The Last of Us episode 6 came to HBO and HBO Max on Sunday, rejoining Ellie and Joel (Bella Ramsey and Pedro Pascal) after they lost new friends Henry and Sam to truly horrible fates.
However, they managed to escape Kansas City's marauders and infected. This episode finds them back on their real quest -- re-connecting with Joel's estranged brother Tommy (Gabriel Luna).
He's the one who can connect Ellie to the Fireflies, a rebel group that wants to replicate her immunity to the fungal infection that's turned billions of people into monsters and potentially restore this broken world. Let's see how successful they are by diving into SPOILERS.
River of death
Three months after losing Henry and Sam, Ellie and Joel have gone far west and gotten themselves lost in the wilds of Wyoming. There they happen upon Florence and Marlon (Elaine Miles and Graham Greene, actors of respective Native American and First Nation origins), a darkly charming elderly couple that survived the outbreak because they lived in isolation.
Despite our heroes' threatening to shoot the couple, Florence gives them soup due to the cold weather and Marlon warns them not to pass Yellowstone River (the map reveals that they're in Yellowstone National Park) -- only "death" lies that way.
Back on the road, the pair stop for the night and express their hopes for the future if Ellie's blood does indeed send the world back to a pre-outbreak society. Joel wants to settle down on a ranch and raise sheep because "they're quiet, do what they're told."
Ellie is a bit more ambitious, declaring her desire to become an astronaut like the late Sally Ride (who became the first American woman to fly to space in 1983). There's a hint of melancholy after Ellie says it though, suggesting she's not convinced it can ever happen. Joel expresses an uncharacteristic confidence that the cure will work, subconsciously slipping a reassuring dad mode.
These moments hint at elements seen in The Last of Us Part 2 game, but we won't dive into those here since it'll likely come up in season 2 of the show.
Crossing the river, Ellie and Joel encounter a group of people who set a sniffer dog on them to determine if they're infected. The pup gives Joel the all-clear, then it seems like Ellie won't be so fortunate -- we know she's bitten, so the dog might tear her to shreds. Joel steels himself up for the worst, but the doggo remains friendly to Ellie. Phew.
A woman in the group (Rutina Wesley, whom you might know from True Blood) turns out to be Tommy's wife, Maria, and brings them to their rather lovely settlement for a reunion. Joel is a little weirded out by the fact that his little brother got married without him knowing, but Ellie helps him express his congratulations. Awkward.
This plays out quite differently in the game, where Ellie and Joel happen upon Maria and Tommy's settlement. There's also a large set piece at the hydroelectric dam, which we only glimpse in the show.
Maria and Tommy reveal that they built "river of death" reputation by littering the area with the bodies of any nasty marauders that tried to get into the town -- the types of people we saw Bill fending off.
Things get tense between Tommy and Joel, since their protective measures resulted in him cutting off radio contact with Joel. Maria is also pregnant, which makes Tommy less inclined to take responsibility for shepherding Ellie to the Fireflies. And Joel's trauma over the death of his daughter Sarah makes it tough to see his brother moving on with his life.
"Just because life stopped for you, doesn't mean it has to stop for me," Tommy says, before Joel storms out.
Ouch. Out on the street, Joel seems to suffer a panic attack when he spots a woman with similar hair to Sarah, suggesting that his bond with Ellie and chat with Tommy is resurfacing buried trauma.
A hint of safety
Ellie learns about Sarah from Maria, giving her new insight into her father figure. She's also treated to a screening of The Goodbye Girl -- a 1977 movie about a prickly man who bonds with a precocious girl. Richard Dreyfuss won an Oscar for his performance in this one, so it seems like a solid choice (if a little bit meta).
Tommy ultimately apologizes for his comment, and Joel confesses the depths of his trauma and the agony caused by his attachment to Ellie. Learning of Ellie's immunity, Tommy agrees to take Ellie to the Fireflies… but Ellie is not having it.
They briefly argue over Joel's attempt to pass responsibility onto Tommy, but Joel ultimately decides to let Ellie choose which brother she'd prefer. Predictably, she chooses Joel and the dream team heads out to I-25.
Post-apocalyptic college experience
Arriving at the University of Eastern Colorado (the same fictional institution seen in the game), they find the Fireflies' old lab abandoned except for a few monkeys adding to the mess. After determining that the rebel group is likely in Salt Lake City, they're forced to escape as a group of marauders arrive.
Joel scuffles with one of them and ultimately breaks his neck, but discovers that he's been stabbed in the stomach with a piece of wood. The pair flee on horseback and appear to have gotten clear, then Joel falls off their mount and loses unconsciousness in the snow.
This section plays out similarly to the game, though the approach to the lab sees you taking on Clickers and exploring more thoroughly. Both versions end up with Joel badly wounded and Ellie in charge of their fates, but the show gives us a rather excellent cover of Depeche Mode's Never Let Me Down Again -- the same song that played at the end of episode 1.
Episode 7 of The Last of Us hits HBO Max next Sunday, Feb. 26.