Spoilers from the outset for this review of The Last Of Us.
Bloody tracks in the snow lead to an ancient, weathered house. Inside, Ellie fights to control the bleeding from Joel’s knife wound. He urges Ellie to leave him and return north to Tommy’s settlement. She’s hesitant to go but heads for the stairs. She wavers at the door before grabbing the handle. In these short moments of uncertainty, Ellie weighs her choices and remembers one fateful night from her past. “All or None (Live)” by Pearl Jam cues up, and we return to the past. Ellie, a FEDRA trainee, runs laps with other young women around a gymnasium hall, listening to the Pearl Jam song on a Walkman, the same one gifted to her by Riley. After picking a fight with another girl, Ellie meets with Captain Kwong. Over the last few weeks, Ellie’s behaviour has worsened, and solitary detention has had no influence. Kwong lays it out. The two paths ahead that Ellie can take. The life of a grunt or the life of an officer. The latter means she could live a happier, healthier life and contribute to maintaining the sanctuary created in this harsh, post-pandemic world. Without them, Kwong believes the QZ would fall. Ellie chooses a healthier life.
The walls of Ellie’s dormitory are covered in dinosaur doodles, pictures of the moon, and space shuttles. There are posters for the 1987 flick Innerspace and Mortal Kombat II, music cassettes of Etta James, and the greatest hits of a-Ha. There’s a pun book and her switchblade on a table, and as the rain pours outside her window, Ellie reads a Savage Starlight comic. Before lights out, she finds her attention drawn to an empty bed on the other side of the room, implied to belong to Riley (Storm Reid), who has been absent for the past three weeks. Until she sneaks in through Ellie’s window and makes a surprise return, offering “the best night” of Ellie’s life. She reveals that she joined the Fireflies, much to her friend’s disbelief. These are the same people Ellie is preparing to kill for FEDRA.
Crossing through a building, they find the body of a man who took his life with a mix of sleeping tablets and a bottle of high-value whiskey. The wood beneath their feet creaks as they approach the man, and inevitably, he plunges through the floor. Ellie, not unsurprisingly, finds it hilarious before poaching the whiskey for themselves. Riley, who shares Marlene’s views on FEDRA’s fascist regime, was recruited by the Firefly leader to join them after slipping out after curfew into the QZ. Clearly opposed to her best friend’s viewpoint, Ellie’s argument echoes Kwong’s earlier statement that if FEDRA were to fall, society would too. The two girls evade FEDRA patrols and bound across rooftops like Sam and Nathan Drake escaping the orphanage in the opening chapter of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. Eventually, Riley reveals Ellie’s surprise, an abandoned shopping centre.
Riley turns on the power, and the entire shopping centre lights up, a brighter source than Ellie’s fading torch light, that’s for sure. It’s a dazzling spectacle, and Ellie is astonished by it all. Riley intends to show Ellie four wonders, including an escalator, which Ellie takes great delight in. So let’s make that five. Ellie’s joy running up and down the steps is a pleasure to watch. A movie poster outside of a cinema teases the arrival of a Dawn of the Wolf Part 2, a fictional film Joel was dragged to see by Sarah pre-outbreak. The two friends reflect on why, in a post-pandemic world, society felt the need to loot a Footlockers but neglected to salvage more pertinent essentials, such as soap from The Body Shop. Riley points to the lingerie in a Victoria’s Secret shop window, and after she says she’s trying to imagine Ellie wearing a thong, the two girls laugh it off. Ellie lingers at the window for a moment longer, neatening her hair. Riley’s remark stays with her. She takes Ellie to a carousel.
Once again, Ellie is astonished by the carousel as it spins. Unlike the video game, the ride lives a little longer than a few seconds. The two girls share glances and more whiskey. Lost in a reverie, Ellie is snapped out of it as the carousel grinds to a stop. Ellie asks Riley if she left under the notion that the Fireflies could liberate the QZ. Riley objects, stating that the Fireflies had successfully liberated other cities beyond Boston. To Riley, the Firefly mission is not just a fantasy. Ellie counters that she and Riley could liberate the city in a different, non-violent way, since they’ll become a part of the next generation to occupy the world post-outbreak. Riley admits that she’s been assigned sewage detail by Captain Kwong. It’s no better returning to FEDRA since no one can change the world standing guard in the sewers. To relieve the tension, Riley admits Ellie was the only thing she missed about her old life in the QZ. Riley’s comment makes a difference, Ellie concedes, and we know it means far more to her than that. Onwards, Riley still has three more wonders to go. The next stop on Riley’s tour is a photo booth (not a time machine, despite Ellie’s initial hopes). They pose for photos in the booth and receive faded prints. Riley gifts Ellie with the only salvageable photo from the set.
The fourth wonder is an arcade, and in a meme-worthy scene, Ellie describes it as “the most beautiful thing” she’s ever seen. Having broken open a change stand, the two play Mortal Kombat II, Ellie as Raiden and Riley as Mileena. At the same time, an infected stirs into life deep inside the shopping centre. Ellie claims a glorious victory against Riley’s in-game opponent, and the two girls are left delighted, prompting more glances at each other. Ellie, however, is reluctant to go further. She needs to head back before sunrise. Riley tempts her with a new gift, and despite a constant stream of questions, including whether the surprise is a dinosaur, Riley keeps quiet. The gift is another pun book. The two share jokes, including a quip about a drunk computer taking screenshots. The punchline sours after Ellie discovers explosive devices Riley was assigned to protect, having been posted in the shopping centre. Ellie leaves, and Riley reveals her new posting in the Atlanta QZ. This’ll be her last night with Ellie, and she wanted to say goodbye.
The final wonder is revealed to be the Halloween store, and no matter how hard you freeze each frame, it’s hard to locate a Nathan Drake Halloween costume. With Riley certain she wants to leave, Ellie accepts her decision and tells her she’ll miss her. So, with this being their last time together, they pop on Halloween masks and dance on a counter top to “I Got You Babe” by Etta James. Ellie urges Ellie to stay and kisses Riley. Now, if there’s ever a case for an argument that The Last Of Us has lacked the numbers in the infected department, it’s this scene. Ellie and Riley are attacked by one infected. Ellie uses her switchblade to kill it, but the few moments of exhilaration are replaced by the dreadful realisation that she and Riley have both been bitten. Back with Joel, Ellie lingers at the door. Determined not to fail Joel after losing Riley, she begins to sweep the house for medical supplies. In the past, she and Riley discuss their options. “Left Behind” by Gustavo Santaolalla plays as Ellie returns to tend to Joel’s wound. The last we see of Riley is a final, heartbreaking embrace with Ellie.
Episode 7 expands on the Left Behind DLC in new, meaningful ways. Ellie and Riley’s relationship is far more layered than what the video game delivered. Their conflicting worldviews on FEDRA’s fascism and the Firefly uprising are the most intriguing. The developing romance between Ellie and Riley is more transparent and direct, reflected in scenes with the Victoria’s Secret shop window and Ellie asking Riley to turn around as she changes. Furthermore, Reid and Ramsey’s on-screen chemistry makes their storyline compelling and natural. Let’s not forget the assortment of Easter eggs (dinosaur doodles, the Naughty Dog keyring on Kwong’s keychain, the Mortal Kombat II gameplay, and musical numbers from a-Ha and Etta James), satisfying the die-hards of the series. Still haven’t seen a Nathan Drake costume. It’s another character-centric story that delivers a tragic insight into Ellie’s life, the origins of her infection, and her inspiration to save Joel’s life against all odds. Two episodes to go. David and the cannibals are next. Oh boy.
If you want to read more of our The Last of Us content, you can check out our Episode 6 review here.