By Ben Konuch
“Haven’t you heard? Kansas City is free!”
“The Last of Us” episode five starts with an interesting overlap with the events of episode four. We are properly introduced to Henry and Sam and given a glimpse into the way they see the “freeing” of Kansas City. In addition, we see Henry observe Joel’s remorseless execution of the raiders that we see attack him and Ellie in episode four. This is a solid way of delving deeper into the dynamics of FEDRA, the resistance and why we should care about Henry and Sam.
The dynamic between the brothers is a heartwarming break from the cruelty in the world around them. Watching the ways Henry encourages Sam to be brave while Sam likewise gives Henry a reason to fight is a genius substitute for traditional exposition.
In a fascinating parallel, Joel and Henry both connect over protecting their respective “kids.” Joel is initially distrustful of Henry, as he hates anyone who worked with FEDRA, especially someone who sold out others for gain.
But as he witnesses the way that Henry risks everything to protect his little brother, and as he learns from a remorseful, self-loathing confession that Henry turned in the resistance’s leader to keep Sam alive, Joel gradually warms up to him. Offering the brothers a place on their trip to Wyoming is a moment of character development for Joel that shows how Ellie is causing him to slowly reconnect with the side of himself that was a father, and he’s caring more and more about those who care for and protect others.
This episode is also a welcome return to tense action, as Henry and Sam lead Joel and Ellie through a potentially infected-filled tunnel in order to evade the resistance forces that are scouring the city for them. In an almost direct recreation from the game, we see the four of them get ambushed and pinned down by a sniper that Joel has to outsmart and flank. After taking him out, Joel realizes that the sniper was working for the resistance and that their entire forces are about to catch up with them.
What follows is a tense, rage-filled confrontation between Henry and Kathleen, the current leader of the resistance and the brother of the man Henry killed. When everything looks hopeless and Henry is about to die, a swarm of infected breach through the tunnels and descend upon the group like an army of demons.
The ensuing action scene is a fantastically directed brutal fight for survival. The camera captures the violence of the true threat of the infected, and when a fully-mutated Bloater shows up, the battle becomes a massacre.
The camera never lingers long on the carnage, instead following Ellie as she tries to escape the bloodbath and Joel who is stuck trying to support her from a distance with his rifle. This keeps the scene tense and fast-paced, as we’re not just watching another action sequence of infected tear apart random soldiers, but are facing a genuine threat to Ellie and our two new characters. While we know that she’ll be safe, when Henry and Sam become endangered and Ellie tries to save them, the scene becomes loaded with real stakes.
The emotional core of this episode, and perhaps its very purpose, is the friendship Ellie makes with Sam. This series’ depiction of Sam shows him as deaf, but that never gets in the way of him and Ellie being able to forget the horrors of the world and just be kids together. It’s a shock when Sam reveals to her that he’s been bitten, but Ellie frantically tries to put some of her blood on his wound in the hope that her immunity is enough to save him. It isn’t.
The tragic loss of Sam and Henry’s lives still hurt just as much in the series as it does in the game, and in fact, the change that Ellie knows about his bite and tries to save him makes the searing loss hurt all the more. To have a moment of innocence, where she can just be a fourteen-year-old girl again and not have to worry about survival, is ripped away in the worst possible way because she’ll forever blame herself for not being able to save him. This is captured through the camera masterfully, watching Henry’s death from Ellie’s perspective – we never actually see him die, we just hear the sounds of a gunshot and a body hitting the floor as we watch Ellie’s face transform into stunned horror in a heartbreaking camera shot.
Unfortunately, this episode has confirmed a problem that I’ve had about the series for a while: “The Last of Us” seems to have a problem with showing the bleak reality of deaths on camera. I don’t mean Henry’s – the way we “see” the way we see his death is thematically necessary and arguably worse than if we see it ourselves – but other moments in the last few episodes have cut away from displays of violence in questionable ways.
In the last episode, the camera cuts before we see Kathleen execute the doctor and it cuts away before we see him stab the raider that ambushes him and Ellie, and in this episode, it cuts before we see Joel kill the sniper. While some cuts can aid the nature of the story by leaving our minds to fill in the blanks, this pattern combined with the reduced action of the last few episodes almost gives “The Last of Us” the unintended side effect of removing some of the world’s brutality.
As a result, “The Last of Us” stands as a solidly faithful – yet somewhat watered down – version of a beloved story, and when you remove some of that brutality, you remove some of the impact of the hope and beauty of Joel and Ellie’s relationship.
I give “The Last of Us” episode five a 9/10
“The Last of Us” is now streaming on HBO Max
Ben Konuch is a sophomore Strategic Communication student and an A&E writer for Cedars. He enjoys getting sucked into good stories, playing video games and hanging out with crazy MuKappa friends.
Images courtesy of HBO Max
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