‘The Last of Us’ Season 1, Episode 5: Darkness on the Edge of Town
The Last of Us episode 5 came to HBO and HBO Max on Friday, jumping back to Ellie and Joel (Bella Ramsey and Pedro Pascal) after their sleep was rudely interrupted by two guys wielding guns.
The event came as the smuggler and his teen buddy tried to escape Kansas City, which has been taken over by a militant group led by the vengeful Kathleen (Melanie Lynskey from Yellowjackets). Her brother Michael was killed by FEDRA (the Federal Disaster Response Agency), which runs quarantine zones with the remnants of the US military and represents one of the last remaining bits of the government.
This is also an interruption to our heroes’ real quest — getting Ellie to the Fireflies, a rebel group that wants to replicate her immunity to the fungal infection that’s turned billions of people into monsters.
The pair holding Ellie and Joel at gunpoint will be familiar to anyone who’s played the PlayStation game that inspired the show, but fans might be surprised by how much the adaptation adds to their backstory. Time for SPOILERS as we dive into the dark episode 5.
The episode opens with a flashback showing how Kathleen’s civilian militia force overthrew FEDRA 10 days before Joel and Ellie got into town — the people rose up against this oppressive force and pretty much slaughtered its members in the streets. It’s graphic and horrible, and 8-year-old Sam (Keivonn Woodard) witnesses some of this violence as his older brother Henry (Lamar Johnson) rushes him into hiding in an attic.
Talking to a group of captive FEDRA collaborators, Kathleen offers them mercy in exchange for Henry’s location. One of the people talks, but she orders her goons to kill the entire group anyway. It seems like her quest for vengeance has left her devoid of mercy.
Shortly before they leave their hiding place, Henry comforts his young sibling by painting a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles bandanna (in Raphael red) across his face. It looks awesome, and it’s a nice moment of relief from all the intensity.
Unlike in the game, Sam is deaf — the same is true of actor Keivonn Woodard in real life. It’s a fascinating change, and it makes the character’s dynamic with Henry and Ellie even more engaging.
Henry spots Joel taking out a bunch of Kathleen’s scavenger crew, and he realizes our hero can help him and Sam get out of the city. Despite Joel’s “asshole voice,” they form a tenuous alliance and enter the subterranean maintenance tunnels.
FEDRA managed to clear the city of infected by forcing them into these tunnels. Unbeknown to Kathleen and company, FEDRA apparently cleared the monsters out. The camerawork and lighting when our quartet enters the tunnels is pretty sublime too.
We later learn that Henry collaborated with FEDRA so that Sam could get treatment for leukemia. He had to give up Kathleen’s resistance leader brother for this. Joel initially dismisses Henry as a rat but ultimately acknowledges that he was right to do whatever it took to keep Sam safe.
A heartbreaking side-story
The sewer living space where Ellie, Joel, Henry and Sam briefly take a breather is empty, but it was clearly a place where people managed to survive for a long time. Joel spots a child’s drawing of two people holding guns, with the caption “Danny, Ish, our protectors.”
If this has piqued your curiosity, we learn about these people’s fates in the game through notes that are scattered around. That version of events takes place in Pittsburgh, but the names and the show’s set are the same, so it’s likely events played out similarly. Be warned though, it’s awful.
In the wake of the outbreak, Susan, Kyle and their children ran into a survivor named Ish, who brought them to his hideout in the city’s sewer system. Their survivor community grew to nearly 50 people (including a guy called Danny), and they carved out a little haven under the postapocalyptic hell above.
Unfortunately, despite Ish, Kyle and Danny’s best efforts to maintain security, the infected ultimately got in through “one open door” and spoiled the whole thing.
Kyle barricaded himself and some kids in a room, inadvertently trapping them all. Instead of letting these children starve or get infected, he shot them all, covered them in a sheet and scrawled, “They didn’t suffer” on the floor. Then he took his own life.
“Jesus Christ,” says Joel on seeing the remains. It’s grim stuff all right.
Kyle’s wife Susan managed to get out with Ish and some other kids, but she was devastated about the loss of her family and tried to return to the sewers. Ish managed to stop her.
“Every part of my being just wants to give up. It’d be so easy to surrender to this world. I can’t do that, though. I have too much faith in humanity,” his final note reads. “I’ve seen that we’re still capable of good. We can make it. I have to stay strong … for her.”
It’s unknown what happened to them after that point, but let’s assume they got somewhere safe and lived happily ever after. That seems likely in this hellish fictional world, right?
The other side
In a sequence that plays out similarly to a section of the game, the tunnels lead our heroes into suburbia, where a sniper’s bullet cuts through their jovial atmosphere. Joel manages to sneak up and take the guy out, but not before he calls for backup. Kathleen and her henchman Perry lead a massive force to their location, and they trap Ellie, Henry and Sam.
She understands that Henry betrayed her brother to save Sam, but she makes it clear that the kids won’t be allowed to live.
“Did you ever stop to think that maybe he was supposed to die?” she says. “This is what happens when you fuck with fate.”
Just as she prepares to shoot Henry, a mass of infected climb up from underground and butcher Kathleen’s forces. The big one is known as a Bloater in the games — these guys are super tough and strong, as evidenced when this one rips Perry’s head right off. Kathleen is slain by a Clicker, which leaps on her and rips her to shreds.
A dark twist
Ellie, Joel, Sam and Henry seemingly escape unscathed and find an old motel to rest in (this also happens in much the same way in the game). Ellie theatrically reads comics with Sam while the two men sleep in the next room, but the young fella is clearly distracted.
“If you turn into a monster, is it still you inside?” he writes in a note, gearing Ellie and us up for an emotional gut-punch.
He reveals to his new buddy that he got bitten in the commotion, which is basically a death sentence. Revealing her immunity to Sam, she smears some of her blood on his wound. Which seems like a good idea, but neither of them seem convinced.
Ellie also agrees to stay up with the nervous Sam, but she dozes off. She awakens to find him sitting up and facing away from her, soon discovering that the infection has taken hold. Sam is gone, replaced by a savage monster that attacks her.
Their tussle brings them into the room with the adults, where Henry picks up a gun and shoots the little brother he sacrificed so much for. He briefly aims the weapon at Joel before turning it on himself and pulling the trigger.
“Oh God,” says Joel as he, Ellie and every audience member tries to process this horrible scene.
Ellie and Joel bury their lost friends nearby, and the teenager places the reusable notepad she’d been using to talk to Sam on the boy’s grave.
“I’m sorry,” it reads.
Despite being emotionally distraught, the two continue their journey west to find Joel’s brother Tommy and the Fireflies. Yeah, that was rough.
Episode 6 of The Last of Us hits HBO Max next Sunday, Feb. 19.
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