Courtesy of HBO
By Luke Weidenkopf
***Contains Spoilers for The Last of Us”
Crunch. Crunch. A figure comes into frame, white surrounds him. The snow is falling hard, hiding the forest and those within. He pauses then takes another step. Crunch. And continues down to his cottage carrying a few rabbits. He hangs them outside his house, opens the door, and is introduced to the barrel of a gun; a gun belonging to Joel (Pedro Pascal). This is where episode seven, “The Ties that Bind,” begins.
Joel and Ellie are lost looking for Tommy (Gabriel Luna), Joel’s brother, because Joel lost communication with him and is worried that something may have happened. They hold the cottage owners at gunpoint, requesting information looking for a settlement in Wyoming. The couple has not heard of any settlements but warn of the “River of Death” a place where anyone, infected or not, is killed and their body strewn out. Joel asks for information about Tommy and when the man claims that he has never heard of him but that his brother is probably dead, Joel stumbles outside, catching his breath leaning on a post. His vision is fuzzy and hearing a loud buzzing noise, he tries to corral himself back but Ellie’s constant bickering only makes it worse. He eventually catches his breath, leans up and tells her he’s fine. Then they move on like nothing happened.
Ellie and Joel make it past two rivers, where they are spotted by a group of cowboys, who first check if they are infected with a dog, and then once one character, Maria (Rutina Wesley), recognizes Joel, and has them ride into town. Joel finds Tommy, who had made it to a commune in Wyoming and is living safely, expecting a child.
Joel asks Tommy to take Ellie to the Firefly doctors at the University of Eastern Colorado, believing he can better make the journey and protect her, believing himself to be too old and slow. Tommy regretfully agrees only after learning that Ellie is immune, and believes that helping Ellie is a chance at creating a better world for his child to be brought up in.
Ellie, overhearing their discussion, gets into an argument with Joel later that night, leaving her feeling hurt and betrayed. Everyone that has ever been close to Ellie has either left her or died, Joel is just following the trend.
When Ellie and Tommy make it to the stables, they see Joel saddling up a horse wanting to steal a horse and leave quietly, but he couldn’t bring himself to go. When he asks Ellie who she would rather have, she throws her bag at Joel, and they depart the village.
They travel through Wyoming and finally get to the University of Eastern Colorado expecting to find the Fireflies, but no one is there. They have all vanished, in a hurry, leaving papers and medical supplies strewn everywhere.
Joel and Ellie think they are alone until a group of raiders comes by. The duo try to escape quickly but one of the raiders spots them. Joel engages them, snapping his neck, but in the process gets impaled with a broken baseball bat. Ellie gets him on the horse and escape eventually making it to an abandoned railway station, where Joel falls off the horse, covered in blood. Ellie consoles him before the episode fades to black leaving audiences on an epic cliffhanger..
In this newest episode of the last of us, the creators elevated Joel and his struggles showing the physical and emotional toll that living in this world has created for him. Joel experiences two different panic attacks in this episode and seems unsure of what he is feeling or what exactly is happening to him. The creators are trying to comment on a time where mental health was never given the support it needed. The Infected came in 2003, a time where speaking about one’s mental health was taboo. In our modern world, it is far from complete acceptance but the steps down the road have already been taken; the journey is just not complete. In The Last of Us world none of that time occurred. Civilization and progress essentially stopped as humanity was simply trying to survive. Joel resembles a product of his time. Someone who essentially stopped moving forward because of the hardships that he has had to endure. He had always been able to overcome them but this is the first time where he has felt the physical tool that the apocalypse has put on him. He did not necessarily want to leave Ellie, but after seeing the joy in the town and knowing his own struggles, he believed that he could no longer help her. He did his job, he is not her father, so why should he have to help her?
At the end of the episode, Joel is bleeding out,his body already worn down after 50 years of life and trying to survive the Infected. His fate is unknown and the next turn the plot takes is a mystery to be solved in the next edition of The Last of Us.