In “The Last of Us” recap, Ellie scrambles to save Joel’s life while reflecting back on the last time someone she loved was in peril…
By Damon Martin — Editor/Lead Writer
For the second time this season during “The Last of Us,” we spend the majority of an episode carrying through a series of flashbacks but this one focuses on Ellie and her final days in the Boston Quarantine Zone.
Earlier in the season, Ellie explained how she got bitten by an infected Cordyceps zombie while she was exploring a closed off mall inside the Boston QZ. What we didn’t know was how she ended up there or what led to the bite in the first place and that’s where the story takes us this week.
Of course, Ellie’s memory about that fateful day where she was bitten yet ultimately didn’t turn into a mindless fungal freak relates directly to her current situation with Joel after he suffered a stab wound while trying to find a Firefly lab in Colorado.
This entire time, Joel has been the one protecting Ellie but now with a gaping, bloody hole in his stomach, he can’t do much right now except lay there and die. It’s up to Ellie to decide if she’s going to leave Joel behind or fight like hell to save him just like he’s done to save her.
With that said, let’s get to our latest recap for “The Last of Us” with the episode titled “Left Behind”…
Why We Fight
In the aftermath of the attack at the college in Colorado, Ellie has managed to take Joel and their horse to an abandoned house in a nearby neighborhood. She stashes the horse in the garage before taking Joel to the basement where he lays down prepared to die.
With his stab wound leaking blood, Joel knows his days are numbered so he tries to get Ellie to just leave him while instructing her to return to Wyoming where Tommy will make sure she’s looked after. Ellie refuses while placing a rag over the wound and then rushing upstairs where she’s left to make a decision.
Does she leave Joel behind and run back to Wyoming like he instructed? Or does Ellie fight like hell to save Joel?
It’s in that moment that Ellie flashes back to her time in the Boston QZ where she was running laps in gym class while listening to her Walkman with the dulcet tones of Eddie Vedder pumping through her headphones with Pearl Jam’s “All or None” playing. She’s interrupted when an entitled brat named Bethany knocks off the headphones and tells Ellie that she needs to pick up the pace because the group won’t get stuck doing double time just because she refuses to pay attention and run faster.
Ellie attempts to defuse the situation by telling Bethany that she doesn’t want to fight.
“Fight about it? You don’t fight. Your friend fights. She’s not here anymore is she?”
The mere mention of Ellie’s missing friend is enough to send her into a rage — and she punches Bethany, which ignites a fight between the two of them. When we catch up with Ellie later, she’s sporting a black eye while sitting in a chair awaiting the arrival of Captain Kwong — an officer in the FEDRA army.
It seems Ellie got the better of her fight because Bethany’s currently occupying a bed in the infirmary while nursing a wound that required 15 stitches to close. It’s also clear from the interaction when Captain Kwong arrives that this is nothing new to Ellie — she’s been in plenty of trouble before.
When Ellie just scoffs at Captain Kwong and tells him to send her to the hole, he refuses and then offers an alternative plan instead.
He sees a lot of potential in Ellie — leadership potential — but the constant outbursts and trouble she causes will eventually send her to a shit job where she’ll get stuck accepting orders from Bethany and a whole lot of other people like her for the rest of her life. Instead, Captain Kwong suggests that Ellie look towards another option where she stays out of trouble, buckles down to advance her career to become an officer and then she’ll be the one ordering Bethany around.
Ellie, who’s grown up an orphan in the QZ, can’t understand why Captain Kwong seems to care so much about her.
“I care because no matter what anyone out there says or thinks, we’re the only thing holding this all together. If we go down, the people in this zone will starve or murder each other, that much I know.”
~ Captain Kwong
Ellie takes Kwong up on his offer to avoid punishment while promising to stop making trouble so she can eventually become a leader just like him.
That night, Ellie falls asleep in her dorm room — the bed opposite of hers is empty — but a few hours later, the window quietly slides open. A mystery person enters and makes the mistake of scaring Ellie when she wakes up, which results in a switchblade knife being pulled.
Ellie doesn’t have to cut anyone because the intruder is revealed to be Riley — her best friend, roommate and the girl who went missing three weeks ago. Because she’s been gone so long, Ellie just assumed the worst that Riley was dead but now she’s back alive and well.
Ellie wants answers but even she’s shocked to hear where Riley has been for the past few weeks.
She decided to escape one night after leaving their dorm room and Riley ended up joining the Fireflies — the rebel group that FEDRA has painted as nothing more than terrorists. Ellie is dumbstruck by this news but Riley promises to tell her everything — only after they leave together and she gives her best friend the night of her life.
Ellie eventually concedes before changing clothes, grabbing her backpack and then the two of them shimmy down a fire escape to the street below as they embark on a new adventure together.
Riley navigates them through an adjacent building as she seeks to get to the roof but along the way they run into a dead body. A man has overdosed on pills and alcohol — and it’s the good stuff that existed before the world fell apart.
Riley and Ellie decide to steal the booze as part of their night long celebration together before the dead body ends up crashing through the floor as part of the rotted building continue to fall apart. From there, the pair makes it to the roof where they sip some whiskey together and Ellie can’t help but notice that Riley is carrying a gun now, which further cements her new place as a member of the Fireflies.
Ellie asks to hold the gun — a brief call back to another time she held a weapon this season — while searching for answers about how Riley ended up with the Fireflies.
It seems on the night she escaped their dorm room, Riley was traveling through Boston undetected and that’s when a member of the Fireflies spotted her. Impressed by Riley’s ability to avoid the FEDRA security sweeps, the Firefly asks about her opinion on their military overlords and she answers back by calling them “fascist dickbags” who should be hanged as opposed to the innocent people who get punished instead.
Like she gave a secret password, Riley is immediately initiated into the Fireflies.
This all sounds way too easy to Ellie, especially considering what she’s been taught about the Fireflies and she even repeats back to her best friend what Captain Kwong told her about FEDRA holding this whole place together. Rather than arguing, Riley reminds her that they’ve got more important business tonight — but first they have to get there.
So the dynamic duo begins jumping from rooftop to rooftop like Eric Draven in “The Crow” before eventually ending up at a long closed off mall on the outskirts of the Boston QZ. Riley points out that new apartment buildings have been opened up and electricity has been turned on to this section of Boston as more people arrive at the QZ who need housing.
As for the mall, Ellie has been told that it was closed off because it’s filled with the infected but Riley can only smile while pointing out that there are no steel doors or wooden plates covering the entrance. What could that mean?
Before long, the two of them are jumping through an opening to end up in the bowels of the mall. Riley instructs Ellie to go out a pair of double doors — and when she arrives, a switch gets flipped and a moment later the neon lights of mall stores long since abandoned start flickering to life again.
Ellie is amazed at what she’s witnessing — she grew up in a world where malls never existed — and Riley can’t help but enjoy the stunned look on her friend’s face.
Set the sounds of “Take on Me” by A-Ha, Ellie marvels at a working escalator and all the stores that once served as the face of consumerism in Boston. All of the storefronts have been smashed and all of the valuables largely looted in the aftermath of the Cordyceps outbreak but there are still remnants of what this place once was.
Riley promises to show Ellie the five wonders of the mall before they arrive at the next major surprise — a working carousel.
They jump on board with Ellie still trying to wrap her head around everything she’s seeing while Riley can’t stop watching her friend’s reactions. They share some more whiskey before the ride comes to an abrupt stop, which prompts Ellie to question Riley’s decision to suddenly join the Fireflies.
Ellie wonders if Riley really believes she’s fighting for the liberation of the QZ as if it’s some kind of unattainable pipe dream. Instead, she suggests that Riley could join her as an officer at FEDRA, which will allow them to make real fundamental changes from inside the leadership of the government.
That’s when Riley reveals that due to her 17th birthday approaching, she’s already received her work assignment from Captain Kwong — she’s going to be part of the security team overseeing the sewage system. For the rest of her days, Riley will be expected to guard the people tasked with shoveling shit.
It was receiving that news, which led to Riley fleeing their dorm room to search for a life that didn’t exist inside the FEDRA walls.
The moment passes as Riley insists they move onto the next wonders of the mall, which includes a stop at a photobooth where they snap a few shots together before ending up at a working arcade. Ellie’s jaw is once again on the floor, especially after they arrive at Mortal Kombat II — which also happens to be a poster she has decorating her walls in the dorm room she shares with Riley.
The two of them trade blows through the characters on the screen and Ellie can’t help but explode with enthusiasm after witnessing her first fatality. The chorus of laughs and screams while playing games masks another sound coming from deep within the mall — the sound of an infected person waking from a slumber while covered in fungus sprouting from every orifice in their body.
After leaving the arcade, Riley leads them to the next stop, which is the food court where it turns out she’s been sleeping in the back of a taco shop. It’s there that Riley gives Ellie a present — a second volume of puns that matches the first edition back in their dorm room.
It’s the same book that Ellie reads from to make Joel laugh after they arrived in Kansas City.
They share a few puns while laughing at the jokes but smiles soon give way to concern when Ellie realizes that Riley hasn’t just been bedding down at the mall — she’s been stationed there by the Fireflies after discovering pipe bombs and other weapons hidden in the storage room.
While Riley promises that those bombs would never be used against innocent people, Ellie can’t believe it, especially given all she’s been taught by FEDRA about the Fireflies being nothing more than terrorists. Ellie feels like she’s lost her friend to the rebellion so she decides to just leave her there to the weapons that Riley has been tasked to guard.
As Ellie storms off, Riley finally reveals the truth about this spectacular night that was planned for them. It was a final gesture to say goodbye.
“Ellie, I’m leaving. They’re sending me to a post in the Atlanta QZ. I asked if you could join so we could go together but Marlene said no.”
Of course, Marlene — one of the leaders of the Fireflies — will soon get introduced to Ellie after realizing that she’s immune from the Cordyceps infection.
All of this news is more than Ellie can handle so she abandons Riley in the mall and prepares to return to her dorm room alone. But before she can make it back outside again, Ellie turns back because she can’t let things with Riley end this way.
As she heads back into the mall, Ellie hears screaming and that sends her rushing from store to store trying to find Riley.
It Ends This Way for Everyone
When Ellie finds the source of the screaming it’s actually an old Halloween store with a prop inside that Riley was using as her fifth and final wonder of the mall. Riley saved the best for last.
Ellie sits down beside her friend and wonders if she really knows what she’s signed up for while joining the resistance army trying to take down FEDRA in the middle of a zombie apocalypse.
“So you leave me, I think you’re dead and all of a sudden you’re alive and you give me this night. This amazing fucking night and now you’re leaving again. Forever. To join some cause I don’t even think you understand. Tell me I’m wrong.”
Riley admits that perhaps she doesn’t know everything about the Fireflies but she knows enough because they chose her to join their ranks. While she didn’t have her family for very long before the Cordyceps infection took them from her, Riley remembers that bond — and the Fireflies are now inviting her to join their family.
It’s a feeling she’ll never have with FEDRA.
So rather than fight with her any longer, Ellie confesses that she’ll miss Riley but she’ll wish her well as she leaves to join the resistance but not before they share one last celebration together. Riley then reveals that she snagged Ellie’s Walkman from their room so she could play some music in the store.
She cranks up “I Got You Babe” by Etta James as they put on Halloween masks and dance across the counters. The celebration continues until Ellie finally removes her mask, which prompts Riley to do the same and she begs her not to leave.
Riley agrees and Ellie can’t resist the urge to finally kiss her.
Best friends forever but it’s been obvious all along that these two had real feelings for each other, which only deepened the heartbreak that they were about to be separated forever. With Riley agreeing to stay, she promises that they’ll figure out the next step together — but the moment is soon interrupted when an infected zombie comes crashing through the Halloween store.
Riley unloads several rounds into the Cordyceps zombie but the creature is undeterred as it comes for both of them. Ellie and Riley fight for their lives as the infected tries to bite them — and it appears this will be their doom.
That is until Ellie finally brandishes her switchblade and stabs the infected creature several times before planting the knife in its head. There’s a moment of exhilaration until Ellie looks down at her forearm and sees bitemarks that give way to bleeding.
She gives a glance to Riley and she’s got a similar bitemark across her hand. They’re both infected and now the clock is ticking until they meet their demise.
In that moment, Ellie shakes loose her memories of the past as she wakes up again in the present day. She bursts through a door inside the abandoned house as she begins searching through every cabinet and drawer, looking for something that will help her save Joel’s life.
When she returns to the flashback, Ellie remembers her final conversation with Riley, who offers them both the chance to end it quickly with a bullet to the head, which will prevent them from transforming into mindless fungal filled zombies.
Rather than just give up, Riley offers an alternative to cling to life as long as they can.
“It ends this way for everyone sooner or later, right? Some of us just get there faster than others but we don’t quit. Whether it’s two minutes or two days, we don’t give that up. I don’t want to give that up.”
We never see what happens next to Riley but we know Ellie ends up chained to the floor in a Firefly hideout where Marlene discovers she’s immune to the Cordyceps infection. Back in the present day, however, Ellie is frantically searching for supplies when she comes across a needle and thread.
Ellie rushes back downstairs to find Joel clinging to life — she grasps his hand before feeding the needle and thread through his flesh to tie up the wound in his stomach. Ellie lost one person she loved already — she refuses to give up on Joel and she refuses to allow Joel to give up on life if there’s even the smallest opportunity to save him.
They all go sooner or later but Ellie won’t let go of Joel just yet.
“The Last of Us” returns with the penultimate episode to season 1 next Sunday night at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.