, Ellie sits in the bay window of someone else’s bedroom, reading about the sort of life she’ll never have. The setting of someone else’s family home works as a strong reminder that this pairing – despite their growing bond – isn’t yet a single whole. It’s a sentiment only cemented by Joel’s harsh words and Ellie’s heartbreaking retort of “everybody I’ve ever loved has either died or left me. Everybody but you.” It’s their biggest clash to date, but ultimately the one needed in order to bring them closer together than ever.
The warmth of the practically idyllic town of Jackson and Tommy’s embrace proves to be the perfect tonic for the initial cold tension provided by Maria and her posse in the wilderness. Jackson itself is a sight to behold, the location having been carefully replicated from its counterpart in The Last of Us Part 2 in yet another display of top-class set design work. It’s also a smart decision to place key emotional scenes within this settlement as opposed to the industrial dam setting used for the game as this grants us a deeper connection to this place ahead of when we revisit it in future seasons. This is a further example of Neil Druckmann tweaking his own source material for the benefit of newcomers, while also cleverly seeding Easter eggs for eagle-eyed fans; the appearance of a sheepish-looking girl spying on Ellie will surely come as a pleasant surprise to many.
Ellie commenting on her food in Jackson being the first proper meal she’s ever had signals that this is possibly the first time she’s experienced a welcoming community thanks to growing up under a harsh FEDRA regime. It’s an early fracture in a hard exterior that still needs some cracking yet. The scene also provides an enjoyable moment in which Ellie turns the tables on Joel by reminding him of his manners when congratulating Tommy.
The dynamic between these once-separated brothers is great, with both Pedro Pascal and Gabriel Luna managing to convey a real sense of history between them. Their scenes see all the affection and pent-up strain of an estranged familial relationship come to the fore. “Just because life stopped for you doesn’t mean it did for me,” Luna delivers with cutting honesty. These home truths arrive at a point in Joel’s journey where he’s starting to realise he isn’t as strong as he once was, and the anxiety that comes with his fears for the future and the hauntings of his past are truly bedding in. Pascal is superb in this episode – with that aforementioned spectre of failure leading to overwhelming emotion in one of the episodes many standout heart-to-hearts. This may be an episode in which action is sidelined, but in its place is heated conversation that successfully delivers the required dose of dramatics.
But while this is a show full of big moments of high drama, that doesn’t mean it neglects the smaller details. The film being projected at the makeshift movie theatre – The Goodbye Girl – is a perfect example of this. The 1977 drama sees Richard Dreyfuss’ character form a bond with a precocious teenage girl, something that serves as a fun reflection of the scenario Joel finds himself in. The film also features a touching scene involving the restringing of a guitar, something that will undoubtedly strike a chord with anyone who has played the games – proving again that nothing is accidental in this meticulously scripted show.
It’s not The Last of Us’ only nod to its apparent cinematic influences either. This episode brings with it lingering shots of stunning landscapes like those seen in classic westerns. True Grit naturally comes to mind – it is the tale of a headstrong young woman and gruff older man that team up on a journey through the west, after all – but it’s John Ford’s The Searchers I was reminded of most; the story of a world-weary man on the hunt for a lost family member. It’s not only in its themes that this chapter shows flashes of the 1956 epic, but in the standout cinematography too – horses are allowed to trot in and out of frame in front of stunning views and, in particular, Joel and Ellie making camp under the stars. This contributes to a noticeably slower pace that reflects the calmer, friendlier nature of Joel and Ellie’s bond.
It comes as a slight surprise, then, that the end of this episode feels ever-so-slightly rushed. The short University of Eastern Colorado sequence does throw several nods to the game, such as wandering monkeys and abandoned Firefly labs, but it doesn’t take enough time to let the impact of the abandonment sink in. Apart from a quick scan of a map and the realisation that the Fireflies have moved further West, this whole sequence feels designed purely to have Joel incapacitated as quickly as possible. It would have been nice to have just a few more minutes looking into what exactly had gone wrong here with the Fireflies’ tests for a cure, something the game does very effectively through notes and audio recordings.
It doesn’t prevent Joel suffering a rather nasty wound to his abdomen from being any less impactful, however, with both Pascal’s shock and Ramsey’s tangible panic really selling the moment. What follows is an ending reflective of those classic westerns this chapter owes so much to, deliciously flipping the script on one of True Grit’s most memorable scenes. One short and very sharp stab of action leaves Ellie all alone in the snow, the words she shouted just the night before still ringing through the wilderness. Echoing the scenes of the game, Ellie must now become Joel’s protector as The Searcher slumps off of his horse and into the arms of The Goodbye Girl.