Following last week’s introduction to Pedro Pascal’s Joel and Bella Ramsey’s Ellie, this episode of The Last of Us continues on from the revelation Ellie is immune to the cordyceps infection that has ravished humanity.
We last saw Ellie and Joel, along with Anna Torv’s Tess, fleeing FEDRA soldiers patrolling the QZ. As they ran off into the darkness, the unmistakable noise of a clicker could be heard reverberating through the ruined city, giving us a haunting sense for what’s to come.
So, without further ado, let’s take a closer look at episode two of The Last of Us (which, incidentally, marks Neil Druckmann‘s TV directorial debut).
PLEASE NOTE: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR BOTH THE SHOW AND THE GAME SERIES IT IS BASED ON.
As with last week, the second episode of The Last of Us begins with a cold open that leans into the appliance of science. It takes us to Jakarta in 2003 (you may recall that Jakarta was mentioned on the radio when Joel was having breakfast with Sarah and Tommy in last week’s episode).
It introduces us to Ibu Ratna, a mycologist who is brought to her university to study a fungal specimen with no other context. Ibu soon realises that this specimen has come from a human – something seemingly impossible. Ibu goes to see the dead body (executed via a gunshot to the head), and it is here we get another look at just how this version of the series’ cordyceps fungus can overcome its victim.
Fully suited and booted for the occasion, Ibu creates an incision through the cadaver’s bite wound – a wound she is informed came from another human – and sees the fungus within. She then uses surgical scissors to further investigate inside the deceased’s mouth. Here she discovers the fungal tendrils we first saw coming from Nana’s mouth in episode one – and they are still writhing.
Understandably, Ibu flees from the room in horror but then comes to an even more distressing realisation. There is no cure. No vaccination. To stop this fungus from spreading, the government will need to bomb the city… and everyone in it.
As with last week’s cold open, these scenes add to the story of The Last of Us, and I mean that more than just in its most basic and obvious form. What I mean is, they do not fall into the trap many other video game adaptations have in the past when they go off-script, and do not detract from the established story many fans already know and love.
I described episode one’s cold open as ‘bonus content’ for those who have played the game, and I would do the same here. The time spent in Jakarta with Ibu brings a richer narrative to this world and, once again, introduces a sense of discomfort and foreboding that will sit with viewers for the rest of the episode.
Following the opening credits, we are reunited with Joel, Tess and Ellie in the present day. The show takes a small step away from the game’s narrative here with its change in time. Rather than discussing the revelation that Ellie is infected in the moments following their escape from the FEDRA soldiers (one of whom Joel savagely beat to death), it is now the morning after the night before.
Ellie awakens in the sunlight (just as Sarah did in episode one), as a butterfly flits overhead. However tranquil this moment may seem at first, it is soon interrupted by the realisation that both Joel and Tess have been watching Ellie sleep, Joel with a gun in his hands.
They are distrusting of Ellie, and interrogate her about what Marlene was doing with her. Ellie explains she was locked up with the Fireflies then “testing” her every day (we saw these tests in episode one, with Ellie counting to 10). However, Ellie points out that what really impressed them was the fact she “didn’t turn into a fucking monster” despite being bitten.
Joel is clearly still on edge, more so than Tess who seems to have some hope, and is prepared to shoot Ellie at the first sign of any infection taking over her body. When Ellie gets up to leave for the toilet, Joel takes to his feet immediately with the gun in his hand. He is very wary of Ellie, and when she voices her concern that something “bad” may be lurking in the next room, Joel states the only bad thing in there will be her.
The abrasive attitude Joel displays creates a parallel between his feelings for Ellie and those he felt for his daughter. While in the game there is certainly a ‘friction’ between Joel and Ellie in the early days of their relationship, the way Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey portray the characters in these moments seems to amplify the aura of scepticism between them.
As for Joel himself, he still appears a little shaken by the events of the night before. While in the game, Joel will dispose of patrolling members of FEDRA as he makes his rain-soaked way further into the city and away from the QZ without any quarrel, in the show his hands shake when he looks down at his bloody knuckles. It adds another layer of complexity to this version of Joel, with his character clearly struggling with PTSD.
With Ellie out of the room, Tess addresses his wounds, asking if his hand is broken. Joel brushes her off, commenting that there is perhaps a hairline fracture but his hand will heal fast. But while he acknowledges her question, he does not make any eye contact with Tess as he is saying this, ending their conversation about what happened with the soldier.
As someone who knows the games, as well as Ellie and Joel’s arc, I appreciate the extra character groundwork being laid out in these earlier episodes. As I said earlier, it adds more layers to Joel and the like, for both those familiar with the series already and those experiencing it for the first time. This should mean the finale will have a more profound impact on the viewer, regardless of their previous knowledge of the story.
Back to the show. Tess is amazed by the Ellie’s apparent immunity and advocates pressing on and getting Ellie to the Fireflies, as Marlene has asked. Joel, however, wants to smuggle Ellie back into the QZ, telling Tess she has to “stop talking about [Ellie] like she has some kind of life in front of her”.
Joel wants to find a different way to get the car battery he and Tess were first after in last week’s episode, in order to find Tommy, his younger brother, who has been missing for several weeks. I would like to point out here that Joel is very much a man driven by love, but I do not mean that as a good thing. Let’s be honest, Joel is a bit of a dick, and doesn’t care if people know it. When Tess points out that Ellie will be shot if anyone in the QZ notices her arm, Joel does not seem to mind. His priority is getting to Tommy, no matter the consequences to others. A love like this can be very dangerous.
When Ellie returns from the bathroom (well, the different room she could use in private), Tess questions her further about why Marlene believes she is so important. As in the game, Ellie reveals that the Fireflies are working on a cure for the infection. Joel (both in the game and in the show) scoffs at this, saying everyone had “heard that before”.
Ellie insists her immunity may provide the Firefly doctors with an answer, telling Joel “Fuck you, man! I didn’t ask for this.” Again, this is dialogue lifted directly from the game.
Joel still pushes for the three to turn back and return to the QZ. Tess, however, convinces Joel to keep going. He agrees, but says that if Ellie “so much as twitches” he will shoot her. They all pack up, and head out into the wider world (and it has thankfully stopped raining).
As with the games, Ellie is left in awe of the scale of everything outside of the QZ. She comments on the bomb crators throughout the city, remarking that it looks like a “fucked up moon”. Tess explains that the military bombed all the big cities in an attempt to slow the spread (a reference not just to Ibu’s words earlier in the episode, but also a similar statement from Tess in the game: “They bombed the hell out of the surrounding areas to the quarantine zones, hoping to kill as much of the infected as possible”).
Soon, Ellie, Joel and Tess come to a crossroads of sorts. To get to their rendezvous point with the Fireflies, they can either go the “long way” or the “we’re fucking dead way”. They agree to check the route ahead by scouting it out from a nearby hotel. It is a similar move made by Nathan Drake and Chloe Frazer in Naughty Dog’s Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. Perhaps a coincidence, but as a big Uncharted fan, this amused me.
As they make their way to the hotel, Ellie explains that she was bitten when she broke into a sealed off and abandoned mall. When asked if she was alone in the mall, Ellie becomes slightly shifty but claims that she was. She also assures Tess that no one will be coming after her. She is an orphan, and when Tess asks if Ellie has a boyfriend she replies with an almost sarcastic “no”.
As with certain moments in last week’s episode, these responses from Ellie are clearly setting The Last of Us viewers up for some flashback scenes in upcoming episodes. Those familiar with the game and its DLC will already know what I am talking about.
During this conversation, Ellie also asks more about the infected. This provides those of us who have played the game with an acknowledgement from the showrunners that they have changed the way infection spreads in the TV adaptation (something many are unhappy about).
Ellie mentions “fungus spores”, and Tess seems moderately amused by this suggestion. She does, however, get uncomfortable when Ellie asks about the existence of infected with “split open heads that see in the dark like bats”.
Looking at Joel, Tess’ reaction gives us an ominous feeling for things to come. At this point, the only infected we have seen – bar the initial runners from the outbreak scenes – are the lone clicker you could easily miss at episode one’s conclusion (see below), and the one that had expired and fused with the wall under the Boston QZ.
The three hear an unnerving and inhuman cry from close by. As in the game, Ellie is anxious about this noise, having comparatively very little experience of the infected.
Here’s a cool thing I just noticed after rewatching EP1 of TLOU 🍄👀 pic.twitter.com/DG8Uu0Ct7a
— Naughty Dog Info (@NaughtyDogInfo) January 16, 2023
They finally make it to the hotel, and the following few scenes are different to the game.
As the trio enter the establishment, they see it is flooded (with a rogue frog knocking out some suitably ominous music as he leaps on an abandoned piano). Ellie mentions she can’t swim, as indeed she cannot in the game, and is nervous about going into the water. Joel scoffs at her, jumping into the hotel’s flooded reception to show that the water is only knee high (on him at least). So, no pallets for Ellie just yet.
I really like and appreciate the moment that happens next. It shows us more of Ellie’ a-dork-ability in a situation that, let’s face it, is pretty grim. Despite wading through murky and probably very cold water while fully clothed, she makes her way to the reception desk and starts to pretend she is a guest checking in. This is similar to something she does during a flashback scene in The Last of Us Part 2, when Joel takes her to the Wyoming Museum of Science and History for her birthday. It’s a small moment that made me smile.
The lightness of the moment is soon brought swiftly back to the reality, however, as Ellie accidentally disturbs a skeleton in the water. Joel comes to her side when this happens, and offers her his hand. Ellie takes it, but soon the two release their grasp. As Ellie walks on, Joel looks down at his hand, clearly a little surprised by this contact. It’s a small sign of something starting to thaw in his icy demeanour.
The group ascends the stairs of the hotel, with Tess complaining about her knees when they get to the floor they were aiming for. It’s a nice acknowledgement that Tess and Joel are not as young as Ellie, and not blessed with unlimited stamina like a character in a game. As put by the show’s co-creator Craig Mazin, by “embracing [the] frailty [of the characters]… I think [it] helps pull people into this kind of immersion, which is different than the video game immersion” (via Polygon).
Another small nod to the game comes in the moments straight after, when the route the three are trying to make their way through is unexpectedly blocked. Here, Joel boosts Tess up through a gap he is too big for so she can create a way round from the other side. In the game, this happens on a semi-regular basis with Joel and Ellie.
We now see more of Joel and Ellie alone. Again, things are awkward between the two. Joel asks about Ellie’s knife, she gives him a sarcastic response. Ellie asks Joel about his past, he refuses to answer. They do find a ‘safe’ topic, however, when they talk about the infected. Joel says he has killed many infected, telling Ellie sometimes it is hard. Ellie then asks him about his killing of the FEDRA soldier the night before, and once again he becomes closed off.
Thankfully, Tess returns with a new way round for them, so any awkward tension is dispelled. In its place, however, is a nerve-inducing look at the extent of the infection in the city. Peering down from the hotel balcony, the three can see a mass of infected writhing in the street below.
At this point, we get a better sense of what the tendrils which Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin previously spoke about can do. When Ellie comments that the infected below are all connected, Tess explains that they are and “more than [Ellie knows]”.
She goes on to say that the fungus also grows underground with “long fibres like wires”. Tess states that should someone “step on a patch of cordyceps in one place, [they] can wake a dozen infected from somewhere else”. Then, the infected will know that person’s location, and hunt them down. For me, this feels like the show’s first really hard steer away from the game.
As the way they intended to go is blocked by this swarm of infected, Joel suggests they go through the museum, and we are back in territory that is taken from the game. And, oddly, this bit is actually the part of this episode I enjoyed the least.
In the game, there are multiple enemies for you to either stealth your way past or dispose of here, but in the show there is only a small handful (if that) of clickers. While seeing the clickers in action at last is suitably nerve-wracking, I also felt the lack of enemies made this section very slow.
I imagine the scenes in the museum were designed this way as an introduction to clickers for those who have not played the game. The first time we see a (live) clicker in the show’s museum, it is in the background as Joel and co. try to sneak past, hiding behind display cases. Eventually the clicker is brought into sharp focus (and even though I did know it was coming, it did still make me jump).
As well as the pacing of the museum scene, I also felt a little disappointed by Joel’s almost liberal use of bullets here. One of the things I loved when playing the game was knowing that ammo and resources were sparse, and so I had to be selective with what I used and when.
Joel, Tess and Ellie eventually rid themselves of the clickers, and Ellie notices she has been bitten again. This is clearly the show’s way of further proving Ellie’s immunity, as thanks to the lack of spores in this adaptation, she can’t be shown not wearing a gas mask in places that other characters have to.
Ellie jokes that, if it had to happen to anyone, at least it was her. They then leave the museum and Ellie crosses the roof tops on a plank just like she does in the game.
Tess seems agitated when they are all out in the fresh air again. She has twisted her ankle and snaps at Joel when he takes a more pessimistic outlook at their situation. As someone who has played the game I knew why this was straight away. For those unfamiliar with the story already, however, this may have come as a bit of a surprise.
Tess asks Joel to leave her, and to go and watch Ellie instead. Again, we have dialogue taken straight from the game. As Joel and Ellie look out over the city, Ellie expresses while the “jury is still out” about the world, “you can’t deny that view”.
The three finally make it to the rendezvous point, however there are no Fireflies to be seen. After scouting the area, they eventually discover the dead bodies of those they were meant to meet. They conclude one of them was bitten, and the rest began to fight between themselves. This is different to the game, and another section of slow pacing, albeit one in which the show builds tension.
Tess immediately becomes desperate, looking for some way to communicate with Marlene or a map to where Ellie’s final destination is meant to be (Marlene only told Ellie “west”). Joel tries to calm Tess down, and Tess lashes out at him, leading Ellie to realise Tess is infected.
Tess, stepping forward to show her increasingly fungal bite wound (which makes Joel flinch and take a step back from her), implores Joel to get Ellie to Bill and Frank’s (in the game she says Tommy, who use to be a Firefly). “You get her there, you keep her alive, and you set everything right.” Tess knows this is the end for her.
This rather emotional scene is interrupted by one of the bodies on the floor. It is not, as we all thought, dead, and it is infected. Joel shoots the infected in the head, and we now see how the tendrils Tess described earlier in the episode work.
Fungus creeps out of the earth covered floor beneath the now dead infected, looping into its fingers. The scene then cuts to the same thing happening to the infected we first saw from the hotel balcony.
Knowing they only have a few moments before they are overrun by more infected (again different to the game, where the three are besieged by soldiers), Tess begs a resistant Joel to leave with Ellie. “Save who you can save.” She upturns the cans of gasoline the Fireflies had stored at this meeting point, and spills grenades across the floor.
As I mentioned before, I found some of the pacing of this episode a little slow, but these final moments with Tess were done brilliantly. In this moment, unlike in the game, we stay with Tess as Joel and Ellie leave the building (Ellie very begrudgingly) and the scene.
Anna Torv does a wonderful job of conveying both Tess’ determination and fear in the moment the infected come crashing into the building. Initially, they do not acknowledge her, and she backs away into a corner while desperately trying to ignite a lighter.
One, however, eventually does and walks towards her with a goosebump-inducing calmness. As the infected approaches Tess, we see the cordyceps’ tendrils make their way out of its mouth and ‘kiss’ her. Tess’ eyes are wide-open as this happens, and she is finally able to get the lighter to work. She drops it into the gasoline, and the building explodes.
The camera cuts back to Joel and Ellie as they witness the explosion. After a pause, Joel walks away from Ellie, leaving her looking on after him unsure of what to do next, before the scene cuts to the credits. Even though I knew this was coming, I cried my eyes out.
The actors deserve nothing but praise for their performances here. The fact there was no dialogue from the moment Joel and Ellie left Tess through to the show’s credits is a testament to how much each actor could convey just with their actions alone. I felt Tess’ fear. I felt Joel’s loss. I felt Ellie’s shock. I felt it all.
While episode one was the better of the two I have seen so far, this ending left me eager to see more… and with an empty box of tissues by my side.
Well played, TV show. Well played.