This review contains full spoilers for episode seven 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.
Ellie’s story takes centre stage in both the past and present as HBO’s The Last of Us shows us what made her the person she is today in episode 7 – a beautifully faithful retelling of the original game’s bonus chapter. Set weeks before Joel and Ellie met, it’s an episode filled with rare joy as dreams transform into reality and posters from bedroom walls become fully playable arcade cabinets. This is still The Last of Us, however; a show where the good times are never destined to last for long.
Episode 7 sees the events of the game’s DLC, Left Behind, seamlessly interwoven into the main story. It’s all the better for it as well, with this glimpse into Ellie’s past perfectly placed to give us a deeper understanding of her at this stage of the story. For the most part, this plays as a (slightly) happier memory as Ellie and her friend-turned-crush, Riley, get up to all the typical teenage activities of sneaking alcohol, jumping over rooftops, and laughing at corpses falling through floors. Oh, to be young again.
You can see in Ellie’s eyes how magical the illumination of the mall is; the suddenly colour-drenched screen conjures up childlike dream imagery like the start-up sequence of a long-dormant spaceship, or stepping into Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Multiple scenes are taken wholesale from the game, from carousel rides to photo booth shoots to Halloween mask dances, each joyously recreated.
Bella Ramsey shares great chemistry with Storm Reid, as Riley’s organised fun harmonises with Ellie’s desire to dart towards the next shiny thing. It’s a refreshing lift in tone for a show that spends most of its runtime submerged in the despair this post-pandemic world relentlessly offers. To see Ellie in full goofball mode is a rare treat and something that we’ve only briefly been treated to previously with the help of the puns of William Livingstone.
That chemistry is the base for a beautiful portrayal of a young person’s sexual awakening and a real showcase for Ramsey’s talents as a performer – impressively showing off a vast emotional range in the space of 50 minutes In some ways, it acts as a condensed mirroring of Bill and Frank’s story from episode 3, albeit one sadly never given the time to move beyond the walls of the mall due to the carelessness of youth and one unwelcome party crasher.
This short explosion of action seals their fate and sets the downward mood spiral of the episode into full effect. The tense encounter with the infected runner is fittingly scrappy, and the girls’ fighting styles are as makeshift as you’d expect from two teenagers with very limited combat experience. Despite winning the battle, they lose the war, each sheepishly revealing each other’s bites to one another as shyly as they only moments before revealed their true feelings. Ellie’s burst of rage is an impressive outpouring from Ramsey as she shatters every glass surface in sight – a promising sign that she’ll successfully develop into the vengeance-fuelled Ellie seen in Part 2.
Music is used brilliantly throughout with several clever popular music picks featured. Taking cues from Bill’s coded radio signal, two 80s songs are wonderfully used to signal imminent danger. A-ha’s Take On Me holds special significance to those familiar with the games, while The Cure’s Just Like Heaven is a fun nod to Ellie – herself a form of cure – experiencing a moment of heaven amongst the hell of it all. Similarly, 1960s track I Got You Babe by Etta James poignantly signals the hole about to be left in Ellie’s heart as Bill’s code of 60s music translates as “nothing in”.
The loss of Riley is where we come to truly see how similar both Joel and Ellie’s journeys are – both spurred on by past losses to keep from losing one another. Back in the present, by caring for Joel, Ellie is not only suturing a physical wound but aiming to heal past pains as well. It’s yet another moment of great strengthening for their bond, as they realise life without each other becomes truly unimaginable. No, this isn’t a bottle episode, nor “filler”, but one delicately packed full of crucial background information that makes Ellie that has shaped everything she is today.