This recap contains spoilers for Episode Seven of The Last of Us.
I hope you think that my good editor, Brady, did a nice job recapping last week’s The Last of Us episode while I was off meeting Mario in Super Nintendo World. But I’m shocked to learn that I leave for one minute and Joel ends ups (possibly) dead?! A good cliffhanger, but I refuse to believe HBO is going to Ned Stark this show by killing off Pedro Pascal.
When we pick up with our favorite duo, Joel’s alive, thankfully. But he’s fighting for his life in some abandoned basement. I guess everything is pretty much abandoned in this world, isn’t it? (Sorry. It’s been a minute since I’ve been in this mushroom world—the apocalyptic one, not Princess Peach’s kingdom—and I come back to my The Last of Us home to find that Joel is fighting for dear life. I’m not well.) Joel’s injury does present a good opportunity for the series to spend some time telling the story solely from from Ellie’s perspective, and that’s exactly what HBO planned for this week. I smell a flashback.
We kick things off with Ellie in the Boston QZ military academy, getting reamed out by the corporal for misbehaving. She gets into so many fights—and is so defiant!—that even extreme disciplinary action has zero effect on her. “I put you in the hole three times and it doesn’t work,” he tells her. Life sucks in pandemic boarding school, and we haven’t even touched on the whole outbreak of cordyceps thing. Ellie does have one friend, Riley, played by Euphoria’s Storm Reid. She’s left the QZ to become one of the Fireflies—and she’s in pretty deep. Riley already quotes their ideology as freedom fighters against the fascist FEDRA “dickbags.” Ellie and Riley escape in the middle of the night to explore a random building, which feels even less safe since, you know, this world is full of monsters. They find a dead body and steal his liquor. “Is that the first dead body you ever saw?” Ellie asks. “No, my parents,” Riley responds. Yikes! Party foul.
Next, Riley wants to give Ellie a surprise visit: the sealed-off mall at the edge of town. (AKA Danger Land, USA.) Ellie warns her that the building is full of infected, but Riley doesn’t believe her. Listen, The Last of Us. We’ve been here before, and I know you’re about to Frank-and-Bill us all. So I guess their night of debauchery won’t be over until something awful happens. In a striking scene, Riley turns the mall lights on, making for a neon-hued romantic vibe, a la Blade Runner or Cyber Punk 2077. Really, it looks like where the Joker and Harley Quinn would go out in Gotham—experiencing creepy carnival dates and winning messed-up looking stuffed animals with all their guts ripped out. There’s even a damaged photobooth and a big carousel that plays a toy-box piano version of The Church’s 1987 hit song “Under the Milky Way.” The Last of Us‘s trend of picking out good songs is one of the only things in this series that’s alive and well.
Sadly, behind the arcade lurks one of the most fucked-up-looking mushroom monsters yet. He strikes at the perfect time—right as the two girls argue about how Riley’s leaving the city and wants Ellie to come with her. After Ellie kisses her, the infected man appears and is impervious to Riley’s gun. He tackles the two of them, but Ellie stabs him in the head with her knife. Both Ellie and Riley are bitten in the attack, but we know that Ellie is immune while Riley is, presumably, not. The flashback ends there, with the audience left to surmise that the situation doesn’t end well for Riley. It marks yet another gut-wrenching moment in the series, right up there with the demise of Tess. Henry and Sam! Frank and Bill. Still, it’s refreshing to see a story told entirely from Ellie’s point of view, showing us what very well be her first and only love in this messed-up world.
Returning to Joel, Ellie finds a sewing needle and thread and he allows her to patch up his wound. This time, she’s going to save the person closest to her. For our sake—and theirs—I hope it works out.
Josh Rosenberg is an entertainment writer living in Brooklyn, keeping a steady diet of one movie a day; his past work can be found at CBR, Spin, Insider, and on his personal blog at Roseandblog.com.