Spoilers from the outset for this review of HBO’s adaptation of The Last Of Us.
The credits start to play, supported by Agnes Obel’s ethereal “Fuel to Fire,” and we can take a deep breath, reeling from those final sobering minutes of the episode. Henry’s suicide, a tragic consequence after being forced to kill his infected brother, is a harrowing cinematic to witness in the game, and it was never going to be comfortable viewing in the adaptation. Five episodes in, The Last Of Us introduces Henry (Lamar Johnson) and his younger, deaf brother Sam (Keivonn Woodard). Compared to Henry’s second self in the source material, Johnson portrays a character reinvented for the series and one all the better for it. The same can be said for Woodard’s largely different interpretation of Sam.
Henry is the number one target for the leader of the rebel resistance within Kansas City. Without a doubt, this is a vital upgrade from what his character represented in the game. He was a survivor, a firm and caring brother to Sam, and not much else. Henry is given the centre stage for this episode with the unwanted title of the “most wanted man in Kansas City,” who navigates a city controlled by a fearsome military regime led by Kathleen (Melanie Lynskey). Henry exchanged Kathleen’s brother, Michael, with FEDRA in exchange for a hard-to-source medicinal supply to save Sam’s life, who had suffered from leukaemia. Henry’s relationship with Sam is strengthened through sign language and superheroes, reflected best in Sam’s orange face paint worn across his eyes, while the sign language proves you don’t need dialogue to create compelling, honest characters.
From Kathleen’s perspective, the grief-stricken, sadistic leader of the rebel militia battles her inner demons after returning to Michael’s childhood bedroom, telling Perry about how Michael comforted her during thunderstorms as a child. Despite their love for Michael, Perry tells Kathleen her brother did not change anything, presumably as the original leader of the group. Kathleen, however, has, and he reinforces his devotion to her and their cause. He speaks not only for himself but for the militia she commands. Kansas City, in earlier flashbacks, is a city under revolt from the same militia. FEDRA soldiers are slain in the streets, informers are interrogated on Henry’s location, and the opposition is threatened with persecution.
Henry and Sam stick to the shadows and meet with the doctor interrogated in Episode 4 by Kathleen, who goes by the name of Edelstein. After almost two weeks, rationed supplies are scarcely low, and Edelstein has failed to return for Henry and Sam, who remain cooped inside an attic overlooking the city. Sam is hungry, and Henry’s concerns for Edelstein grow until he accepts that the doctor will not return. As we know, Edelstein was killed by Kathleen one episode earlier. With the attic walls dominated by Sam’s drawings of superheroes, Henry decides to leave their hiding place. Before they can leave the building, Joel and Ellie’s truck crashes into a shop window following the ambush in the last episode.
As two scenes collide into one, Henry catches Joel killing members of Kathleen’s militia as they approach the crashed vehicle. Henry makes an amendment to their original plan. Fast-forward to the cliffhanger from last week, and after being awoken at gunpoint, a skeptical Joel reluctantly teams up with them to escape Kansas City, despite discovering Henry’s history as a collaborator. Together, they draw up a plan to venture underground. In the years since Kathleen’s militia revolted against FEDRA and took Kansas City, the group successfully forced the infected underground. The tactic has seemingly paid off, at least on the surface. What we know, of course, following Perry’s discovery of a crater in a basement last week and the concerned glances he shared with Kathleen, their tactic only delayed the inevitable. With the way things are about to go, she should have warned her group. That’s for later.
As plans go, Henry is made aware that the scheme has a lot of holes in it, chief among which concerns the potential of how many infected they could encounter. Their escape from the city is however, relatively easy. They stop after finding an abandoned settlement adapted from the sewers segment in the game. We have references to Ish, a survivor whose boat washed up on shore after Outbreak Day, a man who subsequently founded the sewer settlement group and became a leader, Ellie and Sam playing football in front of a goal drawn across a wall, and a Savage Starlight comic they read together. After escaping the city, they reach a suburban neighbourhood, and we all know how this plays out. A sniper begins to fire on them.
Henry tries to flee with Sam, only for the gunfire to draw them back, loosely echoing a moment he and Sam abandoned Joel and Ellie in the city. Joel surmises the sniper has poor aim in the dark and successfully evades them to find an elderly man with a rifle, Anthony. Established as one of Kathleen’s people, Anthony is killed by Joel before her forces arrive in the neighbourhood. As a plough truck chases Henry, Sam, and Ellie, Joel uses the sniper rifle to kill the driver of the plough truck. The vehicle slams into the front of a house, and a petrol leak causes it to explode. Henry is prepared to surrender and face his fate, urging Ellie to take Henry and protect him. Kathleen tells Henry she understands why he offered Michael to save Sam but coldly suggests that Sam should have died.
Despite feeling sympathetic toward her character in the scene with Perry, after recognizing how far her pursuit for justice has brought her, Kathleen’s view that “kids die all the time” is cruel and uncaring. She’s just awful. Lynskey’s performance, nevertheless, is masterful. Joel listens from the window as Kathleen asks Henry about Sam’s worth in the world. To Henry, he means everything. He is everything. In some ways, Kathleen’s question reflects Joel’s growing sentiment and concern for Ellie. As Henry emerges into the open and Kathleen raises her weapon, a noise distracts them. The crashed truck begins to tilt into the ruins of the house and disappears into a giant sinkhole. Snarling and raising sounds begin to resonate from beneath the earth. Moments later, all hell breaks loose, and the infected fan out in all directions.
It’s actually one of the more frightening images of the series and something the video game failed to capture in the same light. In arguably the most chaotic scene from the series at this stage, the sequence incorporates multiple elements across the source material. We have the bloater, first and foremost. Perry goes head to head with the monster, and to forgive the pun, has his scalp ripped off. His death reflects the bloater’s signature kill move. Elsewhere, Joel snipes the infected from the house window in the same way his counterpart does in the suburbs chapter. Kathleen is killed by a child clicker as Joel and Ellie save Henry and Sam from the infected hordes. After, Sam is withdrawn as Ellie reads the Savage Starlight comics to him, which Henry describes as redundant. Joel offers Henry and Sam the opportunity to travel with them to Wyoming, and Henry agrees.
In one of the most heartbreaking scenes from the source material, Sam is bitten during the chaos and turns. Prior to the episode’s tragic climax, Sam asks Ellie if she’s ever scared. Despite making a joke about scorpions, Ellie admits to her fear of ending up alone. Sam reveals his bite to Ellie, who does the same, revealing her immunity to him. She tries to use her blood to treat the wound, perhaps in the hope it could save him. We know how it ends. After turning and attacking Ellie, Henry kills Sam before committing suicide, much to the horror of Joel and Ellie. The camera stays on Ellie as Henry pulls the trigger, echoing Joel’s reaction in the game, and Bella Ramsey’s expression is haunting. Joel pats down the earth on Henry and Sam’s graves before Ellie begins to walk west, leaving Sam’s writing pad on the grave. It reads an apology as a sullen Joel collects his gear and walks with Ellie.
Henry and Sam’s updated storyline is another significant and necessary amendment to the HBO adaptation. Lamar Johnson and Bella Ramsey’s performances shine the brightest in one of the most tense, fraught episodes yet. Needless to say, the performances from all are always on point. The clicker carnage coupled with the image of the bloater rising from a fiery sinkhole is a hellish spectacle and one of the best images produced in the series. However, poor Perry. It’s sad to say goodbye to Jeffrey Pierce. Kathleen’s demise fell short, but the conflict with Henry corrected those shortcomings. Henry and Sam’s sudden deaths will shock those who’ve not played the game and likely just as much those who have. Other highlights include the Savage Starlight easter egg, Ish and his underground settlement, and Henry’s conversation with Joel on fatherhood.
If you want to read more of our The Last of Us content, you can check out our Episode 4 review here.