The Last of Us episode 6 premiered on HBO and HBO Max on Sunday, reuniting Ellie and Joel (Bella Ramsey and Pedro Pascal) after the deaths of new friends Henry and Sam.
They did, however, manage to evade Kansas City’s marauders and become infected. This episode finds them returning to their true mission: reconnecting with Joel’s estranged brother Tommy (Gabriel Luna).
He is the only one who can link Ellie to the Fireflies, a rebel group that wants to replicate her immunity to the fungal infection that has turned billions of people into monsters in order to potentially restore this broken world. Let’s see how they fare by delving into SPOILERS.
The River of Death
Three months after losing Henry and Sam, Ellie and Joel have ventured far west and become lost in the Wyoming wilderness. There they meet Florence and Marlon (Elaine Miles and Graham Greene, both of Native American and First Nations descent), a darkly charming elderly couple who survived the outbreak by living in isolation.
Despite our heroes’ threats to shoot the couple, Florence provides them with soup due to the cold weather, and Marlon warns them not to cross the Yellowstone River (the map reveals that they are in Yellowstone National Park) because only “death” awaits them there.
Back on the road, the two express their hopes for the future if Ellie’s blood does indeed return the world to pre-outbreak society. Joel wants to live on a ranch and raise sheep because “they’re quiet and do what you tell them.”
Ellie is a little more ambitious, expressing her desire to be an astronaut like the late Sally Ride (who became the first American woman to fly to space in 1983). Ellie’s tone is a little melancholy after she says it, as if she’s not convinced it’ll ever happen. Joel expresses uncharacteristic confidence in the cure’s effectiveness, subconsciously slipping into reassuring dad mode.
These moments allude to elements seen in The Last of Us Part 2 game, but we won’t go into detail because they will most likely appear in season 2 of the show.
A tense meeting
While crossing the river, Ellie and Joel come across a group of people who use a sniffer dog to see if they’re infected. The dog gives Joel the all-clear, but Ellie may not be so lucky; we know she’s been bitten, so the dog may tear her to shreds. Joel braces himself for the worst, but the dog stays friendly with Ellie. Phew.
A woman in the group (True Blood’s Rutina Wesley) turns out to be Tommy’s wife, Maria, and brings them to their rather lovely settlement for a reunion. Joel is perplexed that his younger brother married without his knowledge, but Ellie assists him in expressing his congratulations. Awkward.
In the game, Ellie and Joel come across Maria and Tommy’s settlement, which plays out quite differently. There’s also a large set piece at the hydroelectric dam that we only catch a glimpse of in the show.
Maria and Tommy reveal that they earned the “river of death” moniker by leaving the bodies of any nasty marauders who tried to enter town – the same types of people we saw Bill fending off.
Tommy and Joel’s relationship becomes strained after his protective measures result in him cutting off radio contact with Joel. Tommy is less inclined to take responsibility for getting Ellie to the Fireflies because Maria is also pregnant. And Joel’s grief over the loss of his daughter Sarah makes it difficult to imagine his brother moving on with his life.
“Just because life came to a halt for you doesn’t mean it has to come to a halt for me,” Tommy says before Joel storms out.
Ouch. When Joel sees a woman with similar hair to Sarah on the street, he appears to have a panic attack, implying that his bond with Ellie and conversation with Tommy is resurfacing buried trauma.
A hint of security
Maria informs Ellie about Sarah, providing her with new insight into her father figure. She’ll also see The Goodbye Girl, a 1977 film about a prickly man who bonds with a precocious girl. Richard Dreyfuss won an Oscar for his performance in this one, so it appears to be a safe bet (if a little bit meta).
Tommy eventually apologizes for his remark, and Joel admits the depths of his trauma and the agony brought on by his attachment to Ellie. Tommy agrees to take Ellie to the Fireflies after learning of her immunity… but Ellie refuses.
They argue briefly about Joel’s attempt to shift responsibility to Tommy, but Joel ultimately decides to let Ellie choose which brother she prefers. She, predictably, chooses Joel, and the dream team departs for I-25.
College life after the end of the world
When they arrive at the University of Eastern Colorado (the same fictitious institution seen in the game), they discover the Fireflies’ old lab abandoned, save for a few monkeys who add to the chaos. They are forced to flee as a group of marauders arrives after determining that the rebel group is most likely in Salt Lake City.
Joel gets into a fight with one of them and breaks his neck, only to discover that he’s been stabbed in the stomach with a piece of wood. The pair flees on horseback and appears to be clear until Joel falls off their mount and collapses unconscious in the snow.
This section is similar to the game, but the approach to the lab requires you to take on Clickers and explore more thoroughly. Both versions end with Joel critically injured and Ellie in charge of their fates, but the show provides us with a rather excellent cover of Depeche Mode’s Never Let Me Down Again – the same song that played at the end of episode 1.