Episode five of HBO’s The Last of Us marks the midpoint of our nine-episode journey. I needed to do something to lighten the mood for myself, and unlike Ellie, I don’t have a book of awful jokes handy.
At least this episode also features what I consider the most effective subtle nod to the game in the entire season.
The Fall of Kansas City FEDRA
An armored vehicle the people have reclaimed roams the streets blasting the message, “Collaborators, surrender now and you will receive a fair trial.” Hmm, yes, somehow I don’t believe you.
As the armored vehicle passes, we see Henry and Sam lurking in the shadows.
“Lucky for you, I’m not FEDRA,” she tells them, saying that if they cooperate, they’ll be put on trial, be found guilty of course, and then have to do some time, “easy.” She’s ...
...got her commando assistant Perry (Jeffrey Pierce, who voices Joel’s brother Tommy in the games) by her side, his silent presence lending her words an added threat of danger.
“He’s not my seventh priority, Perry,” she says.
“Is that what he is to you?” I’m starting to feel like the way she prioritizes finding Henry above all other concerns may backfire on her in some way.
“When you’re done, burn the bodies. It’s faster,” she says, the way you might ask someone to pick up some milk from the grocery store on the way home.
Henry and Sam stay with Edelstein
“He’s scared because you’re scared,” he advises Henry.
“There is one problem, though,” he says.
And yet right out the window, Henry can see resistance officers scouring the city, making leaving a dangerous proposition. Sam clings to Henry for a long time after that.
The birth of Super Sam
As he holds his brother and looks at the art decorating the walls, Henry has a flash of inspiration.
Meeting Joel and Ellie
Joel isn’t exactly thrilled about waking up to the reality of being held at gunpoint, but soon they agree to a tentative truce, and Henry introduces himself as “the most wanted man in Kansas City.”
“I’m betting that y’all came up here to get a view of the city and plan a way out,” he says.
“And when the sun’s up, I’ll show you one.”
“Raped and tortured and murdered people for 20 years,” he says.
“Welcome to Killa City”
Henry insists that today, he doesn’t have much choice, “‘cause I live here and you don’t.” They need each other, Henry argues.
“Haven’t heard that in a long time,” he says, mirroring a moment from the game in which Ellie and Sam playfully eat blueberries together and Henry says it’s been a long time since he saw Sam crack a smile.
Their fate is so awful, so bleak, that it makes me think back to Ellie’s question to Joel in episode four: “If you don’t think there’s hope for the world, why bother going on?” I’m once again glad ...
...that the TV series at least offered us the reprieve of Bill and Frank, giving us one vision of lives lived well and with meaning, to temper how relentlessly hopeless it all gets for a while.
Sam sits nearby sketching, but Henry doesn’t want him left out of the conversation.
“How do we get across?” he signs at his brother.
“FEDRA drove them underground 15 years ago,” Henry says.
(Considering that this is near Pittsburgh, that probably makes about as much sense as the beginning of episode two being set “10 miles west of Boston.”) The note is signed by someone named Ish (perhaps a reference to Moby Dick’s sea-faring ...
Who is Ish?
...narrator Ishmael) and details how, after spending some time at sea to hide from the outbreak, he eventually found himself running low on supplies and his boat in disrepair, and returned to shore to take his chances with humanity again.
“What’s the point of surviving if you don’t have someone to laugh at your corny jokes?” his note reads, a question that cuts to the heart of The Last of Us’ themes.
“Tomorrow, I’m going in search of them.” Soon, you come to a place that’s very much like the one the party finds in the TV series, where Ish lived with other adults and children.
Unfortunately, environmental clues also tell us that at some point, infected did get into the settlement, and the results were tragic, with another adult named Kyle and a few children getting trapped in a room by infected, and Kyle killing the children himself to spare them an even worse fate.
“She lost her children,” it says, “and I have no clue what to say to her.”
“I’ve seen that we’re still capable of good. We can make it. I have to stay strong… for her.” What happened to him after that remains unknown.
He paints a picture of a great man, one who “was never afraid, never selfish, and he was always forgiving.” He’s clearly talking about Kathleen’s brother, who he wanted to follow, and would have followed, if only.
“But Sam, he got sick. Leukemia.” And wouldn’t you know it, FEDRA had control of the very limited supply of the only drug that could treat him.
And as she tells Perry about her brother—who we learn here was named Michael—and how he’d always comfort her during thunderstorms when they were kids, all I could think was, “Oh my god, shut up.” She’s the type of person who’s so convinced ...
Kathleen and Michael
...that her pain and suffering matter so much more than everyone else’s, that hunting down Henry is good and righteous because he took her brother from her, even though he only did it because it was the only way to save his own brother.
“I’m not. I never was.” She knows Michael would want her to forgive Henry.
“Your brother was a great man. We all loved him,” he says.
“But he didn’t change anything. You did. We’re with you.” Thanks, Perry.
Sniper on the street
“Hold them where they are,” she says.
“I know why you did what you did,” she says, “but did you ever stop to think that maybe [Sam] was supposed to die?” When Henry protests that Sam is just a kid, she replies that kids die “all the ...
“It ends the way it ends”
...time.” That may be true, but it doesn’t change the fact that by her moral calculus, Sam’s life should have been totally disregarded, while Michael’s life should have been prioritized above all.
In one truly staggering moment of cognitive dissonance, she says “You think the whole world revolves around him?” as if she isn’t acting like the whole world revolves around her quest for vengeance.
“It ends the way it ends,” Kathleen says as she raises her gun to kill him.
With Joel’s help and a few stabs of her trusty switchblade—her signature weapon in the game—she gets them out and they make a run for it.
Something wicked this way bloats
Kathleen stops them yet again, but her success is short-lived, as a young infected—who I think but I’m not certain is the same one that chased Ellie out of the vehicle a moment before—leaps on her and absolutely shreds her to bits.
“You think they’ll be okay?” Henry asks about the kids as they read Savage Starlight together in the next room, and Joel, in his own taciturn way, offers a kind of comfort to Henry, as a fellow protector of a young charge.
“I’m scared of ending up alone”
“You don’t have anybody else relying on you. That’s the hard part.” Then comes a bit of playful meta-dialogue as Joel says, “What’s that comic book say? That’s the hard part.” Then comes a bit of playful meta-dialogue as Joel says, “What’s that comic book say? ‘Endure and survive’?” “Endure and survive,” Henry says.
And now, as Ellie jokingly predicted earlier, Joel does indeed invite Henry and Sam to join them on the trip to Wyoming.
“Yeah, I think it’d be nice for Sam to have a friend,” Henry says. Now you’re deliberately twisting the knife, jeeze.
(“How is it that you’re never scared?”) Just like in the game, Ellie first jokes that she’s afraid of scorpions, before admitting that what really scares her is the possibility of ending up alone.
“What if the people are still inside?” he asks, and it’s the first time that the game directly engages with a terrifying idea that the show brings up early on: whether the person an infected once was remains somehow present and aware, even as they lose all control over their body.
The game’s Ellie dismisses the idea, saying “that person is not in there anymore.” Her counterpart in the show, however, seems a bit more troubled by the idea.
The game’s Sam keeps his bite a secret, but in the show, after asking Ellie, “If you turn into a monster, is it still you inside?” he lifts the leg of his jeans to show her the nasty wound.
Meanwhile, as he looks at the message she’s written, Joel seems, if anything, more committed to Ellie than ever.