The Last of Us S1E6 “Kin”

Photograph by Liane Hentscher/HBO

The first sound heard in The Last of Us S1E6 is the sound of Henry’s last breaths. Deep, chest-heavy convulsions that symbolize the emotional distress that haunts him. The air has left the room for Henry, and there’s nothing but vacuum left to fill his lungs. The scene from last week’s “Endure and Survive” goes dark again, leaving only the sound of gunfire and the memory of Henry’s horrendous demise. “Kin,” or The Last of Us S1E6, begins moving forward with Joel and Ellie in the snow-covered northwestern United States three months later. As always, I will warn the readers: 


Marlon sits in a chair staring pensively in The Last of Us S1E6 "Kin"
Photograph courtesy of HBO

The way Tommy and Sam introduced themselves to Joel and Ellie is how Joel and Ellie seem to be now introducing themselves to locals Marlon (Graham Greene) and Florence (Elaine Miles). A look exchanged between the couple is all that Marlon needs to understand that things aren’t ordinary. Joel seems to notice as well and reveals his presence. The setup is a bit Hateful Eight, though Florence’s demeanor suggests she’s the Frank (Murray Bartlett) to Marlon’s Bill (Nick Offerman), in that she likes the company and Marlon is at his curmudgeonly happiest when he’s not around people. 

The interaction is friendly, though as we watch Joel and Ellie depart, we see that Joel is no longer interested in making friends. It may be three months later, but it’s obvious, as he extracts the information he needs from the couple, that he’s not interested in their story. Joel’s inquiry about Tommy’s whereabouts is met with the likelihood of his death and an ominous warning about heading west. As Joel exits, the idea that Tommy’s dead hits him like a freight train. Those same heavy breaths Henry had after Sam’s death come racing onto Joel in the form of a panic attack, and the only thing that seems to take him out of it is Ellie’s not-so-subtle reminder that she needs him.  

As Joel regains his composure, the two begin to head west, comforted by the idea that Marlon and Florence may have been secluded for too long, judging from the fact they have no idea who the Fireflies are. Like Ellie says, finding Tommy will be easy, “all we have to do is cross the river of death.” I think Ellie is a real comfort to Joel –even though he won’t admit it. Her logic helps him calm down, and her sarcasm as they cross the first river puts him at ease despite his survival instincts grounding her derisiveness.


Joel and Ellie are surrounded by raiders on horseback after crossing a river
Photograph by Liane Hentscher/HBO

Taking shelter in a small cave, Ellie stands on a large boulder, gazing into the night sky lit by the aurora borealis. It’s here we get a real sense of Ellie’s innocence again. We sometimes forget that she’s between worlds. Still a teenager, albeit one that hasn’t had the privileges to do or see all the things we take for granted. Ellie romanticizes many simple things, from riding in a car to gazing up at the stars, even if she later tears down the sheltered lifestyle that the Jackson townspeople experience when she goes to the movies or sees their Christmas decorations. She reminds us further with her talk of the moon and her idolization of Sally Ride that she is still seeing the wonderment of this world, breaking back to reality when she finally confesses to Joel that she tried to cure Sam, as if by magic, after learning of his infection.  

Adversely, it’s also becoming harder for Joel not to treat Ellie as he would his own daughter. His parental impulses are still there, and though he’s tried to remain unaffected by Ellie, it’s hard not to get close when they’ve seen and done so much together. However, contrary to Joel’s parental desire to protect Ellie like a child, there’s also the fact that she’s growing into adulthood. The drink at the campfire will likely shock some, despite it being a not-so-talked-about rite of passage between some kids and their fathers, not mine, but I have witnessed another father sharing a “sip” with his daughter. Yet, when Ellie says, “yep, still gross,” most will quickly understand that it’s coffee in the flask, previously referenced in “Please Hold my Hand.” The troll here is funny, but it exemplifies the same thing about what Joel thinks Ellie is ready to handle.  

The next morning he’s upset when Ellie doesn’t wake him to keep watch. Instead, she takes on the responsibility herself. To Ellie, this is a partnership, and she sees Joel as a mentor she can learn from, which is why she continues to ask Joel for weapons and to show her how to hunt, among other fundamental preparations for the world she’s growing up in. It’s an allegory for parenthood and how there’s a time to protect your kids and begin preparing them to protect themselves, whether you’re prepared for it or not. 

Ellie and Joel sit by the campfire in The Last of Us S1E6 "Kin"
Photograph by Liane Hentscher/HBO

The conversation under the stars also makes known what’s really weighing on Ellie since the incident with Henry and Sam. What happens after Ellie gives her blood to the Fireflies? Sure, the world will forever be changed by a medicine that will make them safe again, but will Joel just ditch Ellie and go on his merry way in a world free from the cordyceps infection? In a weird sort of way, Ellie wants to know what this relationship is, and by standing guard, tries to prove her worth to Joel so that he stays with her when their journey comes to an end. 

When they cross that first bridge, what they think is the river of death, it’s cinematic and ominous; I mean, it is called the river of death, after all. It’s beautiful and intense, but then I also have an affinity for horror that takes place in the snow. It’s rare, probably because trying to move in it is difficult, and there’s likely some additional liability insurance involved. Still, it’s rather isolating and still, which can also be unnerving. Yet, their sense of peace is shaken when Ellie and Joel pass over the next river. “What if this is the river of death?” she asks. 

Surrounded and outnumbered, a gang of raiders roll upon Joel and Ellie and initiate a test before allowing them passage. A dog, trained to smell the infection growing under a person’s skin, is initiated, and as it approaches Ellie, Joel becomes paralyzed with fear. How Henry and Sam’s story played out is causing Joel to question himself in a big way. The infection doesn’t exist in Ellie, so nothing happens with the dog, but the scene is taut with Joel’s indecisiveness and the unfavourability of the situation. The gang grants passage to Joel and Ellie after one of them recognizes him and the name of the brother he’s searching for. 

Maria wears a cowboy hat and a handkerchief over her face
Photograph by Liane Hentscher/HBO

Joel’s reunion with Tommy is positive and gleefully fills the morale meter, not just for the character but for the audience who hasn’t seen Tommy since the first episode and the events surrounding Sarah’s (Nico Parker) death. He’s ecstatic to see that his brother is alive, especially after not being able to contact him for so long and the report he’d been given by Marlon. Joel’s high spirits are eventually cut short by the news that he’s going to be an uncle, and he begins to push Tommy and his partner Maria (True Blood’s Rutina Wesley) away out of his personal determination that he’s toxic and winds up getting everyone he cares about killed. 

The mess hall scene with Maria and Tommy is extremely important to Tommy, who sees how wild Ellie is, a far cry from the disposition of his niece. Ellie is letting the f-bombs and sass fly, leaving Joel to feel judged, asking Ellie to mind her manners. Ellie and Maria clash similarly to how Joel and Ellie clashed during their first introduction, leading us to believe this will be another meaningful person in Ellie’s life. Ellie isn’t wrong, but she is good at testing the mettle of an individual. When Maria cuts Ellie’s hair in a later scene, she also denotes admiration for her moxie, stating, “you would have made a hell of a lawyer.” 

One of the other big takeaways in the scene is Tommy’s declaration that “having a bad reputation doesn’t make you bad,” a superposition that garners an inquisitive look from Joel. This leads to Tommy breaking the news about who Maria is and what she means to him. Joel is angry and jealous by this turn of events, and one can only infer that it’s because Joel doesn’t understand why Tommy isn’t bothered by the things they did, the people they’ve hurt, and the ones they’ve lost along the way. It’s deepened further when Tommy reveals Maria’s pregnancy, where Joel can’t be happy for Tommy because he can’t forgive himself and goes through life thinking he cannot be redeemed. The fact that Joel already believes he’s a curse to those around him is proof enough for him, but to see Tommy start a family after knowing all that Joel’s lost feels unfair to Joel.  

Tommy, Maria, Joel, and Ellie sit at a long picnic table in The Last of Us S1E6 "Kin"
Photograph by Liane Hentscher/HBO

Tommy and Joel’s conversation reaches a standstill when Joel becomes offended when Tommy says, “I feel like I’d be a good dad.” Joel resents the assessment, seeing it through the assumption that he was not a good father because Sarah died. Joel retorts with, “guess we’ll find out,” which supposes a competition along the lines of “if your kid lives longer than mine.” Tommy has enough of the big-brother-bullsh*t that Joel’s throwing at him, and he puts it on him. Joel’s inability to be vulnerable to Tommy in the scene, lying about Ellie (which Tommy sees through immediately), but even more so about Tess’ death, only makes Joel look more like an as*hole, and his fiery exit leads to another panic attack. 

Being faced with remembering Sarah’s death just by visiting with Tommy, Tommy’s baby news, and Joel’s constant fathering mentality with Ellie, leaves Joel in this uncomfortable state. He sees a girl with his daughter’s hair enjoying the local holiday bazaar and, momentarily, wonders about the “what if” that he can’t escape. It’s twenty years later, and as a little girl runs up to Sarah’s doppelganger, Joel momentarily considers a life where he’s a grandfather. A life where that would have been possible, the life that Tommy might be able to give his child in a place like this. 

While Tommy and Joel get their face-to-face time, Ellie and Maria have a one-on-one as well, with the gift of a menstrual cup and a “super f*cking purple” jacket,” Maria tries to convince Ellie not to follow a notoriously self-destructive Joel. Ellie keeps her secret to herself, but Maria reveals that Joel had a daughter, and suddenly it all clicks for Ellie. 

Ellie stands in the wintery wodlands with a heavy jacket, backpack, and sleeping bag.
Photograph by Liane Hentscher/HBO

It’s apropos to The Last of Us S1E6 that The Goodbye Girl be playing at the town’s movie night. The film about a lothario who leaves his lover in the wind and sublets his room to a Chicago actor has a more metaphorical meaning in “Kin.” It’s an odd couple scenario, not unlike the pairing of Joel and Ellie, especially at first, where their personalities were conflicting. Paula and her new actor-roommate clash too at first, but when the actor’s play is a flop, she starts to feel something for him. The parallel between Joel continuously feeling like he’s failing leads Ellie to try to connect with him more like Paula does with the actor in the film. The protection Paula has for her daughter Lucy isn’t dissimilar to how Joel is with Ellie either. Ellie’s consistent attempts to reach him in Neil Simon comedic fashion are all a part of it. However, Joel’s attempt to leave Ellie with Tommy as a replacement may be the biggest reason the film works so well at this juncture in the show. 

Tommy finds Joel trying to cobble his boots back together and instead brings him a new pair. Here, Joel has a breakdown. He tells Tommy Ellie’s secret and begins to unravel at his core, telling him the whole story from the start of “When You’re Lost in the Darkness.” The story takes an emotional turn when he begins unpacking Tess’s death, but even more so when he considers how hard it was for Henry to kill his brother while all he could do was watch. The old Joel, the one that Maria warned Ellie about, would have done things differently, but even with the town’s entrance examination, he couldn’t react fast enough to save Ellie if that was what she needed. Compounded with the feeling that he wakes up feeling as though he’s lost something, Joel is ultimately confessing that he does care for Ellie, even if he can’t exactly admit it in the plainest of terms. Joel’s dreams indicate that he believes he will wake up and fail Ellie too, that something will happen to her the minute he lets his guard down, the way he failed Sarah. Admitting to his shortcomings, he insists that Tommy bring Ellie to where the Fireflies supposedly are at the University of Eastern Colorado campus. 

Tommy and Joel have a conversation in a tool shop in The Last of Us S1E6 "Kin"
Photograph by Liane Hentscher/HBO

Telling Ellie will break her heart, but Joel thinks he has to do it to keep her safe. Ellie tests Joel, asking him if he cares about her or not, and, for the first time, Joel admits it, knowing that it’s harder to accept the thing he’s most afraid of is losing her. And if he loses Ellie, he’s sure he’ll end up like Henry, unable to adjust to the loss of another daughter. Ellie tells Joel that everyone she’s ever cared for has either died or abandoned her, and once again, we see the similarities between Joel and Ellie that make them a good pair.  

When Ellie tells Joel, “Don’t tell me I’d be safer with somebody else, because the truth is I would just be more scared,” this is the deciding factor for Joel when he meets Ellie and Tommy in the morning, despite him having the final say in the argument. Maria’s words, “be careful who you put your faith in,” continue to ring too, but Ellie knows Joel, and the choice between the brothers is obvious. 

The finale of The Last of Us S1E6 gives Joel a little more personality, lying to Ellie when he tells her how he used to be a contractor and that “Everyone loved contractors,” knowing that she won’t know the difference as she referenced earlier on as they passed a hydroelectric dam on the river of death. They ride to the University together with a new sense of each other, an understanding beyond Joel’s “what I say goes” pragmatism. 

Joel sits and looks to his right
Photograph by Liane Hentscher/HBO

The University scene is the only time in The Last of Us S1E6 that viewers feel a sense of danger. Sure, the dog scene is tense, but there’s the sense that we know the result likely leads to Tommy (thanks, preview spoilers!). In the final scene, we get a sense of the kind of cutthroat Joel used to be, snapping a raider’s neck like a twig before discovering he’s been stabbed with the sharp handle of a broken baseball bat. Ellie and Joel escape the remaining raiders, but we’re left on a cliffhanger with Joel bleeding out.  

That final scene also sees Ellie reacting to what Joel fears most. Her fear is ending up alone, but what she hasn’t yet been able to understand is the continuation of losing people you care about the way that Joel continues to experience. With him on the ground in the snow, bleeding, she’s beginning to understand that this loss will devastate her more than the loss she felt after losing Sam and Henry. 

A cover of Depeche Mode’s “Never Let Me Down Again” starts playing. Not only an ’80s song meaning trouble per Tess and Frank’s code but also a callback to that same song playing at the end of the first episode. The song is credited to Jessica Mazin, daughter of showrunner and episode writer Craig Mazin, which brings the father-daughter theme first circle. Yet, it also implies death. When the song played at the end of “When You’re Lost in the Darkness,” it was because of Bill and Frank who were relaying the songs before passing weeks earlier. Could this be a clue to Joel’s fate in the series? There are three episodes left this season, and judging from the preview of next week’s episode, which looks to reference Ellie’s past (the expansion packs in the game), it could literally be weeks before we know whether Joel survives the attack or not.

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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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