The Last of Us Episode 7 is a moving, faithful adaptation of Ellie’s devastating backstory; success can be found in deviation, but why change perfection?
Episode 6 confronted the complexity of Joel and Ellie head-on: one’s a father resisting the idea he could ever care for another child in the same way, the other is a child who’s only starting to feel the care of a dad. The emotions are kicking into a higher gear.
The new episode is as much about the devastating parting of two people as it is the foundation of another relationship; love can be found in a hopeless place, whether you planned on it or not.
“Mmm, ae fond kiss, and then we sever. Ae fareweel alas, forever. Deep in heart-wrung tears I’ll pledge thee. Warring sighs and groans I’ll wage thee.”
The Last of Us Episode 7: Ellie before Joel
The camera drifts through a snowy, abandoned town. Specks of blood on the ground cut through the blanket of white on a long trail of something being dragged. Somehow, Ellie managed to get Joel to safety – the house may be freezing, he’s bleeding out, but he’s only a danger to himself.
As Joel lies there, chittering and weak with tears in his eyes – he failed again, just as he feared – he asks Ellie to go back north and find Tommy. Ellie is built with a steelier resolve than Joel gives her credit for, and with a determined look on her face, she ventures out.
Cut to black, and we flash back to Ellie in a P.E. class at her FEDRA school, jogging around the gymnasium listening to Pearl Jam’s All or None on her Walkman (the band’s inclusion is a lovely nod to Part II). Her peaceful exercise is ruined by another girl stealing her headphones.
“Give them back,” she shouts. “Then pick up your pace,” the girl, named Bethany, says. “I don’t want to fight about it,” Ellie says. “You don’t fight, your friend fights… and she’s not here anymore, is she?” She responds, which earns a swift punch in the face.
She’s sent to see Captain Kwong, the equivalent of the school’s headteacher, who warns her that she’ll – in summary – eat sh*t for the rest of her life and take orders from someone like Bethany if she doesn’t buck up her ideas. “You swallow this pride of yours… you become an officer,” he tells her, explaining how he believes leaders are the key to holding society together.
The Last of Us Episode 7: Meet Riley
Back in her room, Ellie has her comforts: Savage Starlight, the first volume of No Pun Intended, the original poster for Innerspace – but she can’t stop looking at the empty bed, even with the lights off. She manages to drift off, but just shy of 2am, an intruder climbs through the window and puts their hand over her mouth. Ellie panics and grabs her knife, but it’s just Riley – admittedly, she thought Ellie would find it funny.
Riley has been gone for the past three weeks – “I just ran away for a bit, that’s all,” she says – and Ellie’s angry she didn’t come to her for support. She had good reason to stay away: she’s become a Firefly, and now she wants Ellie to come with her for the “best night of her life.”
They climb out of her room and set off, with Riley trying to teach Ellie not to fight everyone and everything that gets in her way – despite her once putting another girl in the infirmary for a week. It seems the Fireflies have already instilled values worth sharing.
While trying to get to a roof, they pass a man who spent every “card” he had to get a bottle of whisky and a packet of pills to kill himself – of course, they grab the booze for the road. It’s all very grim, but wholesome, and underlining the subtlety in Ramsey’s performance; she’s always been prickly and sweary, but here, everything with Riley is punctuated with a giggle. Even surrounded by so much darkness, she’s genuinely happy.
Riley explains how she became a Firefly. When Ellie was in the “hole”, she was bored and snuck out. As she was sneaking around, an older woman found her and was impressed by how well she evaded FEDRA’s patrols. When she asked Riley what she thought of FEDRA, she told her they’re “fascist dickbags” and should be hanged for their crimes. It secured her a place with the rebels – it was that simple.
Ellie tries to defend FEDRA, also accusing the Fireflies of bombing places and killing civilians but her rebuttal is brief. The pair start running and jumping across the rooftops, and eventually arrive at their destination: the mall. It appears rundown and derelict from the outside, but once they’re in, Riley turns on the lights. Ellie has never seen anything like it in her life.
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The Last of Us Episode 7: The wonders of the mall
Riley reveals her plan to show Ellie the “four wonders of the mall”, although she adds another to the list from the off: “electric stairs”, better known as escalators. Ellie’s whole life has been within the confines of a QZ, so her mind is blown by something so simple. The fact the episode feels comfortable enough to let us have a minute of her playing on the escalator is a testament to how likable Ramsey’s Ellie really is. It also helps having the whole thing scored to A-Ha’s Take on Me, another nod to Part II.
They pass by the mall’s cinema, in itself a 2003 time capsule; a poster of Lost in Translation is hidden behind a note, leaving only the tagline “Everyone wants to be found”, a quote that speaks to the themes of the show. They also walk past the various shops; some looted, some full. For example, Foot Locker was ransacked, but The Body Shop is nearly untouched (anyone who’s seen the queues and resale prices for shoes knows this is exactly what would happen).
There’s also a Victoria’s Secret store, and Riley doesn’t understand why anyone would want to wear something so uncomfortable and jokes that she can’t imagine Ellie in the lingerie. She laughs it off, but positions her head on top of the mannequin in the window’s reflection before catching up with Riley.
Soon after, they reach the first wonder: a working carousel, glowing with golden light. As they ride around it, they share laughs from the burn of the bourbon and stolen gazes. This review may seem overwrought, but there’s so much going on here: in this moment, they’re allowed to be kids and adults on their own terms, in their own space – shared but alone.
Their feelings clearly run deeper than friendship, but there’s a longing in Ellie’s face that feels insurmountable. Maybe it’s because she doesn’t know how to address that affection, maybe it’s because she doesn’t see herself as a Firefly.
The Last of Us Episode 7: First and final kiss
They move onto back-to-back wonders: a photo booth, where they recreate all the poses of the game, and an arcade that may as well be neon-lit heaven. “This is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” Ellie tells Riley, before they duke it out on Mortal Kombat 2. Bill and Frank were afforded the mercy of on-screen peace, so it’s the least we deserve for Ellie – this is a joyous scene in the purest sense of the word.
And then comes the fourth wonder: No Pun Intended Volume Too. Ellie is over the moon – at first, until the clock’s Riley’s homemade bombs for the Fireflies. She accuses Riley of being dishonest about the mall, but the truth soon comes out: she’s being sent to Atlanta, so this is her final night in Boston. “Why did you bring me here?” Ellie asks. “Because I wanted to see you… I wanted to say goodbye,” Riley says. “You just did,” Ellie says, before storming off.
Just as she’s about to leave, teary-eyed and angry, she makes a U-turn; why leave in bad faith? As she walks back, she hears a scream, but it’s just Halloween decorations. Ellie accuses Riley of joining a cause she doesn’t understand, but there’s a big difference between them: Ellie has never had a family, so she’s had to find some sense of belonging in the chaos. Riley had it and lost it, so the possibility of another group treating her as their own can’t be given up.
“You mattered to me first… god dammit, I wanna punch you so bad,” Ellie says. “If it makes you hate me less,” Riley responds. Together, they decide to enjoy one last wonder: dancing together while wearing fancy-dress masks to Sonny and Cher’s I Got You Babe. In the heat of the moment, Ellie finally gets the courage to kiss Riley.
“What do we do know?” She asks with a big smile on her face. “We’ll figure it out,” Riley says, but before they even begin, a runner emerges and pursues them through the shop. Ellie manages to kill it with her knife, but both of them were bitten in the scuffle.
The episode cuts between’s Ellie’s last moments with Riley and her determination to help Joel. “We don’t give up,” Riley tells her, as Ellie in the present day attempts to sow up Joel’s wound. As Riley holds Ellie’s hand, Joel’s grasps hers – their love may be different, but it’s love all the same.
The Last of Us Episode 7 review score: 5/5
The Last of Us’ most poignant backstory gets the treatment it deserves; beautifully adapted, engagingly performed by Ramsey and Reid, and a reminder that love left behind is never love lost.
The Last of Us Episode 8 will be available to stream on March 5 in the US and March 6 in the UK. Check out the rest of our coverage here and the trailer for the weeks ahead here.