Approximately three months after the deaths of Henry and Sam, Joel and Ellie are in the state of Wyoming, searching for baby brother Tommy. The setting is simultaneously peaceful and haunting. The deafening silence allows us to take in the beautiful scenery, and conversely experience constant dread. Working only with a crude map and astronomy, Joel and Ellie are unsure of their exact location, unsure if they are even in the nation’s 10th largest by area and least populous state. Lucky for the traveling pair, they have Marlon (Graham Greene) and Florence (Elaine Mills). This elderly married couple are not original characters from THE LAST OF US video game, however their less than 10-minute appearance in the tv series is one of the most entertaining moments in THE LAST OF US canon. When Marlon returns to the cabin, Florence is being held hostage by Joel and Ellie. Marlon remains cool, calm, and collective throughout the ordeal. He immediately recognizes that Joel and Ellie do not intend to harm him and Florence. Rather, Joel is seeking directions to Jackson, Wyoming, and is attempting to verify the information given by Florence. Florence is visibly amused by the situation and is only serious when verifying the directions to Jackson. The dynamic of Marlon and Florence, create much more than a respite for comic relief. The elderly couple is a beacon of hope in the perpetual chaos, for they have managed not only to survive but also to live. Florence’s wisecracking and Marlon’s light sarcasm are palpable. We see flashes of this banter between Ellie and Joel. However, the latter doesn’t allow the bonding to go on for extended periods of time, for the fear of losing a loved one still overwhelms him. With confirmation that Jackson is only a few days of trekking away, Joel and Ellie depart.
Joel experiences a light panic attack before leaving the elderly couple’s property. He has a perpetuating fear (coupled with the possibility of Tommy being dead) of not being strong enough to defend Ellie. Whether he likes it or not, the situation, his past as a father, and his increasing closeness with Ellie; Joel remains the protective father. As they encroach on Jackson, it appears the elderly couple were a bit exaggeratory of the claims of danger. This false sense of security if quickly disproven when a masked group of horse riders surround the duo. After dropping their weapons, the hostiles have a dog sniff them for signs of cordyceps infection. After Joel passes the test, he nearly has another panic attack, fearing the dog will sense something on the immune but compromised Ellie. But the dog playfully knocks the young girl to the ground. The situation takes a peaceful 180 degree turn when a woman realizes that Joel is searching for Tommy.
Arriving at a heavily fortified town, Joel is reunited with Tommy, played by Gabriel Luna. The woman that realized Joel’s identity is Tommy’s wife, Maria (Rutina Wesley). The reunion is heartfelt as expected, but Joel is ready to part ways with Ellie. He not only has little faith in his abilities to protect her, but he no longer sees Ellie as cargo. She has become his second daughter and he is afraid of experiencing the loss of a loved one again. Tommy is an expecting father but reluctantly agrees to take Ellie to his former group, The Fireflies. Ellie is vexed that Joel plans to abandon her, despite his somewhat logical reasoning.
Joel overcomes his apprehension and vows not to leave Ellie. Tommy and Maria bid them farewell and stocks them with many supplies. In the video game adaptation, Joel and Ellie converse about various topics on the way The Firefly facility. One of the topics is the rules of American football and Joel’s childhood dream of being a singer. This is pivotal in the game, for Ellie is now family. This banter peacefully leads us to a University of Eastern Colorado canvas, the alleged facility that The Fireflies intend to use Ellie for the vaccine to the outbreak. After discovering the campus is abandoned (minus scurrying monkeys), a group of raiders arrive. Sneaking out the back of a building Joel kills a raider but is stabbed during the encounter. They escape the remaining raiders, but Joel collapses off the horse a few miles later.
For those that have played the video game, the injury sustained by Joel is far more critical in the game. Although a stab wound is nothing to scoff at, surviving being impaled by a piece of rebar would not be as believable on a tv series. The game storyline and the trailer for episode 7 sets us up for Ellie’s tragic backstory. One thing Joel was wrong about is that Ellie does indeed (and unfortunately) know what loss means.
THE LAST OF US continues on February 26, 2023 at 9pm ET on HBO.