Bella Ramsey Is Holding A Real Rifle In The Last Of Us, And It Helped Her Performance

In the penultimate episode of "The Last of Us," "When We Are in Need," (check out the /Film review) the high stakes of surviving life after the apocalypse come bearing down on Ellie and Joel when a new threat emerges. After Joel was mortally wounded at the end of the sixth episode, Ellie chose to nurse him back to health instead of returning to the safe community in Jackson. Joel is on the brink of death, leaving Ellie no choice but to grab a rifle that's much too big for her and venture out into the woods to hunt. 

To her own amazement, Ellie takes down a buck alone in the forest, only to discover two mysterious men, David and James, hovering around the carcass. They agree to make a trade for deer meat and penicillin that could help heal Joel, and Ellie is forced to hold both men at gunpoint until they can go their separate ways. 

That was a real rifle Bella Ramsey had to handle during an incredibly cold shoot in Alberta, Canada, where the majority of "The Last of Us" was filmed. Showrunner Craig Mazin and writer Neil Druckmann appeared on the official "The Last of Us" podcast and spoke about the decision to have Ramsey handle an actual weapon to give the episode some verisimilitude and show how much the character of Ellie was struggling to keep up appearances. 

The more real it seems, the more dangerous it feels

First things first: the production stressed gun safety at all times and Craig Mazin was quick to point out that the guns used by all the actors aren't even loaded with blanks. The rifle Bella Ramsey was using was unloaded at all times. "But it's the real rifle, and it is heavy," Mazin said. "And Bella, like, the next day, was feeling it, like, in her biceps and her pecs. It was hard for her to hold that thing up."

In "When We Are in Need," Ellie has to grow up even faster, becoming a stronger character right before our eyes in real-time. She manages to keep bluffing long enough to convince her cannibalistic captives that she will not hesitate to use the rifle if she has to. In reality, Ramsey was having trouble keeping the rifle up and pointed at actors Scott Shepherd and Troy Baker. Speaking with Baker (who voiced the character and played James in "When We Are in Need"), Mazin recalled:

"From off camera, we would occasionally be like, 'Lift the gun! Lift the gun!' Because she would ... It starts to lower, but she can't lower it. She has to keep it on you guys. And yet you can see her struggling with it. And we kept some of those moments in. They're subtle, but you can tell. It's just ... She's not equipped, and yet she's trying her best."

Ellie is doing her best to shout out commands and put on a tough veneer, but she is still a teenager trying to cope with the day-to-day struggles of living through the end of civilized society. 

'That really sounds masochistic'

"When We Are In Need" is probably the most visceral, emotionally draining episode yet for the series, mainly because we see how Ellie and Joel have to overcome incredible odds before they are finally reunited. Ellie has to switch places with Joel, becoming the protector which places her in the wake of encountering real terror and violence that only Joel had experienced up to that point. 

For Ramsey, that level of intensity was incredibly challenging but also deeply rewarding. "It was exhausting," Ramsey told Vogue during a well-deserved break from the apocalypse at Paris Fashion Week. "But those were some of my favorite days on set. That sounds really masochistic, but it's the scenes that break me that I love the most, in a way." Ramsey is certainly battle-tested by now, and it's going to be fascinating to watch her and the character of Ellie continue to grow in the second season. 

Sadly, the finale of season 1 is on the horizon. According to Ramsey, the last episode of "The Last of Us" might be controversial. "It's going to divide people massively. Massively." After escaping the clutches of a cannibal cult in episode 8, it appears that Joel and Ellie will make their way to Salt Lake City, as long as Joel has the strength to travel. If the video game offers any clues, the finale may end on somewhat of a cliffhanger that could frustrate some fans that want more of a traditional ending. No matter what happens in the finale, it seems unlikely that humans will be the only threat as Joel and Ellis move further and further away from the FEDRA Quarantine Zones.

Season 1 of "The Last of Us" comes to a close on Sunday, March 12.