With only a few episodes left for Season 1, The Last of Us has surely strayed the path from the game in a few specific ways; I think this has made the season better for it. One of my most anticipated shows of this year doesn’t cease to disappoint me whatsoever, which is rare for television. Episode 7 “Left Behind” takes us back in time to see how Ellie (Bella Ramsey) found out she is immune and puts the fate of Joel (Pedro Pascal) solely in her hands. I think this is narratively one of the strongest episodes, next to Episode 3 “Long, Long Time.” Let’s jump right into Episode 7.
SPOILERS TO FOLLOW
Picking back up after Joel’s injury from Episode 6, which was altered from the game, we follow a bloody path in the snow to a decrepit house. The horse stands in the garage, while Ellie gets Joel down to the basement, where he lays on a gross-looking mattress. Joel pleads with Ellie to let him be and to head North to Tommy. Ellie, in the most Ellie way, tells Joel to, “shut the f*ck up.” Ah, Ellie, don’t ever change. Seeming like she is going to listen to him, Ellie goes up the stairs and shuts the door to the basement.
All or None by Pearl Jam floats through our ears as we are brought into a flashback. Ellie, and a whole other group of girls, are running circles in the gym for their FEDRA-based school. Bethany (Ruby Lybbert) runs up behind Ellie and rips her headset off, and negs Ellie because her tougher friend isn’t here to save her from a fight. Tired of Bethany’s crap, Ellie punches her.
Ellie gets sent to Cpt. Kwong’s (Terry Chen) office, where we find out this is not her first time getting in trouble at school. She’s actually been sent to “the hole” multiple times recently. Cpt. Kwong tells Ellie that Bethany was sent to the infirmary to get 15 stitches. Ellie seems pretty proud of herself, and we’re all proud of her honestly. On top of this wonderful news about Bethany, Cpt. Kwong tells Ellie she really needs to turn her life around and gives her two choices she can either work towards being a grunt or work towards being a leader. Grunt life is hard, Cpt. Kwong says, whereas being a leader is much more rewarding, you will be warm in the winter, and cool in the summer. Ellie eventually relents and says she wants to work towards becoming a leader. The Captain is happy with this answer and gives Ellie back her Walkman before she leaves the office.
Back in Ellie’s dorm-like room, we see the walls covered with various posters, the most prominent being a Mortal Kombat 2 poster. What we also see, is the second bed in the room is gone. This is the bed of the person Bethany was referring to earlier. And obviously, her disappearance is taking quite a toll on Ellie. One of my favorite things about this episode is the small moments of realness we get from Ellie. We’ve come to know Ellie as a ‘take-no-prisoners’ and ‘say-it-like-it-is’ type of person, but that’s one of the great things about the writing in the game. Ellie is a really nuanced character, and these moments of just her being a kid and trying to understand what is going on with the world AND trying to be an actual kid are excellent moments of writing. This is just one of the many times Bella Ramsey’s performance just completely nails what the core of Ellie’s character is supposed to be.
There is a knock on the door and Ellie is told it’s lights out time, she eventually complies. As Ellie sleeps someone breaks into the room through a window. While there was a brief moment of thinking it would be Bethany back for revenge, it turns out to be her missing friend/roommate Riley (Storm Reid). At this point if you have played the game you would have recognized the character from the DLC The Last of Us: Left Behind—see what they did with the title? Clever! I should say I am far less clear with the DLC because I have only played it once, rather than the nine times I have played the base game, so I might miss some of the nuances from the DLC.
We find out that Riley has been missing for three weeks AND has joined the Fireflies! Ellie is a bit taken aback by this but agrees to join Riley when she says she has a surprise for her. As the two head to the roof of a building, they find a dead body (Shane Pollitt) with a baggie of pills and a bottle of booze next to it. Ellie grabs the bottle of booze and shoves it in her backpack. Upon finally getting to the roof of the building Ellie and Riley take a few swigs of the bottle before Mirror’s Edge-ing over the roofs of some buildings. Eventually, they make it to the last building that overlooks the mall. Riley tells Ellie she wants to take her there, but Ellie says it’s sealed off because it’s full of infected. Turns out they easily get into the mall. Honestly, if the apocalypse happened the mall would be one of the first places I went. Just think of all the fun things you could
loot acquire to occupy your time in the post-apocalypse!
For a reason we’ll find out soon enough, Riley easily gets the power to the mall back on and Ellie is in awe. Riley tells Ellie she has four wonders to show her, but Ellie just can’t get over these newfangled electric stairs! After Ellie runs up a down escalator for a few seconds Riley takes her over to the next wonder: the carousel. Riley gets the carousel turned on and the two sit on horses and have a genuinely good time riding them together. The carousel soon comes to a halt and Riley hits Ellie with some harsh truths. One of them being she doesn’t want to go back to FEDRA because she turns 17 soon and was given her FEDRA detail, which is sewage detail. That sounds like a sh*tty job. (Boo.)
Riley is ready to take Ellie to the next wonder she has, which is a photo booth. Prepared with a five-dollar bill, Riley and Ellie sit down and take a couple of cute photos together. Unfortunately, the ink is a bit dried out and only one of the photos is really visible. Ellie doesn’t care, she’s just happy she has a photo of the two of them together. Time for the third wonder: an arcade! What makes this arcade even better is the fact it has a Mortal Kombat 2 machine! Ellie and Riley play a ton of games because the last time Riley was here she broke into the coin machine so they could play unlimited games. At this point, I started to get a bit nervous. They’re having too good of a time. Something has to go wrong, right? Like don’t get me wrong I am happy for them! But this is a zombie television series and there hasn’t been a single infected in this episode!
As Ellie and Riley play away on Mortal Kombat 2 the camera pulls back slowly. It cuts over to an American Girl doll store. Inside the store…an infected with cordyceps branched off in many different directions. You know each time we get to see one of the infected I become re-impressed with just how beautifully they were able to craft each infected in this series. There’s a base to all the designs for the infected, but each one feels like it tells its own story through the branching cordyceps and the mushrooms/fungi on its head. It’s truly brilliant.
After playing games for some time, Riley has the next surprise to show Ellie. Over at the food court, they go behind the counter of the Macho Nacho, one of the only shops in this food court that is not a franchise. They go to the back, where we see a sleeping bag on the ground. Riley tells Ellie she has been sleeping here, but that’s not the point. Riley has Volume 2 of No Pun Intended! They read through some of the puns, laughing and having a good time. That’s until Ellie finds a bunch of pipe bombs! This is when Ellie realizes that Riley isn’t staying here, she has been posted here by the Fireflies. To make things worse, Riley tells Ellie that she is being sent to a QZ in Atlanta, and this is her last night in town.
Understandably pissed off, Ellie storms out of the mall ready to make her way back to her FEDRA school. Moments before leaving though Ellie sheds a single tear and decides to go back. On her way back to find Riley, Ellie hears a scream and rushes toward it. Just kidding, though it was only a Halloween decoration and the last surprise from Riley. They have a really sweet heart-to-heart and end up working things out. Riley eventually talks Ellie into putting on a werewolf mask, while she wears a mask that looks like it’s from Killer Klowns From Outer Space. They put Ellie’s Walkman on over the store’s loudspeaker and dance around.
Only a few seconds of dancing occur before Ellie stops and takes her mask off. Shortly after Riley does as well. In a moment of pure vulnerability, Ellie tells Riley not to leave for Atlanta, and Riley reluctantly agrees. Part of me wonders if Riley really would have stayed, if not for what was to happen next. The two kiss in a moment we have all been thinking was going to, and it’s a cute moment between the two. Although don’t forget this is a zombie series because immediately after they kiss a zombie bursts into the room, leading the two girls into a fight for their life. Ellie eventually stabs the infected twice in the side and then gets a good stab in the head after a good thirty seconds of fighting between them. Not all the glitters are gold, though, as Riley gives Ellie a concerned look. The camera pans down to show Ellie’s patented arm bite. And to make things worse, Riley has a bite on her hand too.
We cut back to Ellie in the present day, standing on the opposite side of the basement door. She realizes she can’t, and won’t, leave Joel to die. Ellie rushes around the house trying to find anything to help save Joel.
Cutting back to the mall. Ellie and Riley cope in their own ways, Ellie breaking glass and Riley holding a gun. Riley says there are a few ways they can handle their current situation. Option one is the gun, option two is they wait it out and spend their last few moments together.
FINAL CUT BACK TO THE PRESENT where Ellie finds a roll of thread and a needle. She knows what she has to do. Rushing back down to the basement, Ellie grabs Joel’s hand. Joel squeezes with all his might and Ellie begins to sew Joel’s stomach wound shut.
I thought this episode was really powerful in a few ways. We get both sides of Ellie. We really get to see her be a kid and explore her life and options between FEDRA, her relationships, and getting to explore like a literal kid in a candy shop (arcade). On the other hand, we see Ellie put in a life-or-death scenario and jump to the rescue to save Joel’s life. As I said earlier Bella Ramsey is a brilliant actor, but a huge shoutout also needs to go to Storm Reid. I’ve been seeing Reid pop up here and there a lot more recently and I really think she is going to be one of the next big actors. Reid always gives an incredible performance, and this show is no exception. It’s unfortunate her screen time was limited to one episode, but what a hell of a performance it was.