The Last of Us episode 7: The pain that shaped Ellie

6 mins read

Episode 7 of HBO’s The Last of Us explores the game’s DLC chapter, Left Behind (also the episode’s name). We are shown a snippet from Ellie’s life and learn about some things that have shaped her into who she is now.

Warning: spoilers for HBO’s The Last of Us episode 7.

Because Left Behind was an additional chapter for the game, released after, it doesn’t get to be so seamlessly interwoven as the TV show manages to do.

The episode opens with Joel (Pedro Pascal) telling Ellie (Bella Ramsey) to leave him, to go back to Jackson where she will be cared for. We then go on to learn, in an episode-long flashback that takes place in an instant, why Ellie would never leave.

In episode 6, we get Ellie’s iconic line: “Everyone I’ve ever cared about has either died or left me. Everyone except for fucking you.” Episode 7 shows us a close-up of one of these events, one of the most recent and perhaps the one that hurts her the most. 

Ellie spends one magical knight with Riley (Storm Reid), her best friend and crush. Riley has been missing for weeks and returns for one night to show Ellie a good time. The chemistry between Ellie and Riley is excellent – both Ramsey and Reid absolutely shine as performers in this episode. Reid especially doesn’t have as much source material as Ramsey to work with, as Riley only appears in the game for the short DLC instalment, but makes the character her own.

One of the things that truly makes this episode stand out is how it manages to be extremely relatable. Most of us will know the giddy feeling of one-on-one time with a friend who could be something more. Being a teenager means feeling things without the temperance and sensibility that usually accompany age, and it’s refreshing to know that even after the mushroom apocalypse, they will still snatch those moments from even the darkest times.

hbo the last of us
Ellie and Riley have fun in the photo booth. Image Credit: HBO / Naughty Dog

Riley reveals that she is leaving Boston the next day, and Bella Ramsey’s acting in this scene is so fluid, marching from disbelief through anger to settle on betrayal. Riley talks about needing a tribe, a family – she knew her parents before she was orphaned, unlike Ellie, and yearns to belong.

Marlene from the Fireflies chose her. We can see from Ellie’s face that to her, Riley is that sense of belonging. We’ve had a glimpse into what Ellie’s life is like without her, and through all the flashier, louder emotions, sadness and loneliness prevail. Desperate, ice-cold sadness, the kind you feel like a punch in the belly or winter rain.

Ellie tries to leave. She gets all the way back to the entrance of the mall, but a sudden scream has her running back. Even in this moment of deepest betrayal, Ellie cannot leave this person who is everything to her. It’s a well-played fake-out and the pair are soon back to sharing longing glances and dancing on a countertop.

The pain and fear in Ellie’s voice when she half whispers, “don’t go” – she knows she’s not so much putting her cards on the table as throwing them at Riley. 

Of course, The Last of Us goes to great lengths to remind us that in this world, nobody gets their happy-ever-after. Ellie and Riley share a kiss – it’s quick and takes both of them by surprise, but the air practically crackles with emotion – and their mall-of-cards comes crashing down. All it takes is one infected. One person with a parasitic fungus for a brain sets off a chain of events that comes back to Ellie with her hand on a doorknob, realising that she can’t leave Joel.

hbo the last of us
Image Credit: HBO

The Last of Us has made great use of music throughout, but this episode especially has chosen every single song, and even every version of every song, with precision.

From All or None by Pearl Jam plays in the opening scene of the flashback, alluding to the trapped hopelessness of the FEDRA school, to Take on Me by a-ha invoking the moment that Ellie is pulled from her drab grey world and into a cartoon adventure, every song sounds right and feels right. It even adheres to Bill and Frank’s radio decades code. The ’80s mean trouble. A treatise could be written on the songs in this show.

As the nine-episode series starts to wind up, understanding the characters and their motivations is integral to understanding what they go through as things wrap up. This episode certainly brings insight and understanding to Ellie.

Featured Image Credit: HBO

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