There’s a key line spoken by a new character in the middle of this week’s episode of “The Last of Us”. Maria (Rutina Wesley) is one of the leaders of a new commune in Jackson, Wyoming where Joel and Ellie arrive to reconvene with Joel’s brother, Tommy (Gabriel Luna). She’s also the wife of Tommy — therefore, she’s heard a thing or two about the eldest Miller brother in the time they’ve spent together. Maria warns Ellie during a one-on-one conversation that Joel may not be the man Ellie thinks he is and that you often have to worry the most about the people you trust in life, especially during a scenario like the end of the world.
This immediately raised my antenna. It’s not that I don’t trust Joel or Ellie, but that I didn’t trust Maria or Tommy. Even as the showrunners displayed various reasons to believe in the rebuilt world that the survivors have created in this small Northern town, I kept waiting for it to be a facade, a Trojan Horse that would bite the two protagonists in the behind when we least expect it. Instead, there was no such deceit. Tommy and Maria never pull any funny business, and Joel and Ellie are able to leave the community better equipped for the road ahead than before we began.
My pessimistic approach to the episode is rooted in various examples from the past of post-apocalyptic fiction creating oases that are actually mirages. AMC’s hit zombie drama “The Walking Dead” did this several times throughout its run, so much so that anytime a new safe haven is discovered, it became painfully obvious that it would only be a matter of episodes before the curtain was brought back on the dark machinations behind the scenes. This negative outcome is a tired trope in this genre, and “The Last of Us” is able to flip it upside down to devastatingly emotional results.
Even though the Jackson community has movie nights, Christmas trees, and more sheep than Joel could ever dream of, it doesn’t have the cure to the cordyceps outbreak. That panacea supposedly lies in Ellie’s bloodstream, and Joel is still determined to get her to the Fireflies so they can unearth this mysterious and hopeful antidote. He also quite simply has no other purpose than protecting his surrogate daughter.
There is a powerful scene in which Ellie confronts Joel about the death of his daughter, Sarah (Nico Parker), reminding Joel that she’s not his slain child. Joel has quite a bit of untapped trauma still from this loss, and he is clearly pained by the revelation that Ellie presents him with. Ellie asks Joel whether he cares about her, to which he emphatically responds with a yes. This is the most the audience is likely to get of a loving confession from the pairing, but we really don’t need anything else.
Actions speak louder than words. When presented with the option to follow Tommy or Joel to their next target, Ellie immediately chooses her grumpy confidant. This chemistry and trust between the two looks to rebuke the aforementioned advice from Maria at the moment, and we couldn’t be any more proud of the way “The Last of Us” helps to paint this relationship as completely half glass full.
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