HBO’s The Last of Us has officially been introduced to the world and its seventh episode, “Left Behind” has arrived. Here is a breakdown of what was seen in the episode and how it may impact the season going forward. Please be advised that this may contain spoilers for both The Last of Us series and video game.
As the episode opens, Ellie has managed to drag Joel to an abandoned home and he is in obvious pain. After being stabbed in the closing minutes of the previous episode, Joel believes that his life is ending and he commands Ellie to leave him, go north to Jackson and live with Tommy. It seems as though Ellie is about to follow through with this command until the screen goes black and flashes back to Ellie’s time in Boston at a FEDRA orphanage. She’s seen running laps during gym time while rocking out to Pearl Jam’s “All or None” and implies that she’s a hardcore fan of the 90’s grunge band as the song is considered more of a deep track than some of their more popular songs like “Even Flow” or “Jeremy” but her moment of solace is interrupted by her bully Bethany who rips the headphones off her head and makes a snide comment about her friend no longer being at the orphanage. There is a brief moment of recognition in Bethany’s eyes as she realizes that this was one comment too far and a punch is heard as the screen cuts to black once again.
We then see Ellie getting dressed down from a FEDRA officer, Captain Kwong, who tells her that Bethany is in the infirmary with 15 stitches, once again implying at Ellie’s ferocity and viciousness, but notes that while her behavior has never been exemplary, she never has been this violent. Captain Kwong lays out two paths; one of a foot soldier who will wind up “taking orders from Bethany” or she can become an officer and “tell the Bethany’s of the world where to shove it”. It is a reminder that Ellie has spent her entire life at the FEDRA orphanage and she has grown to realize that they are the ones holding everything and there is evidence that this is somewhat based on what happened in the Kansas City during the fifth episode. Ellie somewhat reluctantly accepts the path of being an officer and retreats to her room for the evening and her room reveals the full depth of her personality; the pun book, the Savage Starlight comic books, a poster for Mortal Kombat II and for some reason, a baseball. A reminder of something she does not know about and will likely never see and as she drifts off to sleep, she is awoken by an intruder. Her friend Riley, played by Storm Reid, who disappeared three weeks ago, has returned to sneak her out of the orphanage.
Prior to their exit, Ellie needs to know why Riley has been gone for son long and she reveals that she was recruited to the Fireflies. This revelation is shocking to Ellie as they have been taught for most of their lives that the Fireflies are terrorists. They quickly move on from this and as they are sneaking out, there is an implication as to how Ellie got her scar above her eyebrow. Riley refers to “another 7/11 incident” but it is unclear as to what happened during this incident and how Ellie was injured but there is no time to continue this as they enter a seemingly abandoned building and discover a dead body. The body is fresh, clutching a bag of pills and a bottle of real whiskey implying that the recently deceased person took his own life to escape the reality of the QZ. The girls pocket the bottle as the body falls through the floor and they move on. This whole journey feels like a surprise date for the two but only Riley is in on the surprise as she brings Ellie to the abandoned mall in Boston. Ellie previously believed the mall was swarming with infected but this is dispelled when Riley flips on the power and all of the lights come on revealing the beauty of the old shopping mall. The music once again kicks on with a-ha’s classic “Take On Me” as the two begin to navigate and explore the mall. The escalator rolls on and it is humorous to see Ellie go up and down the moving staircase and to see the two girls marvel at the Victoria’s Secret display but pause to take in the sight of the carousel. The girls take a lap on the ride and Ellie has to ask Riley why she left to join the Fireflies. Riley recognizes that conflict has two sides and it seems that FEDRA is more concerned with maintaining the status quo rather than trying to make things better for everyone and she just wants to be on the right side. Ellie seems to accept this explanation and two discover a classic video game arcade that has been restored thanks to the power. Riley shows off her prowess in Mortal Kombat II but their sounds of joy and laughter are once again interrupted as the camera pans to a cordyceps line that has awakened a dormant infected.
As the two wrap up their marathon session of fatalities, they find a photo booth and take a series of photos that any pair of friends would take in the mall during the old times. Fans of the game will recognize this entire episode as being lifted from the downloadable content or DLC, Left Behind where this episode derives its title. The story add-on utilizes flashbacks more frequently to show how Ellie obtained supplies to help save Joel and to show how Riley and Ellie snuck into the mall and encountered a large group of infected. There have been several changes from the DLC to the show that eliminates some gameplay moments but the iconic imagery of the mall, the stores and the emotional moments are all present in this episode of the series. As Ellie continues on with Riley, they move on to where Riley has been camping out in the mall and Ellie has to know why Riley came back to show her these wonders and it’s here that Riley has to break her friend’s heart by revealing that she is being transferred by the Fireflies to the QZ in Atlanta and will likely never see her again. Ellie is furious at this and decides to just return to the orphanage so that she isn’t penalized for skipping curfew but as she’s about to exit, she realizes she does not want to leave things like this with her best friend and turns around. Thinking that she is hearing Riley scream, she runs to a Halloween store to find Riley sulking. The two try on scary masks, share a dance to Etta James’ “I Got You Babe”, another lift from the DLC and they pause to share another moment as Ellie asks her to not leave. Riley accepts Ellie’s request and the two share a kiss. While Ellie hasn’t revealed her sexuality in any grand gesture during the show, she also does not have to as this private moment between two people who are sharing in their first love is sufficient enough.
This sweet moment is dangerously interrupted as they both the screams of the awakened infected as it rushes into the store to attack them. The two children are quickly overwhelmed by this monster and as Riley is about to be killed, Ellie stabs the infected in the head and ends the encounter. As they regain their composure, Riley motions to Ellie’s arm and the horrible realization has immediately taken hold, that she has been bitten and likely infected. We as an audience know that Ellie is somehow but that Riley is not as she reveals that she was bitten on her hand. It is heartbreaking to see these two who just shared an emotional moment be completely shattered and will be engrained in Ellie’s memory thanks to the horrific events that immediately followed it. Ellie is overcome with anger as she smashes the display cases to bits but Riley lays out their two options; take the easy way out by killing themselves or wait it out and allow themselves to become infected. Ellie innocently suggests there is a third option but then quickly understands that it isn’t possible and the two share another moment. We know what happens thanks to context from the first episode; Ellie leaves to find the Fireflies, meets Marlene and discovers her immunity but it is not entirely clear what exactly happened to Riley if Marlene killed her or if Ellie mercifully killed her. It could be something that is revealed in the remaining two episodes but it is clear that the eighth episode is setting up Ellie’s encounter and capture by a vicious group who takes no prisoners. The episode then moves back to Ellie and Joel as she begins to take apart the house until she finds a needle and thread. She has grown to care for Joel in a way she has not cared for anybody until now and she’s reminded of what both Joel and Riley have told her, that you have to find a reason to go on especially for the ones you love. Ellie is refusing to give up on Joel and she will find a way to save him, no matter what it takes.
Featured Image Credit: HBO