The Last of Us Episode 6 review: A pivotal Joel & Ellie chapter

Joel and Ellie in The Last of Us Episode 6HBO

The Last of Us Episode 6 is a moving testament to the story’s pathos and tenderness, seamlessly adapted from game to screen; you will believe in Joel and Ellie. 

“You have no idea what loss is,” Joel tells Ellie, in one of the most iconic quotes from the original game. By this point, though, we do: we watched Sarah dying, Tess sacrificing herself, Henry shooting Sam before turning the gun on himself, and Kathleen being ripped to pieces

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The Last of Us is a world governed by loss; enemies are made by death, just as love can be formed by bad luck. Joel and Ellie are in it together, and their bond is deeper than they’ll ever say. 

Episode 6, while dealing with a whole other community and ending on a fist-clenching cliffhanger, will make you realize just how emotionally invested you are in their journey, thanks to spectacular performances from Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey and a pitch-perfect script. 

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The Last of Us Episode 6: Joel and Ellie go west 

After a brief reminder of the show’s most harrowing moment to date, Episode 6 begins by ramping up the dread straight away (for players of the game, anyway). Why? Because the first shot is a man trudging through the snow, which means we’re likely in the “winter” part of the story, which only means bad things ahead.

The man is Marlon (Graham Greene), the grumpy yet chucklesome husband of Florence (Elaine Miles), a couple who moved to a cabin in the Wyoming wilderness long before the Cordyceps pandemic to “get the hell away from everybody.”

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As Marlon hangs up his bloody rabbits outside, Florence gives him a side-eye as he walks into the house. Before he can say a word, Joel emerges with a gun and asks Marlon to put his weapon out of reach. This is about as far as the animosity goes, especially as Florence already cooked him and Ellie a bowl of soup, to Marlon’s bafflement. “It’s cold out!” she says, justifying her kindness. 

Joel just wants to know where they are, and if they’ve seen Tommy, his brother. Marlon asks why they need their help when they already have a map, and Ellie quips: “I must have missed all the street signs in the enormous f*cking forest.” Marlon and Florence can’t help but laugh. 

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Cody and Wind River are all overrun with infected, so Joel asks for the best advice on heading west. “Yeah, go east,” Marlon stresses, as there’s nothing but “death” across the river; some infected, some not. “If your brother is west over the river, he’s gone,” Florence says. 

Pascal’s performance as Joel is one of subtlety; his emotions aren’t painted with large strokes. His straight-faced response to this advice has the tiniest scratch of upset, and while Ellie tries to defend their bravery, Florence knows he’s frightened of what may lie ahead. 

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The Last of Us Episode 6: Just the two of us 

As they leave the cabin, Joel has to stop and take a breath. For now, we’ll call it a panic attack, but Ellie has little sympathy. “Just a reminder that if you’re dead, I’m f*cked,” she says, hilariously.

The pair trek across the snowy, mountainous vistas of Wyoming. Good cinematography isn’t just pretty frames, but “man, you can’t deny that view.” It’s immediately evocative of The Revenant, though it has the advantage thanks to the soothing plucking of Gustavo’s score. 

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They eventually decide to camp out in a cave for the night before trying to cross the river. As they sit beside the fire, Joel pulls out a hip flask. Like any teenager, Ellie wants to try some, “just to warm up.” Joel gruffly obliges, and it wasn’t worth it. “Yep, still gross,” she says. 


Before sleeping, Ellie asks Joel what his plans are once their trip is over (at first she says “we”, an implication that’s quickly brushed aside). He reveals he wants an old farmhouse and a ranch with sheep, “because they’re quiet and do as they’re told.” The latter part is a dig at Ellie, but it’s not meant with any real contempt. 

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Ellie wants to go to space, because after living in the QZ with a wall one way and the ocean the other, “the only way is up.” Her affinity for space stems from the games, and for those who know, the payoff will be delightful whenever it comes. Also, as Joel immediately predicts, her favorite astronaut is Sally Ride, the first American woman to go to space.

A moment of doubt creeps in. “It’ll work, right?” She asks Joel, about a vaccine with her blood, before confessing to trying to rub her blood into Sam’s wound. Joel’s reflex is anger, at first, but he assures her that “Marlene is no fool”, and if she says it can be done, it will. He tells her to go get some sleep and “dream of sheep ranches on the moon” – a joke, yes, but also his way of saying he’d like Ellie to stay with him even when they don’t need to be together anymore. 

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The next morning, Joel wakes up to find Ellie keeping watch. He was supposed to be keeping watch, but Ellie did everything he taught her to make sure they were both safe. He asks her to wake him up next time, but also nods somewhat proudly; even if he doesn’t like to say it, he knows he’s in safe hands and trusts her. 

The Last of Us Episode 6: The river of death

Joel and Ellie cross the “river of death.” There’s a thick, choppy current of suspense in these scenes; even if you’re unfamiliar with what the snow indicates in the story, there’s a desolate sense of unease. It’s not just remote, it’s eerie. 

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They find a dam, to which Ellie reacts, “Damn!”, and Joel says, “You’re no Will Livingston.” 

Soon, Joel and Ellie are surrounded by a group of people on horseback. At first, they’re antagonistic and force them to be tested for any infection – not with a scanner, but a dog that can smell Cordyceps. Joel is immediately paranoid, and the high-pitched ringing that sent him into a fit of rage in the first episode starts sounding again. Fortunately, the dog doesn’t attack Ellie, and they take them back to their compound. 

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Inside, Joel catches sight of Tommy and calls out his name. They embrace with a hug made up of months lost and pent-up worry, and Ellie looks on from the distance; this is a girl who’s never had any family, and has probably never felt anything close to that affection. 

Tommy and Joel in The Last of Us Episode 6HBO

They sit down for a warm meal, but Ellie isn’t used to having to mind her manners; she swears, shouts at another kid who’s staring at her across the room, and questions why they nearly killed them. Maria (Rutina Wesley) and Tommy explain it’s just “bark”, and a “bad reputation doesn’t mean you’re bad.”

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Joel asks Maria if they could have a moment for “just family”, but Tommy reveals they’re married. After a “congrats” through gritted teeth, they take a tour of the compound. If a utopia can exist during the apocalypse, this is it: they have running water, electricity, a democratically elected council, a school, a church, plenty of food, and it runs like a well-oiled machine. Tommy says it’s all shared ownership, but dismisses Joel saying it’s communism. “It is that: we’re a commune, it’s communism,” Maria says, prompting a sly smirk from Joel. 

The Last of Us Episode 6: Joel makes a sad confession

Maria offers Joel and Ellie a house, but he isn’t eager to accept her generosity. While she takes Ellie over, Joel and Tommy share a drink in the local bar. Tommy tells him he’s hoping to raise some hogs soon. “Once we’ve got bacon, what else is there?” he says, hilariously, before asking about Tess. Joel can’t face addressing the grief again, nor the explanation, so he lies and says she’s fine. 

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Their warmth turns cold with the bourbon. Joel asks Tommy to help him get to the Fireflies base in Colorado, but he can’t. Firstly, it’s “severely f*cked up” with infected and raiders. Secondly, his days of killing people with Joel are over (“There are other ways of surviving, we just weren’t good at them”). And thirdly, Maria is pregnant. Tommy is excited about becoming a father, but Joel is far from enthusiastic. “Just because life stopped for you doesn’t mean it needs to stop for me,” he says, before Joel walks out. 

Everyone is constantly acting at the top of their game in this show. Luna honed the fun-uncle energy in the first episodes, but even for the brief time we’ve seen him, it feels like a reunion in the best way. The mannerisms that made him charming have matured, and they’re especially heightened against Joel’s curt, dispassionate demeanor. 

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When Joel steps outside, he struggles to breathe and thinks he can see Sarah in the crowd. Being this close to normality again, as well as his relationship with Ellie, is forcing him to confront and deal with the loss of his daughter in a way he never has. He always had smuggling, killing, and crime – how will he survive without the crutch of breaking bad? 

Troy Baker The Last of UsHBO

Elsewhere, Ellie enjoys a hot shower, gets clean clothes and other helpful things (like a menstrual cup), and heads over to Maria’s home. She finds two names on a chalkboard: Kevin and Sarah, who both died two days apart in 2003. Maria then comes in with a new jacket and offers to give Ellie’s hair a trim. She wasn’t a hairdresser – she was actually an assistant district attorney in Nebraska – but always loved doing hair. “Maybe it was a mom thing,” she says. 

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When Ellie says she’s “sorry about her kids”, Maria corrects her: “Kid, just Kevin. Sarah was Joel’s daughter.” Maria quickly realizes Ellie never knew about her. “It’s okay, I guess that explains him a little,” she says. Maria asks what she knows about him, like how he killed people, but Ellie dismisses her concerns. “Be careful who you put your faith in, because the only people who can betray us are the ones we trust,” Maria tells her. 

While Ellie goes to the movies with the other kids in the town (to watch The Goodbye Girl), Tommy finds Joel. Joel asks whether or not the trip to Colorado is a suicide mission, before revealing that Ellie is immune and detailing their whole journey so far, including the deaths of Tess, Henry and Sam. 

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Joel confesses he’s struggling; he’s not who Tommy believes he is. He’s slow, hard of hearing, and consumed by fear. “I’m failing in my sleep, it’s all I do, it’s all I’ve ever done… is fail her again and again,” he says. Joel wants Tommy to take Ellie because he thinks he’ll get her killed, and proposes it as a route to redemption, and he agrees. 

This is the role of a lifetime for Pascal, and it’ll likely be the one he’s defined by. The anguish and embarrassment behind every word is palpable, and his performance is tremendously vulnerable yet considered. We are spoiled by having him as Joel. 

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The Last of Us Episode 6: One of the game’s best scenes is recreated

Joel goes to Ellie’s new room in their house, where she’s reading an old diary. “Is this really all they had to worry about? Boys, movies, deciding which shirt goes with which skirt… it’s bizarre,” she says, before asking why Joel is still here. Unfortunately for him, she already overheard her pleas to Tommy. 

Then comes the most emotionally charged scene between Joel and Ellie so far. It may hit home harder for those who’ve played the game, as the dialogue is lifted straight from one of the scenes, but the sentiment is so moving. Ellie wants to know if Joel “gives a sh*t” about her, and she makes a mistake of comparing herself to Sarah. 

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Pedro Pascal in The Last of Us HBO show, which now has a release dateHBO

“I’m not her, you know… I’m sorry about your daughter Joel, but I’ve lost people too,” she says. “You have no idea what loss is,” he responds. “Everybody I’ve cared for has either died or left me – everybody f*cking except for you. So don’t tell me that I would be safer with someone else, because the truth is I would just be more scared,” she says.

If you weren’t sold on this iteration of Joel and Ellie, what else can they do? There is real, tears-in-your-eyes chemistry between Pascal and Ramsey. “You’re right, you’re not my daughter, and I sure as hell Ian’t your dad. Now, come dawn, we’re going our separate ways,” he tells her, slamming the door on his way out. 

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The next morning, just as planned, Tommy collects Ellie – but when they get to the stables, Joel is there waiting on her. “You deserve a choice,” he tells her, but she doesn’t even let him finish before choosing. Obviously, she wants him to go, so they set off. We get a cute stopover to practice shooting, before some dreamy sunrise photography of the pair on horseback (with “interestingly” low horizons, thank you John Ford). Prepare to see these stills plastered across social media. 

What they talk about (Joel explaining his old job and American football) isn’t important: it’s their comfort. Nothing is more poignant than Ellie resting her head on Joel’s back, and him contently smiling as they ride along. 

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They soon arrive at the university in Colorado – and it’s completely deserted, bar some wild monkeys; No Fireflies, not even any infected. A map indicates they’ve went to Salt Lake City (more specifically, St Mary’s Hospital), before they can think about it, they hear men outside. Joel and Ellie try to escape, but one tries to attack them. In the scuffle, Joel kills him but gets stabbed, and they manage to make a hasty escape – but just as they’re clear, Joel falls off the horse and falls unconscious.

“I can’t do this without you,” Ellie mutters in panic, and the episode ends. Will Joel live? We’ll have to wait and see… but yes. 

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The Last of Us Episode 6 review score: 5/5

Pascal and Ramsey finally take the spotlight as Joel and Ellie in an emotionally charged, pivotal chapter of The Last of Us story. The cliffhanger will have you screaming at the TV, but we’ll say this: be careful what you wish for. 

The Last of Us Episode 7 will be available to stream on February 26 in the US and February 27 in the UK. Check out the rest of our coverage here and the trailer for the weeks ahead here.

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