HBO’s ‘The Last of Us’ Episode 4: The Human Element

4 mins read

Episode four of HBO’s The Last of Us introduces a threat that is unavoidable in any post-apocalypse world: other humans. How will Joel and Ellie fare?

Warning: spoilers for HBO’s The Last of Us episode 4 ahead.

When creating a world where people are desperate, you have to reckon with the fact that they will do desperate things. The heroes of the story will have to reckon with them one way or another.

In the Naughty Dog video game, this segment has the player shooting and stabbing their way through a broken-down city, ploughing through legions of nameless, faceless guys with guns. 

It’s a lot harder to justify that kind of violent massacre when the TV is your medium, though, and this is something the show tackles head-on. In a scene somewhat similar to one in the game, Ellie (Bella Ramsey) saves Joel (Pedro Pascal) from an assailant with a gun he didn’t know she had.

The Last of Us
Kathleen, a new character for the show, played by Melanie Lynskey. Image credit: HBO

In the game, as soon as Ellie fires the gun and saves Joel, the focus is immediately back on them, the assailant being a quickly forgotten NPC with no name. In the show, time is taken to really linger over the fact that Ellie, a 14-year-old girl, has shot a person. We must grapple with Bryan, for that is the name of the attacker, freaking out over his injuries. “I don’t know what to do,” he says, “my legs won’t work.”

Precious little time is allowed for our protagonists to come to terms with this – their presence in Kansas City is known and they aren’t safe. It isn’t until they have a few minutes to wait for a clear getaway that they get a minute to process. In a touching scene, Joel tries to ensure that Ellie is okay, and teaches her how to grip her gun correctly. He might have called Ellie “cargo” early in the episode, but it’s clear that his long-buries fatherly instincts are beginning to wake up.

In another instance of using the medium to their advantage, the show creators take some time to set up the residents of Kansas City. We’re introduced to their leader, Kathleen (Melanie Lynskey) and know there must be more to her than meets the eye as she strides about, commanding militia with ease. Humanising the obstacles to Joel and Ellie’s journey is something the game struggled to manage but the show is achieving, to devastating effect.

The Last of Us
Sam, played by Keivonn Woodard. Image credit: HBO

We’re introduced also to two characters by name, Henry and Sam. Kathleen and her crew are seeking them – to what end, we don’t know. However, the end of the episode seemingly brings faces to the names, as Ellie and Joel are woken at gunpoint by a young man and a young boy.

Pascal and Ramsey’s acting is extremely good in this episode (not that the series as a whole has any problems in this regard) and their characters are beginning to form a convincing bond. The growth and changing nature of their relationship is central to the narrative and it’s gratifying to see it so well-realised.

Episode five of HBO’s The Last of Us will air on Friday instead of its usual Sunday to accommodate the Super Bowl this week. Tune in to find out who Henry and Sam are, and possibly meet whatever is lurking in that basement.

Featured Image Credit: HBO

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