In “The Last of Us” recap, Joel and Ellie make it out west on a mission to reunite with Tommy and hopefully find the Fireflies…
By Damon Martin — Editor/Lead Writer
It appears nearly impossible to have any kind of happy ending even for a single episode on “The Last of Us” because even the latest installment offered a small flicker of hope before being dashed out in one of the most dramatic moments in the first season.
Last week saw Joel and Ellie fight their way out of Kansas City but not before a horde of infected sprung up from the ground like a fire ant colony to lay waste to the rebel army that had just taken over the entire encampment. Along the way, Joel and Ellie befriended a pair of brothers named Henry and Sam, who helped lead them out of harm’s way.
Sadly, Sam suffered a bite during the fighting and after he turned into a mindless zombie, Henry was forced to shoot his own brother dead. Once he realized what he had just done, Henry decided to take his own life as well.
That once again left Joel and Ellie on their own as they began the long walk towards Wyoming to hopefully reunite with Joel’s brother Tommy, who was previously teamed up with the Firefly resistance group before striking out on his own. When Tommy stopped sending messages to his brother, Joel got concerned and decided he needed to head out west, which coincided with the mission to take Ellie to a Firefly facility where doctors could hopefully use her to create a vaccine to the Cordyceps infection.
That’s where we pick up with Joel and Ellie nearing the end of their journey but it turns out the long road to suffering has just begin.
With that said, let’s recap the latest episode of “The Last of Us” titled “Kin”…
River of Death
Three months have passed since Joel and Ellie left Kansas City in ruins and they’ve made their way out west. Unfortunately maps can only get them so far because while they know they’re in Wyoming, the exact location and how to reach the last settlement where Tommy was staying is unknown.
So Joel and Ellie welcome themselves into the home of an elderly couple named Marlon and Florence, who have been living off the grid ever since the Cordyceps infection washed over the world. Unlike most people they’ve encountered, Marlon and Florence aren’t immediately combative with strangers and even Joel is almost taken off guard by how little he manages to rattle the married couple while holding them at gunpoint.
Florence even makes them some soup.
Joel asks Marlon to point out on a map where they’re currently located while asking him for information about what kind of dangers they should expect by heading further west. Marlon warns him that there’s nothing good to the west of them — just a river of death, infected and raiders who will likely attack and kill them before there’s a chance for any conversation.
Despite the warning, Joel knows they have to push forward so he takes the map and heads back out again while Ellie takes one of the rabbits that Marlon just captured when out hunting.
Along the way, Joel stops momentarily while clutching his chest. He tells Ellie that it’s just the cold air getting in his lungs but there’s clearly more to it than that and she knows it.
The journey out west isn’t nearly as perilous as Marlon made it sound — they come across a couple of different rivers but there’s no infected much less a raiding party seeking to kill them. When they finally stop to rest for the night, Ellie asks for a sip of whiskey to warm up, although she’s not all that happy once she swallows down whatever Joel has been drinking.
As they sit by the fire, Joel and Ellie talk about what they’ll do after reaching the Firefly camp and scientists use her blood to create some sort of vaccine to stop the Cordyceps infection. Joel wants to keep things simple — he wants to own a ranch out in the middle of nowhere and raise sheep because unlike his current traveling companion, they’re rather quiet.
Ellie says she’s dreamed of becoming an astronaut after reading every book that the Boston quarantine zone could offer but she was particularly taken by the story of Sally Ride, who really does have the coolest name possible for an astronaut.
While talking, Ellie comes clean to Joel about trying to use her blood to save Sam but it was a futile effort because the boy transformed into a mindless zombie anyway. She can’t help but wonder if maybe all this talk about her being the savior of humanity is for nothing.
Joel disagrees and perhaps for the first time in years, he offers somebody a glimmer of hope by telling Ellie that Marlene is no fool — if she believed that a vaccine could be created from the blood of a person immune to the infection, than it’s likely possible the doctors can do just that.
As the hour gets late, Joel tells Ellie to get some sleep and he’ll take both the first and second watch.
“Dream of sheep ranches on the moon”
When morning comes, Joel wakes up in a panic after realizing that he’s the one who nodded off. Meanwhile, Ellie took the rifle and stood guard for both of them.
Joel is proud to see her following his instructions but at the same time, he’s beginning to realize more and more that he’s beginning to slip. He’s not 30 years old anymore and full of piss and vinegar — and that probably scares Joel more than any amount of infected coming for him.
They continue their journey until coming to a dam where the water is flowing and perhaps electricity is actually running somewhere. Joel doesn’t even attempt to lie to Ellie to explain how that process works and right now they’ve got more important places to go like crossing this river to get one step closer to where Tommy might be located.
Before they can get any further, however, Joel and Ellie are surrounded by gunmen on horseback — and it looks like the river of death may have justifiably earned its nickname.
The gunmen surrounding Joel and Ellie ask if the pair is infected but rather than take them at their word, they release a dog that can apparently sniff out any sickness. The dog smells Joel and then moves onto Ellie — and Joel can’t help but wonder if he could make a move quick enough to save her because she actually is infected, although she’s not sick.
Fortunately, the dog sniffs at Ellie and then offers her a few licks before running back to the group with the guns pointed at them.
Not being sick offers Joel and Ellie a moment of reprieve to then offer an explanation about what brought them out this far. Joel explains that he’s looking for his brother and that’s when a woman approaches on horseback to ask his name.
When he says Joel, the woman’s expression — even under a mask — changes immediately.
The next thing you know, Joel and Ellie are riding on horseback along with the rest of the group as they arrive at a gated settlement in Jackson, Wyoming — a town that’s been walled off from the rest of the world with gunmen at every entrance and signals to ensure nobody gets inside who shouldn’t be there.
When the gates open, Joel and Ellie enter and find a town that’s actually surviving and thriving through the Cordyceps apocalypse. Children are laughing, playing and even celebrating around a giant Christmas tree while adults line the streets and people work as if the world around them hasn’t fallen apart.
Joel dismounts from his horse after spotting a familiar face working on one of the buildings — it’s his brother Tommy and he looks healthier and happier than ever before.
The brothers embrace before Tommy leads them into a dining hall where Joel and Ellie eat a proper meal, possibly for the first time ever, while sitting with Maria — the woman who recognized Joel’s name and gave them passage into Jackson.
During the conversation, Tommy reveals that Maria is his wife, which is why she’s privy to this family conversation. Maria explains that she’s been in Jackson for the past seven years and she’s worked tirelessly to protect this place while ensuring that it stays safe from infected and anybody who might try to steal what they’ve built.
That explains the reputation that Marlon warned them about because Maria and her people in Jackson have done whatever it takes to scare anybody away before they find out what’s hidden in the middle of nowhere in Wyoming. They’ve left dead bodies and infected scattered throughout the region to prevent anyone from ever getting too close.
There’s a lot of tension in the air so Maria defuses things by offering tour of the town.
It turns out Jackson is quite a community — they’ve got churches, schools, working electricity, plumbing and sewage. They stay quiet to not attract attention and being in a desolate part of Wyoming keeps them from landing on the radar of anybody’s raiding party seeking to attack them.
Unlike the quarantine zones run by FEDRA, the people here are happy and they all share in the resources, which is something that Ellie has never seen before.
“This place actually fucking works”
As they continue the tour, Joel hears Maria mention that not using the radio is a way they keep outsiders from discovering Jackson, which serves as his cue to get some alone time with Tommy. Maria offers up a house next door to hers so their new guests can wash up and have a place to stay so she invites Ellie to join her while Tommy and Joel get some one-on-one time as brothers.
Tommy takes his brother to a bar where they share a drink and Joel begins to realize that he was never supposed to find this place. Tommy has told Maria about the awful things they did to survive at the beginning of the outbreak, which meant killing people and sometimes worse to get what they needed.
That’s not the person Tommy wants to be anymore but he can’t say the same for his brother.
To make the situation even more complicated, Tommy tells Joel that Maria is pregnant and he’s about to be a father for the first time. That means Tommy will do whatever it takes to protect this place and start his family away from any potential threats.
Joel obviously had other ideas after learning that the Fireflies apparently have a camp set up at a college in Colorado, which is where he needs to take Ellie. He was hoping that Tommy would come along for the ride but it seems his brother isn’t the same person from when they were last reunited together.
With Tommy refusing to join him on this journey, Joel erupts and says that he’ll be gone in the morning.
Meanwhile, Ellie enjoys a shower and a change of clothes before heading across the street to the house shared by Maria and Tommy. Inside, Ellie sees a chalkboard featuring two names — Kevin and Sarah — along with their birth and death dates.
Ellie is soon joined by Maria, who offers to give the girl a haircut because she clearly hasn’t had one of those in a long time. Ellie thanks Maria for the gifts with the clothes, a new winter jacket and even a menstrual cup, which she calls the weirdest gift ever (although practical in the apocalypse).
Maria explains that in a former life she was an assistant district attorney, which meant her job was to put bad guys in jail. Ellie mentions the chalkboard and offers her sympathies for the death of Maria’s children.
That’s when she learns that Maria only had one child named Kevin — the other name on the board was Sarah and that was Joel’s daughter and Tommy’s niece. In that moment, Ellie starts to put it all together why Joel has kept her at a considerable distance since they first met and he’s been so wary about actually showing any emotion towards her.
Maria also offers a fair warning about Joel, especially after hearing the stories from Tommy about what they did to survive after the initial outbreak. Of course, Ellie is quick to defend Joel and remind Maria that Tommy was right there alongside him for the ride.
More than anything, Maria just wants to offer Ellie a sincere caution about the person she’s trusting her health and safety to right now.
“There’s a whole lot you’re not telling me. Good. Therein lies the point. Be careful who you put your faith in. The only people who can betray us are the ones we trust.”
From there, Maria takes Ellie to the local movie theater where she joins the other kids in town to watch a film together — an experience she’s never had before. Tommy ends up leaving to speak with his brother again as Joel attempts to fix the hole in his boots while gathering up supplies to leave in the morning.
Tommy arrives with a new pair of boots to save his brother the trouble and that’s when Joel finally comes clean about his mission to protect Ellie.
“She’s immune. Ellie. She got infected but she didn’t get sick. Tommy, I saw her get bit myself. That was months ago. Months. She’s immune.”
Joel also explains that he’s getting older and his once quick instincts are starting to fail him. After arriving in Kansas City, Joel needed Ellie to save him from a teenager who got the drop on him — and he’s afraid that he’s eventually going to get her killed.
That’s what has led to Joel’s continued health issues — it appears he’s essentially suffering from panic attacks because he can’t help but care for Ellie but he’s terrified that he won’t be able to save her forever. So Joel turns to his brother for one last favor — he asks Tommy to take Ellie to Colorado and deliver her to the Fireflies with hopes that her blood can provide them with enough ammunition to deliver a vaccine to the Cordyceps virus.
Joel knows that Tommy is still young enough and strong enough to keep Ellie safe but he can’t say the same for himself any longer. Tommy agrees and tells Joel he’ll leave with Ellie in the morning.
Scared and Alone
After getting Tommy to agree to the plan, Joel heads back to the house where he breaks the news to Ellie that they’ll be going their separate ways. Ellie attempts to offer her condolences after learning about Sarah, which only further enrages Joel because he’s kept that secret to himself for so long because it just hurts too much to even think about it.
Earlier that same day, Joel spotted a girl in a crowd at Jackson who looked like Sarah except she was older and raising a child of her own. For a moment, Joel dreamed that was his daughter and the life she could have led if she survived.
But now Joel is trying to sever all ties with Ellie because she’s managed to get too close to him but he’s also terrified that he’s going to let her down. Little does he know that Ellie cares about him just as much and she’s not going to feel safe if he’s no longer around.
Ellie: “I’m sorry about your daughter, Joel. I’ve lost people, too.”
Joel: “You have no idea what loss is.”
Ellie: “Everybody I have cared for has either died or left me. Everybody fucking except for you. So don’t tell me that I would be safe with somebody else because the truth is I would just be more scared.”
Joel refuses to listen and tells Ellie that come morning, they will go their separate ways.
When dawn arrives, Tommy gathers up Ellie and they head to the horse stables to prepare for the journey south to Colorado but they are greeted by a surprise. Joel is saddling up a horse and he explains to his brother that he planned on stealing the animal and making a quick escape before anybody could even notice he was gone.
But for the past 30 minutes, Joel just couldn’t get up the courage to leave without giving Ellie the choice to decide who she would stay with. Before he can even finish the sentence, Ellie hands Joel her bag while preparing to climb on the horse to join him on the week long journey to Colorado.
As they prepare to leave, Tommy hands over his rifle to Joel and the brothers embrace, perhaps for the last time ever.
This time the long trip is filled with Joel teaching Ellie how to shoot and hunt just like she wanted. The two of them have almost become a family of their own with Joel finally reconciling with his feelings and how much he actually cares about Ellie.
Joel tells Ellie about his former life and how he previously worked as a contractor building houses and buildings. He even teaches her the rules of football — a true necessity if there ever was one.
Five days later, Joel and Ellie arrive at the University of Eastern Colorado where they see a number of Firefly signs, which point them in the direction where the camp must be. They spot monkeys roaming free, which means the animals have probably escaped from captivity at the university but there’s still no sign of any people.
Inside the main building, Joel and Ellie find remnants of a Firefly camp that included a science lab but its been disassembled and moved long before these two arrive. Upstairs, Joel finds a map of the United States with markers that seem to indicate all the different Firefly encampments including directions that lead down towards Salt Lake City, Utah, which is where he believes the rebels must have moved after leaving Colorado behind.
While they’re speaking, Ellie spots a group of four men who have arrived carrying weapons and that means they need to get out quickly before being discovered.
Joel leads them downstairs and out the back door before getting back to the horse to mount up and ride away. A split second later, Ellie screams a warning to Joel, who turns to duck under an attacker swinging a baseball bat at him.
A fight ensues and Joel quickly gains the upper hand before snapping the neck of the man swinging on him. When Joel stands back up, Ellie has wide eyes staring back at him — because a piece of the baseball bat has been lodged in his midsection.
Joel sees the blood coming down his side but there’s no time to waste so he pulls out the wooden piece stabbing into him before mounting the horse and riding away with Ellie just as the rest of the raiding party comes after them.
They get away with no one following them but Joel is suffering from his wound — and as they ride along a railroad track, his body finally gives out on him. Joel passes out and falls from the horse as Ellie jumps down in a desperate attempt to wake him up.
“Joel … open your eyes. Joel you’ve got to get up. I can’t fucking do this without you.”
Ellie’s biggest fear hasn’t been the infected ripping her apart or raiders on the attack — she’s terrified of being left alone. With Joel hurt and seemingly near death, Ellie’s greatest fear might be realized and she’s not sure how she’ll survive without him.
“The Last of Us” returns for a new episode next Sunday night at 9 p.m. ET on HBO