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‘The Last of Us’ Episode 5 Asks: Who’s More Dangerous, the Living or the Dead?

Ellie and Sam Liane Hentscher/HBO

It doesn’t always seem like zombies, undead, or post-apocalyptic monster entertainment would be the ideal avenue to create and answer philosophical questions about the world. Still, there is a surprising amount of depth to the genre. When placed in the very competent hands of “The Last of Us” creators, these queries run even more extensively through the characters’ minds and the audience’s. When the dead overrun the planet, you would think the reanimated corpses dominating the landscapes would be the main threat to the living’s survival. Still, live humans are the most dangerous creatures in the world. People have natural predilections towards crudeness and selfishness. The harsh reality of an apocalypse expounds upon these negative qualities. This leads to a massive question in episode five of Last of Us about who is a more significant threat: the living or the dead?

Whereas the show’s first three episodes are better thought of as standalone acts, this week’s hour is a direct sequel to the fourth episode, “Please Hold to My Hand.” We pick up on the other side of a cliffhanger in which some visitors awaken Ellie and Joel. The survivors at the duo’s bedside are two brothers with a considerable age gap, Henry and Sam (Lamar Johnson and Keivonn Woodard). With some humorous convincing by Ellie, Joel is cordial enough to get them to put their guns down and talk like civilized adults. The four realize that there are some key similarities between their circumstances, mainly that they all need to escape Kathleen’s petty and conniving grasp (Melanie Lynskey). Escaping Kansas City won’t be easy, but Joel has the skills, and Henry has the know-how.

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While the episode looks like it might end up being another build-up to next week yet again, midway through is when the fireworks start to explode suddenly and rapidly. The four travelers believe they have reached the city’s outskirts, and they even begin discussing the merits of Henry and Sam joining Joel and Ellie on their way to Wyoming. Remember that this open-space state is the probable location of Joel’s brother, Tommy (Jeffrey Pierce). When the coast looks clear, bullets start raining down from a sniper. This is no coincidence. The gunman is one of Kathleen’s men, and he was planted intentionally to trap groups trying to leave town. Kathleen envisioned this was an escape route Henry would try to take at some point, and this sniper was meant to kill him or at least detain him long enough with gunfire until Kathleen and her band of renegade enforcers could arrive.

Joel kills the gunman, but the head of the snake arrives with her militia within minutes. Kathleen wants revenge on Henry because Henry used Kathleen’s brother as bait to get medicine for Sam early on in the apocalypse. The only thing stopping her from getting what she wants is a spine-chilling hoard of infected that rise from a hole in the ground, topped off by the first appearance of a famous monster type from the video game called a “bloater.” This creature seems to answer the question of who’s more dangerous in this apocalyptic scenario as it wreaks havoc on Kathleen’s group of living. The leader herself dies at the hands of a much smaller monster, though, leaving an escape route for the group.

What happens next is one of the most heartbreaking sequences in the show yet. Sam discloses to Ellie that he was bitten by one of the infected during the battle. Ellie believes she can heal Sam with her blood since she’s immune to the cordyceps. When she awakens the following day, Sam is overtaken by the disease and pounces on Ellie, trying to bite her. The fight spills into the next room, where Joel and Henry are. In a quick decision under duress, Henry shoots Sam to save Ellie, clearly Henry’s instinctual response to anything undead attacking something living. To see a child become the victim of this curse, to go from the living to the dead so suddenly, from a friend to an enemy in the blink of an eye, is a massive indication of the nastiness of this plague. As the reality of what he’s done sinks in, Henry turns the gun on himself and commits suicide.

This episode was a heavy reminder of the demoralizing events that have already taken place between Joel, Ellie, and the people who come into their orbit. It also blurs the line between where actual dangers lie and how quickly threat vectors can change as the apocalypse rages on. Pretty heavy stuff for a zombie show, right?

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