TV Review: HBO’s The Last of Us Episode 7, ‘Left Behind’

As we near the final episodes of HBO’s The Last of Us, episode seven dives into Ellie’s past, providing much of what makes her tick. Directed by Liza Johnson, this hour-long episode aired on February 26th. Let’s dive right in.

Synopsis

Episode six left us worried–Joel was gravely wounded from a scuffle with some raiders at an abandoned university. The camera pans over snow-covered homes and a trail of blood. Joel lies in pain, bleeding through where the broken baseball bat punctured his abdomen. Ellie moves frantically, trying to find a way to stop it; however, Joel continues to push her away. He struggles to speak, but he essentially is telling Ellie to leave. He wants her go to north and return to Tommy.

At first, Ellie seems to listen. She staggers away from Joel, while a stray tear leaks from the corner of his eye. Ellie stops short of the cellar door, and we enter a major flashback.

The majority of the episode follows Ellie during her days at FEDRA school. She is running laps in the gym until a girl name Bethany pushes her around. Bethany taunts Ellie, saying that her ‘friend’ is gone and that she was a fighter, not Ellie. This leads to Ellie unleashing untethered anger on Bethany, sending the bully to the infirmary with stitches and Ellie to the Captain Kwong’s office.

Judging by Captain’s Kwong’s and Ellie’s demeanor, this isn’t the first time she’s gotten into trouble.

Just put me in the fuckin’ Hole.

-Ellie, The Last of Us

Because the Hole didn’t work the last three times, the captain tries a different approach. He explains the two different paths Ellie can choose–either as a “grunt”or an officer. Ellie unconvincingly states she wants the better of the two paths, and she spends the rest of the evening restlessly flipping through a comic book.

In the middle of the night, a figure slips into Ellie’s room–scaring the living daylight out of her. Her best friend, Riley (Storm Reid), has returned after vanishing a few days prior. Riley had enough of FEDRA school and took off, but she returned to show Ellie the best night of her life. After some banter, Riley convinces Ellie to roam the QZ at night. They sneak alcohol from a deceased person and hop from rooftop to rooftop.

Both playful and serious exchanges are peppered in between, including the fact that Riley has joined the Fireflies. While Ellie understands the Fireflies to be a terrorist group, Riley sees FEDRA as an oppressive force that needs to be uprooted–much like in other QZs. Both are set in their views and insinuate that perhaps the other person doesn’t understand or know everything.

Eventually, they end up at an abandoned mall. Because the Boston QZ is expanding, so is the electrical grid. Ellie’s mind is blown when the mall jumpstarts to life. Neon lights flicker. Music plays in the distance. The two can almost get a sense of what this place was like before the outbreak.

There is a joyous sequence of events that follow, from Ellie running up and down an escalator, enjoying a carousel ride, taking pictures in a photo booth, to playing Mortal Kombat II with Riley at the arcade. All the while, Ellie sneaks amorous glances at Riley, wondering if her friend feels the same way.

Image credit: HBO

When they end up at the food court, Riley gifts Ellie a joke book. Sadly, the light moment is short lived when Ellie finds pipe bombs. The truth unravels from there–Riley is stationed at the mall as a Firefly. Moreover, Riley is moving to the Atlanta QZ in the morning. The news overwhelms Ellie, and she storms out of the mall.

By the time Ellie reaches the entrance, she pauses and rethinks her decision. Soon enough, she turns back around to find Riley. A scream in the distance alarms Ellie, and she sprints to find Riley. Ellie stumbles into a Halloween store and discovers the scream was from a spooky decoration. Riley, looking sullen, is sitting on the ground and told Ellie this was supposed to be the last surprise.

Ellie tries to set things right, and the two end up dancing on the countertops in Halloween masks. Ellie even drew the courage to go for a kiss, and that’s when she begs Riley not to leave. However, at the pinnacle of romantic moment together, an Infected charges in. Riley drops her gun, and the two grapple against the monster until Ellie finally stabs it in the brain. Ellie is bitten and so is Riley.

At first, Ellie loses it and begins smashing everything in sight while Riley simply sits in silence. Ultimately, the two sit together, trying to salvage the remaining moments they have together.

The flashback ends. Ellie searches the dilaptiated house until she finds a needle and thread. Doubling back, she returns to Joel. Ellie starts sewing his wound up, determined to stay by his side.

Analysis

This episode follows The Last of Us Part I video game’s DLC, also titled “Left Behind”. This flashback serves two purposes. One, to inform the viewer of what set this story in motion–the very moment that changed Ellie’s life forever. Secondly, it draws the parallel between Ellie’s relationship with Riley to hers with Joel. While one is romantic and the other isa parent-child dynamic, it demonstrates this bond where one chooses to make the best of it until the bitter end.

With the exception of the final outcome, the venture into the mall was a joyous one. If it weren’t for the ransacked stores, one would see it like any other teenager skipping school or going on a date with a crush. Ellie is silly on an escalator (I know I’ve done that), and the two mock the lingerie at Victoria’s Secret. Despite their hardened life post-outbreak, they still enjoy kid-like things–making silly faces at a photo booth and spending quarters at an arcade. For a brief moment, they experience a “normal” childhood. They even can spare flirtaceous comments or stares.

Image credit: HBO

What the show focuses on a little more than the game is the stark differences of opinion of FEDRA between Ellie and Riley. Ellie views FEDRA as the one thing holding people back from starving or murdering one another. Riley views them as oppressors, and that people should be liberated. By now, we the viewer, know the world outside of Boston QZ. We’ve seen the bad and the ugly in other cities where either FEDRA failed or lost to a rebellion group. Who is right? The show doesn’t answer this question, and I believe that was the right choice. However, it still does not stop the two from butting heads about it, and when Ellie discovers the pipe bombs, she scoffs when Riley promises that the Fireflies wouldn’t use it on her.

The episode confirms the loss Ellie has referred to on a few occasions. With no parents, Ellie only had Riley. When the two were attacked and bit by the infected, they end up sitting together, cherishing their last moments–refusing to abandon one another. This is what causes Ellie to return to Joel with full confidence. Ellie and Joel, whether they admit it or not, are living for one another, so she will do what it takes to save his life. She refuses to leave his side until the bitter end.

Verdict

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Sometimes I feel like a broken record, especially when I say this is another solid episode; however, it is true in the case of HBO’s The Last of Us. If people have not learned this by now, but this series is not meant to be a bloody, action-packed horror from open to close. In fact, despite the zombie label it may carry, The Last of Us is more of an examination of humanity via the relationships of others in times of hardship. Because of that, my scoring is based on how well HBO executes this. Every episode thus far has packed an emotional kick in the stomach.

This flashback in particular is key to how Ellie ticks, and its faithfulness to the video game is respected. I will note however the Infected was a little hard to believe. They only showed one lone Infected that lay dormant until Ellie and Riley’s noise stirred it to life. We’ve seen how quickly the fungus can spread in other areas of Boston. For example, Faneuil Hall and the museum. There was a network on fungi, and it’s hard to believe only one random Infected lived in the mall.

What were your thoughts on episode seven? Please share your thoughts with us on our Boss Rush Facebook Group or our Boss Rush Discord.


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The Boss Rush Podcast is the flagship podcast of Boss Rush Media and The Boss Rush Network. Each week, Corey, LeRon, Stephanie, Edward, and their friends from around the internet come together to talk their week in games, entertainment, and more while also bringing topics for conversation, answer listener and community questions, and cover major news and events happening in the video game industry. Watch The Boss Rush Podcast live on Wednesday Nights on Twitch at 8:30PM ET / 5:30PM PT or on Friday mornings at 7AM ET on YouTube and podcast services everywhere. Thanks for listening! You can also get this episode one week early on Patreon.

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