The Last of Us S1E5 “Endure and Survive”

“Just point your light forward and be ready to run.”

Photo courtesy of Liane Hentscher/HBO

If you’re feeling hurt and sad today, it could be that you’ve just watched this week’s The Last of Us. Another episode, another weekend of emotional turmoil that stings both beautifully and deeply. In The Last of Us S1E5, appropriately titled “Endure and Survive,” we met Henry (Run Sweetheart Run’s Lamar Johnson) and Sam (newcomer Keivonn Woodard), brothers desperately trying to escape Kansas City, or, more specifically, Kathleen (Yellowjackets Melanie Lynskey) and her militia. If you haven’t seen this week’s episode of what I can honestly call the best show on television, you definitely should before reading the following.


Sam stares wearing his painted on superhero mask in The Last of Us S1E5 "Endure and Survive"
Photo courtesy of Liane Hentscher/HBO

When we last left Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) at the end of “Please Hold My Hand,” they had secured themself in a Kansas City high-rise for the evening. After a pun from Ellie’s book helps ease tensions between the two, Joel drops his guard before they both drift off to sleep. He then awakens to the sound of Ellie calling out his name. Quickly adjusting to the situation, Joel sees a man standing over Ellie with a gun drawn on her and swings his gaze back to the young boy standing over him with a gun as well. This is our informal introduction to Henry and Sam and also a justifying moment of cyclical violence for last week’s episode that focused on the unfairness the next generation suffers being born into this world. That theme continues in “Endure and Survive,” with these new characters mirroring Joel and Ellie’s situation.  

Starting in the backlog of Henry and Sam’s journey, we see Henry moving his deaf younger brother through the open city and away from the area Kathleen and her FEDRA overthrowing pocket of survivors live. From the previous episode, we’re aware that Kathleen is hunting them for the death of her brother Michael in a one-sided and vengeful pursuit. The backstories offer a masterclass in character development, filled with nuance and perspective shifts. By that, I mean we’re quickly drawn into Henry and Sam’s situation and chaotic getaway that relies on the events of “Please Hold My Hand,” where Joel and Ellie get ambushed by Kathleen’s crew.

There are moments where you can also empathize with Kathleen. Make no mistake, her “Free Kansas” is a sh*tshow of authoritarian law and crooked fascism parading as a revolution. There’s no mistaking Kathleen as the bad guy of The Last of Us S1E5 as she uses her unchecked power to get information from FEDRA collaborators, lying through her teeth and showing no mercy toward the imprisoned. However, like much of what we get into in “Endure and Survive” regarding parallel relationships, Kathleen once found in Michael what Ellie has now in Joel and Sam has with Henry.

Sam and Henry sit together in the glow of lantern light in The Last of Us S1E5 "Endure and Survive"
Photo courtesy of Liane Hentscher/HBO

Unveiling Sam’s leukemia diagnosis as the motive for Henry’s actions, The Last of Us S1E5 details the type of scorched Earth that results from protecting the one you love. Because Sam was dying, the callous collective of Kansas citizens thought that their scarce resources shouldn’t be wasted on a child doomed to die anyway. Henry does what he has to in order to protect Sam and provide him a chance at a life, however long it may be. Henry’s solution puts stress on the situation. Michael mattered to Kathleen, as did Bryan (Juan Magana), the young man Ellie shot trying to protect Joel. In Kathleen’s grieving scene in her childhood home, she recalls all of the ways that her brother guided her growing up by helping her navigate her fears, and there’s a sense in the talk and various scenes regarding Bryan that maybe Kathleen was to him what Joel is to Ellie or Henry is to Sam. Having lost so much in a matter of days, the violence begotten unto Kathleen leads her to blaze her bloodlust rampage to kill those who’ve hurt her beyond inconsolability.  

Henry and Sam’s backstory is composed of attic-dwelling superhero stories and drawings offer an alternative to Kathleen’s childhood life and having someone help her curb her fear. Henry is told by Edelstein (John Getz), the man helping Sam and Henry remain hidden, that Henry’s demeanor is the cause of Sam’s anxiety, and Henry attempts to adjust himself accordingly. Edelstein also foreshadows Henry’s fate by telling him not to go through the tunnels when Henry tells him that’s how they’ll get through Kathleen’s defenses. “Why go to the trouble?” Edelstein muses, “You can kill yourself right here.” 

Displaying the bravado featured in the superhero depictions of Sam’s artwork, Henry approaches the topic of Sam’s distress. Though he adorns Sam with paint over his eyes to echo the superhero mask, it becomes a metaphor for covering up Sam’s emotions. Though it’s a tremendously heartened scene, Sam’s eyes infer that he isn’t at ease, and you can tell when we see Sam ask Ellie about whether or not she ever gets scared later in the episode.  

Kathleen stands behind Perry who is pointing his automatic rifle in The Last of Us S1E5 "Endure and Survive"
Photo courtesy of Liane Hentscher/HBO

From the start of the series, Joel and Ellie’s personalities have been similar, but it’s clear that Ellie is beginning to co-opt Joel’s stoicism and calm-under-pressure method in volatile situations. When she tells Sam that she’s always scared, the recognition validates Sam, and having someone see him instead of telling him how to act is nearly therapeutic as he braces for what’s about to happen to him in The Last of Us S1E5’s finale.

The parallel of Kathleen’s experience in suppressing fear deviates at this juncture. While Sam and Ellie share a similar version of events like a brother and sister might, Ellie helps Sam process his emotions and work through that response. In contrast, Kathleen’s grieving scene is a tearless one. She may get a little choked up but abstains from crying by allowing it to fuel her all-consuming appetite for revenge. Alternatively, Henry doesn’t want to hurt anyone else. The guns he and Sam are traveling with hold no bullets. Henry just genuinely wants Sam to “Endure and survive.”   

Despite having drawn their firearms onto Joel and Ellie, the two pairs decide to travel through the city together after Joel warms up to Henry and Sam. Poor introduction aside, the heart of the episode is encompassed in a conversation between Joel and Henry after Henry convinces Joel to be his and Sam’s protection in case they run into infected. Taking a rest in an abandoned bunker, Joel apologizes for presumptively judging Henry’s predicament. There’s a commentary here on things not being what they appear that calls for more understanding and less judgment. Being scared forces us to make rash decisions, and that permeates throughout The Last of Us S1E5 right down to Henry’s decision to take his life at the end of the episode.  

Ellie writes notes to communicate with Sam in The Last of Us S1E5 "Endure and Survive"
Photo courtesy of Liane Hentscher/HBO

We see Ellie and Sam become an inseparable, playful duo in the bunker. Ellie doesn’t always get that, and in the show, it’s assumed she’s never really had an opportunity to be a kid. It’s the innocence factor that has Joel conflicted, and part of the reason I believe it takes him longer to get along with Henry after seeing Henry let Sam stick a gun in his face. Still, the two bond over seeing Sam and Ellie get along so well, and a conversation arises like they’re dads at the park forced to talk because their kids are friends.

Although not essential to the show, an Easter Egg of a child’s drawing illustrates protectors Danny and Ish, characters who’ve left notes throughout the game. Gameplayers will recall the story as Ish, a fisherman helped by Susan, Kyle, and their children, who then offers them refuge in his underground establishment. A small community was formed in those sewers, which is where Danny comes in until an open door to the safehouse caused a horde of infected to get in and drive out of the settlement. The reference also foretells the episode’s climax, where a horde from the collapsing underground beneath Kansas City threatens to wipe out everyone.  

The Last of Us S1E5 finishes like a boss level. A sniper at the end of the street causes Joel to enter stealth mode and flank the shooter from entering the house’s backdoor. Kathleen arrives to finish off Henry, and it’s unclear whether it’s because the sniper was an idea that she and her right-hand man Perry (Jeffrey Pierce) came up with or if, incidentally, someone heard the commotion. Regardless she enters with fervor for retribution. She has no compassion for any of these people fleeing, and a truck is sent in to divide the vehicles in the road and make a path. As it chases Henry, Sam, and Ellie down the cul-de-sac, Joel begins to take aim with the sniper’s rifle.  

(L-R) Henry, Sam, Ellie, and Joel hide behind a car that has all the windows shattered in The Last of Us S1E5 "Endure and Survive"
Photo courtesy of Liane Hentscher/HBO

In last week’s “Please Hold my Hand,” Kathleen told Perry to stay quiet about the floor beneath a city apartment building. The bulging and cracking suggested a collective of cordyceps creatures waiting to emerge from their underground grave. When Joel kills the driver to save Ellie, the truck careens into a house resulting in a collapse and unleashes a fury of infected rising from the sinkhole, including clickers and the series’ first bloater. The ensuing chaos in the streets is another inference of cyclical violence. Had Kathleen heeded the message of forgiveness she insists her brother would preach, her people wouldn’t have been fodder for the infected.  

Henry and Sam take shelter underneath a car parked in the street, but the curb acts as a barrier trapping them underneath as the infected claw for them. Ellie is chased by an infected child, one we presume may have once been under the protection of Danny and Ish. Joel tries to snipe the group’s way to freedom, and everyone seems to come out unscathed before Kathleen gets the final drop on Henry.

I think there’s something poetic about fear and nature in Kathleen’s final scene in The Last of Us S1E5 that relates to her earlier story about Michael and lightning. She tells Perry about being scared by the threat and Michael always putting her at ease. The cordyceps infection is nature at its most ravaging, a fungal spread of mind control instructions calling for violence. Kathleen’s feelings of rage toward Henry now control her. When she aims at Henry with a singular focus or tunnel vision, if you will, it’s a girl from the tunnels, who likely died in a frightful panic after being forced from her settlement, ends Kathleen. A visual representation of the feelings she’d repressed as a child.

Kathleen points her weapon
Photo courtesy of Liane Hentscher/HBO

These protector appointments are not absolute, and Joel is starting to see that. He’s teaching Ellie how to approach situations with her head instead of rushing in with a gun in the event that his own luck in this world runs out one day. With Kathleen gone, Kansas City has an opportunity to be free, that is if anyone is still alive in the settlement. Joel, Ellie, Sam, and Henry make it to a motel where Joel offers his services if Henry and Sam want to accompany him and Ellie to Wyoming. Meanwhile, in the other room, Sam reveals his infection to Ellie, and, in a sweeping moment of honest grief, Ellie swears to protect Sam by telling him her secret, or at least how she understands it. Acting like one of Sam’s super-powered superheroes, she cuts her hand open and insists her magic blood will cure Sam.  

The next scene was morose. Ellie awakens the next morning and discovers Sam sitting on the edge of the bed. We all know what’s happened, except Ellie. Moving to face him, Sam strikes. The infection has him in its grips, and he pins her against the floor of the room, where Henry and Joel wake up in terror. Pleading for help, Joel moves to help Ellie but is stopped by Henry, who’s trying to process how to save Sam. The bargaining moments in his spiral of grief only last a few more seconds before he decides to pull the trigger against his brother. The pool of blood expands on the floor, and a feeling builds inside Henry that considers whether all the violence is his fault for not listening to Kathleen, the same way that Kathleen didn’t listen to Michael. 

By this measure, Kathleen has won even from beyond the grave. Her doomsayer’s prophecy about Sam being destined for death has come to pass, and The Last of Us S1E5’s final shock harkens back to something Bill (Nick Offerman) says to Frank (Murray Bartlett) in “Long, Long Time.” Sam was Henry’s purpose. Henry is scared to live in a world without Sam, and his impulsive reactionary measure comes from this shattered place within him that is replaced with a hollow void. The intensity rises as if we can see an exponentially expanding black hole emanating from the character’s heart. Before Joel can even try to appeal to him, Henry turns the gun on himself, ending his and Sam’s roles in Joel and Ellie’s story. However, Joel and Ellie are left to witness the profound heartbreak it imparts on them.  

Johnson is phenomenal as Henry, and the proof is there in his emotionally jarring performance. His anxious nature in the exciting scenes provokes nervousness from the audience while he tries to overcome danger. Yet, his intensity in his final scene is powerful and deeply upsetting. The scene absolutely tore me apart. Young Keivonn Woodward is quite adept too, and I can’t imagine any other way they could have told this story.

Ellie and Joel walk beside each other under a cloudy sky.
Photo courtesy of Liane Hentscher/HBO

Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin once again deliver a powerhouse script that director Jeremy Webb puts some A+ touches on. Sam isn’t deaf in the game, but there’s something about the character’s reliance factor that helps embolden the superhero-protector dependency aspects in the episode’s theme. These side character departures have been incredibly moving so far and bring out fundamental assertions about the human condition. When Ellie tells Sam she’s afraid she’ll end up alone, I think it strikes a chord with the characters we’re comparing in The Last of Us S1E5. Kathleen’s pilgrimage is born from the childhood tale where Michael tells her, “As long as we were together in our perfect box, we were safe.” Without Michael, she’s alone. Without Sam, Henry is alone. Leaving Ellie to question what will happen once she and Joel arrive in Wyoming.  

It’s heartbreaking to see these characters try and do the right thing and only get rewarded with Trauma and heartache. The Last of Us has been excellent at building characters that the audience can care about but imagine being the characters themselves. In “When You’re Lost in the Darkness,” Joel’s daughter tries to get her father to help people, and Joel declines. As if retaliatory, the story takes his daughter Sarah (Nico Parker) from him. Now halfway through the season, we’re seeing the tragic elements of forming close ties with people in an unforgiving environment. Ellie, up until now, has been insistent in the same way that Sarah was. Ellie may be the cure, just not in the way she thinks she is. While there was nothing Ellie could do to save Sam in the literal sense, The Last of Us insists that devastating losses could not exist without the presence of love. 

I leave you a new quote this week rather than the Tennyson I’ve spewed every other week. Taoist philosopher Lao Tzu says, “Being loved by someone gives you strength while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” If that doesn’t summarize what The Last of Us S1E5 is trying to say, I don’t know what is. Joel and Ellie will endure the hole of Sam and Henry in their souls, afraid to form new friendships with the fear of loss forever cautioning them from getting that close to anyone again and surviving whatever is thrown at them next.

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Written by Sean Parker

Living just outside of Boston, Sean has always been facinated by what horror can tell us about contemporary society. He started writing music reviews for a local newspaper in his twenties and found a love for the art of thematic and symbolic analysis. Sean joined Horror Obsessive at it's inception, and is currently the site's Creative Director. He produces and edits the weekly Horror Obsessive podcast for the site as well as his interviews with guests. He has recently started his foray into feature film production as well, his credits include Alice Maio Mackay's Bad Girl Boogey, Michelle Iannantuono's Livescreamers, and Ricky Glore's upcoming Troma picture, Sweet Meats.

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