[Editor’s Note: By the very nature of a “recap”, there will most certainly be spoilers in these weekly pieces, we didn’t think to mention that with the premiere, but we will keep a “SPOILER WARNING” label at the top of these weekly recaps for the rest of the season. Thank you and sorry if we spoiled anything for you!]
Joel and Ellie just can’t seem to catch a break. After finally making their way out of Kansas City with the help of Henry and Sam, tragedy once again befell these two souls who can’t seem to get out of the way of heartache. Sam got bit, became infected, shot by Henry, and then Henry turns the gun on himself. Death is always a constant specter in Joel and Ellie’s journey, and our traveling souls need a break…any break from the madness. Some respite comes in Episode 6, titled Kin, as they finally arrive in Jackson, Wyoming and come across some semblance of normalcy. While we do get our fair share of dramatic moments – Pedro Pascal especially shines BRIGHT in this episode – it’s nice that no one perished in Ep. 6 that we truly love and want to see live, a TLOU rarity. That doesn’t mean this episode is any less powerful and amazing than the others. Quite the contrary, this series just continues to get better and better as we further develop the relationship between Joel and Ellie and how their bond is seemingly becoming unbreakable, day by day, as they go on this journey.
We cut ahead three months, where winter has now befallen Joel and Ellie on their journey to Wyoming. They have come upon a small cabin in the woods and are holding this old couple (Graham Greene and Elaine Miles) briefly hostage, merely just for directions. These old-timers seem quite unaware of what is happening in the world around them (they know it’s ended, raiders leaving bodies around etc. but have never heard of the Fireflies). They are directed to head west past a river, the “river of blood” that the old couple believes there is where something bad killing people and leaving them for dead for all to see. As they depart, we get a tense moment where Joel seemingly begins to experience heart palpitation outside the cottage, clutching his chest and resting on a wood pole. After Ellie displays fear in his condition, rightfully so, Joel recomposes himself and they march on.
After a brief nighttime scene (where Joel reveals he wants to be a sheep farmer and Ellie an astronaut – a reference to a lovely cutscene in The Last of Us Part II – after the vaccine is developed), the pair make their way to a hydroelectric dam, where they believe they are now getting close. Suddenly, seven or eight people on horseback surround them. The posse first bring a dog to them to see if it sniffs out that either of them are infected. The fear and tension in Joel’s face, complete with sound turned down to a hum, as he doesn’t want to lose Ellie after all they have been through and how much he truly cares for her now is remarkable. This episode is truly the Pedro Pascal show and it comes back a few times throughout. The dog doesn’t sniff anything on either of them, however (Ellie even plays with the dog), Joel states his purpose. After one of them hearing that he is looking for his brother, and asks for his name, we know that she is familiar with him. They decide to bring them along to their base.
Joel and Ellie have made it to Jackson Wyoming. This happens MUCH earlier than in the games (we get a glimpse of Jackson in Part 1 – this overall sequence took place at the hydroelectric dam – but don’t see IN the city until Part 2) but it still works to convey the events that transpire. We get an emotional embrace between Joel and Tommy that swells to an absurd level but successfully got a tear or four out of me. As Joel and Ellie are treated to a home cooked meal, we get a nice dynamic of how Ellie and Joel are as opposed to Tommy and Maria (Rutina Wesley), one of the “democratically voted” leaders of the camp and Tommy’s new wife. A quick shot of Ellie cursing one of the teenagers looking at her, curious from across the room, REALLY looks like Ellie’s love interest from The Last of Us Part II, Dina (played by Shannon Woodward in the game). I love this tease IF that is what it is as Ellie is living in Jackson at the beginning of TLOU Part II (where she meets Dina).
We get a quick tour of Jackson before Tommy/Joel and Ellie/Maria splinter off. Tommy and Joel retreat to a bar – and some good whiskey/scotch – where Tommy gives them a lead on where he might be able to find the Fireflies – The University of Colorado -, which is a week’s ride south. After some light jabbing by Joel on cutting off radio communications – Maria shut it down to avoid attracting attention – and calling out this community, with everything shared and nothing personally owned, as a communism-focused establishment, Tommy announces that he is going to be a dad. Joel initially reacts negatively and cold toward Tommy about the news, leading Tommy to utter something cold and heartless back to him. Joel is not truly upset at Tommy, but more feels to me like jealously and fear of his own failures during his life, and that panic and fear causes more heart palpations/anxiety attack as he stumbles toward the town square. His erratic motions and feelings even have him seeing someone who looks like his daughter, and even embraces a child that could have possibly been HIS granddaughter. It’s heartbreaking that we know this is not her, and is eventually revealed to Joel as well, but Pedro Pascal really sells the hell out of this scene, making me hope and pray that his daughter didn’t die and that was her in the town square singing carols and celebrating Christmas.
We cut to Maria/Ellie. After Ellie takes a shower and has some clothes and items left for her (including a menstrual cup, which Ellie finds amusing as she crushes it and watches it pop back open), She makes her way to Maria and Tommy’s house. Maria arrives with a purple winter coat for Ellie and offers to give her a light hair trim, as she seems to find calm and solace in doing hair styling. Maria knows about Joel’s past, and seemingly appears to sew doubt and mistrust between Ellie and Joel by bringing up his murderous past. Not only does Ellie know about this already but she doesn’t care or find it a reason to fear Joel. I love this quick exchange as it shows Ellie’s dedication to Joel and how she believes he is the one person who will keep her safe and alive on this journey, and no one will stand in that way. Truly good stuff from Bella Ramsey here.
As everyone is in the town for movie night – showing Neil Simon’s The Goodbye Girl if I am not mistaken – Tommy finds Joel in a repair shop trying to fix his miserable boots. Tommy brings him a shiny new pair instead. After a moment of reflection, Joel ends up letting Tommy in on what his journey’s true purpose and gives Tommy a recap of their adventure so far. After revealing that he froze during the initial encounter with Maria and the other Jackson residents on horseback, especially when the dog was growling slightly near Ellie and could have given away that Ellie was bitten, Joel breaks down in a mountain of tears and pleads for Tommy to take Ellie off his hand and finish the trip for him. He doesn’t believe he is the best person to keep her alive, constantly “failing” as Joel puts it, especially after so much death – Sarah, Tess – has followed him. Tommy agrees to take her – not even telling Maria – and will leave early the next morning.
Once the scene shifts to Ellie’s bedroom, game players know what is coming. One of the most emotional scenes and lines in the entire franchise is about to show itself. Joel confronts Ellie to let her know that Tommy will finish the trip with her. Ellie knows already, as she eavesdropped on their conversation at the repair shop. After a heated exchange, where Ellie states she has lost just as much as he has and is mad that even Joel is leaving her, we get this iconic line reading from Pedro Pascal that elicits the same gut punch reaction as the source material – “You’re right, you’re not my daughter, and sure as hell I ain’t your dad, and in the morning, we are going out separate ways”. Troy Baker nailed this in the game and Pascal makes it his own in this version. Joel can’t deal with the possibility of losing another and would rather pass Ellie onto someone else than take that risk of her dying on his watch.
In the morning, Tommy picks up Ellie and they make their way to the stables. Joel is already in the stables, ready to leave. However, in a change of heart, Joel offers Ellie a choice of who to go with. Ellie chooses Joel before he even finishes the proposition, slamming a blue bag into his chest. The events from Ellie finding out about Joel’s plan to pass her onto Ellie and this moment differ in the road traveled. There were many tense action sequences in the game breaking up these emotional beats, but I am glad they excised it in the show and went this route. It would have been an overkill of action that would needlessly break up the emotional heft that Ramsey and Pascal are bringing to the forefront. What works in a video game doesn’t translate to what works in a show/movie, and it’s nice to see showrunners get that and adjust accordingly.
We get treated to a variety of bonding moments of Joel and Ellie traveling south toward Colorado, they finally arrive at the University of Colorado. It seems deserted by the entrance, but Joel suggests they could be holed up in the middle of the campus. After coming across a spray-painted firefly logo, they make their way to the science building. However, they begin to realize that all the fireflies have moved on from this location. After finding a map of the various firefly outposts being abandoned and everyone moving toward a central location, they determine they all moved to Salt Lake City as their base of operations. As they are about to split, they come across four raiders. Joel ends up tussling with one of them, and after breaking his neck and turning to Ellie (the neck break is the classic move in the game when you sneak up behind an enemy), Ellie’s worried face tells it all. Joel was stabbed with a cheap piece of wood during the scuffle. Ellie plops Joel on the horse and they able to escape before the other three raiders catch up. Joel falls off the horse down the road and passes out. Ellie pleads for him to get up, saying she can’t do this alone and doesn’t know where to go without him. The episode concludes on a slow pull-out from the snowy landscape, as Ellie desperately tries to wake Joel and keep their hope alive.
I am truly in awe week to week that TLOU continues to do justice to the source material. Showrunners Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann continuously make the right judgment calls in what to keep, expand upon and remove completely in the adaptation of the game into a different medium, and it’s astounding that I haven’t had any major issues to call out at this point. Pedro Pascal was remarkable in his work here and it was his best acting to date, while Bella Ramsey continues to add complex emotional layers to expand upon the wealth of Ellie’s character. Gabriel Luna re-enters the scene and makes his presence felt in his few brief moments, and Rutina Wesley brings warmth to someone who just wants to live in the world that is used to be, and will protect it at all costs, even fearing her own husband’s brother and the baggage he brings. Only three more episodes left here, and there is SO much more emotionally draining stuff to come that I need to prepare myself. This is not going to end cleanly, but I would have it no other way. To struggle is to be human.