But in Episode 6 of HBO’s “The Last of Us,” we see a new side to Joel. He is vulnerable. He feels immense guilt. He doubts his ability to protect those he loves. And he openly admits he’s afraid of what might come out of those emotions. In this character’s 10-year existence, he’s the most raw Joel Miller we’ve ever seen. It is a team that we have never known in matches. It’s a side only his brother Tommy sees.
Before seeing the brothers reunite, Joel and Ellie finally arrive in Wyoming. They take a Native American couple hostage and demand information. Ellie reflects Joel more than ever here. It’s surprising to see a 14-year-old girl holding an older couple with her gun, and Ellie does just that, enthusiastically. The pair warn our heroes: People crossing the area are killed by an unknown group west of the river, where Tommy is. The performances of these two unnamed characters are memorable, funny, and charming, albeit short. “The Last of Us” on HBO can be criticized for not focusing much on individual characters (especially since so many people die in the same episode they’re featured), but each performance still swings for the fences.
Joel and Ellie truck around, and we get a few more minutes for them to bond. Here’s one of the biggest differences between the game and the show: compared to the game, we spend very little time with just Joel and Ellie on the show. The game lasted almost entirely 12 hours of interaction between the two. We saw their relationship form while we were playing. The show, on the other hand, has to create scenes for just the two of them to ensure that the audience forms a similar bond with these characters.
Later, Joel stops by to wrap his broken boots in duct tape. Here’s another thing we see in the series that we’ve never seen in the game: Joel and Ellie chilling out and camping. In the game, the player is constantly on the move. In the show, we see how the world really works. Of course, Joel’s boots would split. He has crossed more than half the country so far.
Ellie confesses to Joel that she tried and failed to save Sam. Henry and Sam’s tragedy turned them both. Ellie is traumatized and wants her immunity to mean something. As for Joel, we will understand later the impact these events had on him.
The two cross the river and a band of people on horseback approach and hold them at gunpoint. A dog is sent to determine if Joel and Ellie are infected. Joel, of course, is clean. Ellie is the joker and Joel is powerless to do anything about it. Fortunately, the dog takes a liking to Ellie; we hear him laugh. A woman recognizes Joel and escorts him and Ellie to Jackson.
Tommy and Joel finally get together. We learn that the woman who recognized Joel is Maria, Tommy’s wife. Here we see peace and order in the world of “The Last of Us”. If the story has felt dark and hopeless so far — that no matter what a community does, it’s doomed — this Wyoming community is the counter argument. An orderly life can be achieved. Tommy says it’s all done by collective order. Joel observes that this is “communism”. Reflecting his old-school American sensibilities, Tommy bristles at the suggestion, but Maria quickly corrects him: “This is a commune,” she says. “We are communists.
HBO’s “The Last of Us” is a hit. This producer wants to clear the air.
The brothers take time out at the bar. Joel doesn’t say why he’s there and who Ellie is, which makes Tommy suspicious. Joel asks Tommy to take Ellie to the fireflies; Tommy refuses. He reveals to Joel that he is about to be a father. Joel’s response is to grab the bottle and take a sip. Tommy feels insulted by this answer and Joel leaves, believing he is interfering in his brother’s life.
Outside, Joel seems to have health problems. It’s unclear exactly why, beyond the fact that he’s a 56-year-old man who has just driven across most of North America. He sees a girl with hair like his late daughter and has to stop to get his emotions under control. Meanwhile, Ellie and Maria have a tense confrontation over Joel’s checkered past as a murderer and smuggler. Ellie finally discovers Joel’s daughter and Maria warns Ellie to follow in Joel’s footsteps. Ellie defends Joel and insists she may be “smarter” than Tommy, who In fact followed in Joel’s murderous footsteps and won’t do what he did. Maria is impressed that Ellie is sticking to her guns and invites her to the movies. The municipality has set up a projector with some old films. This is yet another example of learning what a peaceful existence looks like in this world.
Tommy reunites with Joel and immediately apologizes for his rudeness by announcing his paternity. He realizes that what he said to Joel, especially the good news that he is a father, would hurt his brother. Finally, Joel reveals to Tommy the true nature of his trip: to take Ellie to the Fireflies in hopes of finding a vaccine. It’s here that we see Joel like we’ve never seen him before, looking like a lost old man. He remembers how Ellie had to shoot another man to save her old slow self. He says he was powerless to save Ellie when Sam attacked her. And when that dog tried to sniff Ellie earlier in the episode, Joel felt just as helpless.
“All I did was stay there,” admits Joel. “I couldn’t move. I couldn’t think of anything except that I was so scared. He recalls the nightmares he has had over the past few months, where he is unable to save those he loves. “I’m failing in my sleep,” Joel said with deep pain in his voice.
Tommy clearly hates seeing Joel this way and agrees to take Ellie to Eastern Colorado University, where the Fireflies might have a base. Ellie overhears all of this, and confronts Joel: Does he care about her? Joel says of course he does. Ellie brings up Sarah and Joel tells her to stop. Of course, Ellie doesn’t listen and continues: Joel is the only person in her life who hasn’t abandoned her. Joel toughens up and tells her that she’s not his daughter, and he’s definitely not her father – a line taken straight from the game.
You don’t need to play ‘The Last of Us’ to watch the HBO show
The next morning, Joel decides to offer Ellie a choice: go with him or with Tommy. For Ellie, it’s no choice at all. The two leave Tommy and the idyllic township of Jackson. Our two heroes mend their relationship and quietly reaffirm their commitment to each other. We get a nice and funny scene of Joel finally teaching Ellie how to use a gun.
Eventually, the pair arrive at the university and find that the fireflies are gone. But immediately, the two are attacked by strangers. Joel kills one of them, but not before sustaining a severe gut injury. The two escape, but Joel passes out. He looks almost dead. Ellie is mortified and whispers, “I can’t do this without you. Joel, please. A cover of Depeche Mode’s “Never Let Me Down Again” wraps up our journey this week, the same song that closed the first episode. The lyrics reflect a journey with a “best friend” that may not necessarily be in your best interest, but which you undertake anyway, in hopes of feeling complete.
A few notes and observations:
- Tommy and Joel share a similar past in the games, where Joel led Tommy to do inhumane and gruesome things that neither of them ever felt comfortable addressing directly. But at least on the show, their relationship is warmer and more emotionally intelligent. Tommy seems acutely aware and sympathetic to his brother’s trauma. And Joel sees Tommy less as an equal and more as someone he has to “save”.
- We see a hint of Joel’s past cruelty when he holds the Native American couple up at gunpoint. When he asks about a location on the map, he tells the husband that it better be the same answer as his wife. Viewers familiar with the game know the dark implications of this quip. If the answer was different, one of them wouldn’t be telling the truth.
- Rutina Wesley plays Maria with a sharp tongue and a sharper wit. While she’s not exactly in charge of the Jackson commune, it’s clear she commands respect — and has worked hard to earn it. We learn that Maria was a district attorney, which explains her ability to speak with confidence and authority.
- The show completely removes unnecessary action elements from the game, especially the firefights at the hydroelectric dam and the house where Joel and Ellie are arguing when she hears her request to Tommy. Both action sequences were necessitated by the fact that “The Last of Us” is an action game. But HBO’s interpretation is a TV drama, not an action show. Also, none of the action sequences really helped us learn anything new about any of the characters. Nothing is missing, and instead we get to know our characters better through compelling performances.
Episode 5: “Enduring and Surviving”