The Last of Us HBO Episode 7 Recap: Ellie’s Origin Story End-shutdown


Note: My name is Gene Park. I’m a reporter covering gaming culture for The Washington Post. I’m following “The Last of Us” from the perspective of someone who has played every game (more than once).

The seventh episode of “The Last of Us” immediately answers the question posed by the cliffhanger of the last episode: Yes, Joel is still alive, and Ellie is frantically trying to keep him that way. But this episode too begin with a cliffhanger: Will Ellie take Joel’s advice and return to the safety of Jackson Township?

But first, we have to meet Ellie on her own terms. This episode is an extended flashback to when Ellie was a student preparing to be a soldier in the Federal Disaster Response Agency (FEDRA), the fascist military organization that fights to maintain order in major cities. She’s no surprise: she’s a girl who often gets into trouble and doesn’t listen easily to authority figures. After a fight with a bully, Ellie is scolded by a Phaedra officer who says that she is wasting the future potential of becoming an officer. The officer tries to tempt Ellie by praising her: “There’s a leader in you.”

Through Ellie’s eyes, we get a deeper look at the enigmatic and morally compromised institution PHAEDRA. It makes a show of being benevolent, but in truth, it is an organization made up mostly of selfish opportunists.

Later, Ellie is back in her room, surrounded by things that fascinate her: dinosaur stickers, comics about space-traveling adventurers, a “Mortal Kombat II” poster, cassettes of music by A-ha and Etta James. , and his knife. . It’s a military dormitory, complete with a “lights out” mandate at bedtime, and she’s alone in a room made for two. Someone sneaks into Ellie’s room while she’s sleeping and puts their hand over her mouth. Ellie understandably freaks out, kicks the intruder and opens her knife.

It’s her best friend, a girl named Riley, who’s been missing for three weeks. Riley thought Ellie would like to be cheated on: “I think you loved her,” Riley says.

Riley explains that she ran away to join the Fireflies, the rebel group labeled a terrorist by PHAEDRA. She invites Ellie to hang out with her for a few hours so she can explain everything, and promises to show Ellie “the best night of [her] alive.” Ellie has gone through military drills where she has been taught to kill fireflies. Still, she eventually leaves with Riley.

Riley berates Ellie for fighting with her bully and advises her to pick her battles. Despite being called a potential “leader” by that PHAEDRA official, it’s interesting to see Ellie respect Riley in the same way that she respects Joel. Ellie resents taking advice, but she can tell that she is internalizing what she hears from people she depends on or admires. The two talk jokingly and wander around the quarantine zone (long time no see, Boston). The lighting in this sequence feels like stage lighting, and the two of them are obviously running across a staged rooftop. But this feels intentional; the colors pop and accentuate the lighter mood.

The two find a dead body on the way to Riley’s big surprise, reminding the audience that even though this episode focuses on teen drama, it’s still set in a doomed world. They get some alcohol out of the body before a jump scare. Maybe a little high at the sight of a dead body, Ellie asks Riley to hold the gun for her. Throughout this series, Ellie leans in whenever violence occurs around her. She can’t help but be fascinated with death and the things that cause it.

Throughout this entire trip to the mall, Ellie annoys and goads Riley over her supposed “betrayal” of Phaedra and her defection to the Fireflies. Riley likely provides most of the show’s context thus far on how the Fireflies are organized and recruited, and how they go about their business. Both characters stand up for their “side”, and it’s amazing how much Ellie stands up for PHAEDRA.

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They finally make it to the mall and Riley turns the entire facility on with some switches. I’m not sure mall lights work like that, but hey, I’m just a journalist. Here, the episode bombards the viewer with modern brands like CVS, Panda Express, the ubiquitous Subway, and even GameStop. Riley is here to show Ellie a great time at the mall. Ellie is delighted to see an escalator for the first time, and she spends a minute or two charming Riley (and the audience) by playing with the seemingly impossible physics of escalators.

Riley questions why anyone would need a piece of Victoria’s Secret lingerie. Ellie answering “Do you need me to explain it to you?” is another of Bella Ramsey’s outstanding line deliveries. Her Ellie may seem a bit older, but much of this episode emphasizes her youth; she laughs during most of the runtime of it. Ramsey, 19, convincingly plays a girl who is still coming of age.

Riley says that she wants to show Ellie the “four wonders of the mall.” The first is a carousel with a “magical horse”, as Ellie calls it; she revels in another piece of machinery that makes things move by themselves. Here we have the first hints of romance as the two ride their magical horses through the lights. The cinematography is tight, as the two characters navigate their feelings. Ellie still can’t let go of Riley leaving her behind, and she again questions the fireflies about her, almost as if she feels jealous and abandoned. Riley says that she just didn’t feel appreciated with Phaedra.

The next wonder is a quick stop at a mall photo booth. The third is an arcade, or to Ellie, the “most beautiful thing” she’s ever seen. Miraculously, the machine from “Mortal Kombat II” still works. This is the universe of the HBO and Warner Bros. Discovery brand in action; Warner also owns the Mortal Kombat franchise. Here we see Riley play as Mileena and successfully pull off her Fatality finishing move (which probably counts as another miracle). How the hell did a 17-year-old girl learn this move in a fungal post-apocalypse? Found a print strategy guide?, a game suggestion website, surely doesn’t work in this world either. He even teaches Ellie how to perform a finishing move for another character, Baraka.

It is here that the public realizes that there is zombie stuff walk in the mall, as one wakes up nearby. Riley takes Ellie to a room that she has turned into a hideout to offer her a gift (the pun Ellie obsesses over throughout the show) and Ellie discovers that Riley has been making bombs for the fireflies. Ellie is upset by this: those bombs could have been used to kill her. Ellie storms off, while Riley struggles to explain herself. He finally admits the truth: he took Ellie to the mall to spend one last night with her. The Fireflies have assigned her to a post in Atlanta, and Marlene (the leader of the Boston Fireflies from the first episode) has refused to let Riley take Ellie with her.

Ellie intends to leave Riley, but turns to find Riley in a Halloween store. She wants the book of word games that Riley was about to give her. The two reconcile and Ellie seems to accept Riley’s decision. In an effort to save the night, Riley puts a tape on the store’s speaker system and the two dance. Ellie stops her weird dance to beg Riley to stay. Riley agrees. Ellie swoops in for a kiss and we finally get confirmation that Riley was more than a “best friend” to her. Ellie loved Riley.

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This is “The Last of Us,” though, and no tender moment lasts: The aforementioned zombie crashes the party. After a fight, Ellie is able to kill him. Shaking and wide-eyed, Ellie is emotional at his death, before realizing that she and Riley were bitten. Ramsey’s scream here is alarming and sad. Ellie trashes the store in frustration while Riley sinks to the ground in disbelief. There are only two options left for the duo, Riley says: take the “easy way out” or “be poetic and lose your mind together.” Riley says that they should commit to moving on, no matter how long it takes. Although we don’t see it, we know as an audience that Ellie had to kill Riley before realizing her own immunity.

We cut to the present. Ellie doesn’t leave Joel. Instead, she frantically searches the house they’re hiding in for something that might save him. She finds a needle and thread, and she stitches up Joel’s wound before we black out. Ellie is not going to leave Joel behind.

Some notes and observations:

  • This entire episode is a retelling of a chapter that wasn’t in the original release; it was released later, as downloadable content. It’s important as it confirms that Ellie is gay and exposes her fundamental trauma, just like the show did with the death of Joel’s daughter. This is probably also the episode that mimics the video game version the most, as the “Left Behind” game mainly consisted of walking and talking. It is a style of gameplay sometimes referred to as a “prestige tour”, popularized by developer Naughty Dog in their efforts to tell video game stories beyond the violence.
  • The arcade game sequence underscores a big difference in the effectiveness of video game storytelling. On the show, the machine just works and the two girls actually play. In the video game, the arcade machines are broken, and instead, Riley asks Ellie to imagine the video game in her head. The game attempts to recreate this experience for the player with button prompts as the camera zooms in on Ellie’s face, as she reacts to her electronic dreams. This was a lovely and moving sequence that elevated Ellie’s headspace as the center of this universe. Unfortunately, it could not be recreated for the show.

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