The Last Of Us Episode 7 Brings Emotional Damage

I've said before that "The Last of Us" is best when using flashbacks and fleshing out the world by straying a bit from the main plot. Episode 3 showed this, and now episode 7 is giving it a run for its money, with a fantastic and heartbreaking episode that focuses not on an original story, and not a chapter of the game, but a DLC titled "Left Behind." Released a year after the first game, it was essentially an origin story for Ellie, a short chapter to whet people's appetites until "The Last of Us Part 2" was finally released. 

Both the show and the game have this story take place at the same time, in order for it to illustrate what Ellie meant when she said she also had lost people like Joel, and also to strengthen the both between the two, showing that Ellie is not going to just abandon Joel, no matter what he tells her.

The episode cuts back and forth between the present — where Ellie drags Joel to an abandoned house and he begs her to leave him — and the past, right before Ellie got infected, as we explore her relationship with her friend and roommate, Riley.

The episode starts with a baffling scene — Ellie at school! We have heard of Ellie's days in a FEDRA school, but this is the first time we see it. Not only that, but we also just see Ellie having a relatively normal life. She has gym class, she has a bully, she has a Walkman (!!), she has posters on her room walls, she reads comics and books on puns. She even has an A-ha cassette tape. It's the closest to "normal life" we've seen her have, and runs opposite what we saw last week.

Government agencies and Fireflies

We have heard of FEDRA and the Fireflies, and episode 5 painted a picture of why FEDRA sucked so much, but this episode deepens the shades of grey in this conflict, showing how FEDRA to some degree does hold the town together (we have seen what can happen when rebels take down the authoritarian government). 

We learn from the school principal — who is also a military captain — that Ellie is thought to possess government official potential, but if she keeps getting in trouble at school she will get a bad assignment and die some meaningless death. Though Ellie doesn't realize it, this is already one way in which FEDRA monumentally sucks, because it turns out they assign roles to kids that they'll have to stick to for the rest of their lives. If the officials don't like you, you get a crappy assignment like sewage watch. 

This caused Riley, Ellie's roommate and best friend, to abandon school 3 weeks earlier and join the Fireflies because they showed they cared enough about her to not just send her to keep watch over s***-shovelers.  To Ellie, this is a sign of betrayal, because all she knows about Fireflies is that they kill people and are terrorists. She doesn't stop to think that FEDRA is not the good guy here — they are literally teaching the kids to kill insurgents. 

This is a big theme of "The Last of Us," how indoctrination, education, and propaganda mold people's thinking, and the importance of empathy and putting yourself in the shoes of others. Ellie in particular is quite bad at this, only taking what she sees with her own eyes at face value, which makes Riley's constant teasing of Ellie for not knowing everything rather poignant.

'Everybody come and play. Throw every last care away...'

Riley comes back in order to sneak into a mall with Ellie. When Riley turns on the generator and it lights up the abandoned mall, it is like a dream. These are some of the best visuals the show has done so far, with the sight of the neon lights covered in moss in abandoned ruins making for a fantastic contrast between what was and what is. 

This is the pinnacle of what Ellie considers civilization to be, the pinnacle of American capitalism and consumption, or comfort, all now in ruins. There are stores half-empty from looting, known brands, and fast food joints like Panda Express, GameStop, and Target, all with moss and fungi growing around them. And, as we've seen her before, Ellie is utterly marveled at the sight of the mall, thinking the escalator (or electric stairs as she calls them) is the most magical thing in the world. 

All throughout the episode, we see that Riley is the only person Ellie truly respects and cares about. Riley treats Ellie like a younger sister, but Ellie never says something sarcastic or talks back at her. As the two start navigating the mall, A-ha's "Take on Me" starts playing — a significant song in the games. We even see a poster for "Dawn of the Wolf Part II," a famous movie that was just about to be released in the games before the outbreak began, but a movie that doesn't make much sense in the show version since it was meant as a joke about "Twilight," a movie that never got made in this timeline.

Young love

We also discover that Ellie has a huge crush on Riley. This was rather significant in the game, where Ellie became a very rare lesbian protagonist, even if it became controversial that this reveal happened in a DLC not everyone played. Regardless, the episode serves as a rather cute teenage rom-com.

Bella Ramsey delivers her best performance of the season so far, showing the restraint and the insecurities in Ellie, a character that is as extroverted and self-assured as they come. It is also rather funny to see Ellie, who just last week said how bizarre it was for girls to only worry about movies, boys, and clothes in the before times, to now be just as worried about some of those things.

In Riley's tour of surprises for Ellie, the two have some fun riding a carousel, then stopping by a photo booth, recreating a fantastic scene from the game. Storm Reid, who plays Riley, gives a memorable performance that, just like Bill and Frank from episode 3, sticks with you long after the credits roll. The duo also stops at an arcade, which Ellie calls "the most beautiful thing I've ever seen," and they play "Mortal Kombat II." Everything we see in this episode has actually been referenced already in other episodes. Ellie name-dropped the fighting game in episode three as something she heard about from another kid, not a game she had experienced. She lied, and pushed the memory all the way down after the events of the episode.

The tragedy of The Last of Us

Riley also gives Ellie the second volume of "No Pun Intended," the same book she reads to Joel later. Unfortunately, the honeymoon stops when Ellie discovers Riley's stash of grenades, realizing she didn't find this place, but was posted there by the Fireflies before yet another attack.

Riley confesses, but Ellie is only halfway right. Yes, she was posted here, and yes, there will be an attack, but Riley will not participate. This is actually her last night in Boston because she was assigned to go to another QZ by Marlene. This is goodbye. After getting angry for a bit, Ellie comes to understand and respect Riley's choice. For the last surprise, Riley leads Ellie to a Spirit Halloween Store, where the two put on Halloween masks and dance on top of the store's glass display. Finally, Ellie breaks down, asks Riley not to go, and kisses her. Better (and sadder) yet, Riley kisses her back and makes it clear she is also into Ellie, showing that the two foolishly and unfortunately wasted all this time keeping their feelings hidden.

Speaking of unfortunate, the two are interrupted by a stalker, one of the four types of infected we've seen. Though Ellie stabs the stalker in the head and kills it, it is too late — they are both infected.

An unfortunate and baffling decision

Then it all clicks. This is exactly three weeks before the show — when Ellie is bitten, when she loses everything and everyone. This is when she decided to be a little badass who doesn't care about anything or anyone; who jumps straight at danger because she has nothing else to care about — until now.

She is not letting this happen again. Just like she didn't abandon Riley, she is not abandoning Joel, but instead frantically searches for medicine in the house until she finds a needle and thread. After very graphically stitching Joel up, the episode ends. 

While this is a very compelling and tragic episode of "The Last of Us," it does fall to the show's worst trope — that of making all Black characters die tragically and rather gruesome deaths only to motivate the white characters. We saw this with Sam and Henry, we saw this with Sarah, and we see it here with Riley. As cool as it is that the show has Pedro Pascal, a Latino actor, play Joel, it doesn't take away from the fact that the show only brings in Black actors to kill them off after a single episode. This is lazy, and an unfortunate big negative on an otherwise excellent show.