Seeing familial relationships build and blossom across many hours is one of the most rewarding aspects of a television series. The length of time we get to see the chemistry of characters organically develop into something novel and emotionally wrought is a sight to behold if done right. These relationships are sometimes even more memorable if they are between found family, or people who aren’t blood-related. Think the toxic father-son pairing of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman on “Breaking Bad” or the endearing and brotherly charm of Dustin Henderson and Steve Harrington on “Stranger Things.”
After last week’s perfect episode of “The Last of Us” that focused on Bill and Frank, two characters who will never be seen again, the writers chose this week to dig deep into the core of the franchise: the father-daughter dynamic of Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey). Remember back to the premiere episode when we got to see how much of a soft spot Joel had for his actual daughter, Sarah (Nico Parker)? We know the hardened exterior of Joel hides a softer, more vulnerable girl dad that has been gruffed up even more by the horrors of the cordyceps outbreak. Ellie is the key to unlocking Joel’s past and allowing him to get in touch with some of his pre-apocalyptic personality traits.
Joel’s objective, along with delivering Ellie to her preordained destination, is to find his brother, Tommy (Gabriel Luna), who is supposedly in Kansas City. Joel and Ellie embark on a road trip that is defined by several poignant and often humorous exchanges between the pair. Ellie sees that Joel is not someone who laughs easily, so she digs into her corny joke book to see which rhyme or riddle can make him crack. She even gives it a go when the two are supposed to be sleeping in the woods.
Lying down to rest during the end of the world is one of the most vulnerable decisions you can make. This is the first time we see Joel enter instinctive dad protection mode, staying up all night to make sure intruders don’t hurt Ellie or take anything from their camp. It’s a vital moment in the series, a scene in which the audience is able to immediately identify with the good parts of Joel’s moral compass, an instrument that has been interpreted as being a little foggy thus far.
The next morning we get the big action scene in the episode in which Joel is able to suss out some hitchhikers’ true intentions on the side of the road, but not before spikes on the pavement and gunshots in the air put their truck out of commission. Joel is blindsided while once again trying to protect Ellie, but the tough teenage girl has a weapon hiding in her bag, unbeknownst to Joel. She shoots the antagonist in the back of the leg, saving Joel in the process. It’s very important to see how this relationship dynamic is starting to build on mutual trust. Joel is not someone who loves others easily, and when he sees that Ellie cares about him enough to go into protector mode herself, it helps him to open up more to his newfound daughter figure.
The man Joel and Ellie took out belongs to a group in Kansas City led by a woman named Kathleen (Melanie Lynskey). We know from other zombie fiction that the living are often even more dangerous than the dead, especially in large numbers. Joel and Ellie are able to find a hiding place in the city away from the watchful eye of this organization, and the episode ends on an abrupt cliffhanger. After Ellie finally succeeds in her quest to make Joel laugh (by talking about genetic diarrhea, no less), he lets his guard down and falls asleep, something he didn’t want to do earlier in the episode. He wakes up with a gun to his face and Ellie’s. It’s going to be almost impossible for Joel to fulfill his usual internal expectations of being the protector in this scenario. The bond between these two lets the audience know, though, that they will most likely always come out on top.
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