Pages Navigation Menu

"No matter where you go, there you are."


Show vs Game: The Last of Us Episode 4 – “Please hold my hand”

We’ve arrived at the fourth of nine episodes of season 1 of (2? 3?) of The Last of Us. Because of last week’s swerve into character expansion, but knowing the show plot roughly adheres to the game, this episode mixes familiar story beats with interesting additions, (but with no Infected). Both show and game explore the art of small-town war and none of it’s pretty.

SPOILER WARNING for episode 4 of the TLOU show and game chapters Pittsburgh: Alone and Forsaken to the end of Financial District.

Check out our coverage of The Last Of Us

Episode 4: Kansas City Chiefs?

The show starts with Ellie (Bella Ramsey) giving her best Travis Bickle as she plays with Chekov’s gun. Joel (Pedro Pascal) siphons some gas, but doesn’t know how the science works (neither did I, but these folks do). Ellie cracks open a deplorable jokebook (Volume “Too”, try not to strain your sides) and delivers a terrible bra joke. She then finds a Hank Williams tape in Bill’s car and that’s the soundtrack to their drive through the desolate wilderness. They pass roaming buffalo (screw you, cordyceps), a rollercoaster, tanks and a train bent over a collapsed bridge (more a homage to Red Dead Redemption 2 than the TLOU game, but devastating nonetheless).

Ramsey perfectly delivers Ellie’s gay magazine tease (taken directly from the game, as mentioned last week) then they park up in the woods for the night. Joel cooks some delicious Chef Boyardee ravioli (is this a reference to the 2015 scandal about food preservatives? If so, that loss is Joel and Ellie’s gain) and Joel continues to be more worried about people than Infected (speaking of RDR2, what about bears?) Ellie asks a serious question from her unserious jokebook, Joel warming to this and reassuring her that “no one will find them,” then freaking himself out (we’ve all been there) so he stands guard while she sleeps. A man who’s been up all night with a long drive ahead then, naturally, brews some coffee, which Ellie says smells like “burnt shit.” Back in the car, Ellie map reads, mispronouncing “Cheyenne” in a sly dig to first nations history having been dropped from the FEDRA school syllabus. She peppers Joel with questions about Tommy. He fought in Desert Storm, met Tess as part of a group of freedom fighters then met Marlene who talked him into joining the fireflies, but now Tommy’s quit that too and could be alone. Then, Ellie distils the show’s essence with a killer rhetorical question: “If you don’t think there’s any hope for the world then why carry on? I mean, you gotta try, right?” Joel isn’t a fan of the world, but he’ll “keep going for family.”

They come up against a blocked tunnel in Kansas City, and get turned around while trying to cut through the city. The QZ checkpoint is abandoned, but when a guy runs out asking for help, Joel sees the ruse, crashing the car into a store window. A shootout ensues, Joel mirroring his behaviour with Sarah, asking a terrified Ellie to look at him, and go hide in a hole, “stay low, stay quiet.” Joel nearly has it under control until Bryan (Juan Magana) ambushes and strangles him. Ellie, never one to listen to adults, shoots Bryan with Chekov’s gun. He begs for his life and cries for his mum. It’s heartbreaking, but Joel ends all our suffering off screen. Ellie moves a desk from behind a door (great game homage) as they try to find a way out. 

We cut to militant gang leader Kathleen (Melanie Lynskey) asking if her captive (also, her pediatrician) has been in contact with various people, including Henry Burrell. Turns out the doctor shopped Kathleen’s brother to FEDRA, but she proves no better by putting a gun to his head, until a noise outside gets her attention. Her bodyguard, Perry (Jeffrey Pierce, great hair) has found Bryan and even though the evidence points to outsiders, Kathleen thinks this was Henry, so she kills the doctor and asks her gang of visor-wearing hunters to search for collaborators.

Ellie and Joel are hiding out, giving them time to talk about Bryan. Joel murmurs that kids shouldn’t know what it means to shoot someone, it’s his fault and he’s sorry. Ellie wipes her eyes but replies that it wasn’t her first time. He teaches her how to grip the gun and Ellie is freakily delighted.

Back to Kathleen and Perry discovering a hidden room full of kid’s superhero drawings and empty food cans. She says “Henry won’t let Sam starve.” Perry thinks they have bigger problems, showing a floor writhing with underground cordyceps, but Kathleen wants to deal with this later, because that’s always the safest move in TV shows…

Ellie and Joel make it up 33 flights of a skyscraper, and have a conversation ported from the game, where Ellie asks how Joel knew that the hunters were scamming, Joel has been a scammer too. She asks if he has ever killed “innocents.” Here, Joel avoids the question. They find a safe spot and Joel lays broken glass by the door, then asks who else Ellie shot, but now she deflects by noting that Joel can’t hear well on his right. Then Ellie tells a diarrhea joke and Joel laughs his way to sleep…until he’s woken by a man holding Ellie at gunpoint while a small boy with painted superhero goggles holds a finger to his lips. 

The Game: Pittsburgh Steelers?

In the game, we’re in Pittsburgh when the same “help me” scam plays out, turning into the first of many epic shootouts with a gang of ‘hunters’. Joel’s body count of non-infected is rising. Because the game has these shoot-to-kill ‘bad guys’ start the fights (which only end when they’re all dead) manslaughter feels permitted, especially when Joel is protecting a teenage girl. For more on this see discussions on Ludonarrative Dissonance.

Game Ellie finds some “pretty gnarly stuff” in an abandoned garage, being some murdered and maybe tortured bodies (of what the hunters call ‘tourists’). We learn how to make smoke bombs (although I have better uses for sugar) then Joel and Ellie have the conversation about Joel killing ‘innocents’. Here it’s more barbed. When he grunts, she “takes that as a yes,” and he responds “take it however you want.” AWKWARD. They ransack the hunters’ living quarters, revealing how hunters ambush tourists and Ellie learns that people will happily burn uninfected bodies too. Nasty.

We duck through buildings to the coolly discordant twang of a banjo tune and Ellie manages to whistle. Joel opines, “something else you can drive me crazy with.” The coolest part of this chapter arrives with Joel’s discovery of issue 1 of Savage Starlight, a comic series game collectible. I’m riveted by the back cover: “Dr Daniela Star dreams of deep space,” but we’re back to more shootouts. After all that death, Ellie cracks out the jokebook. Here, she reads some outdated  jokes about the American Civil War, and ends with “A book just fell on my head, I only have my shelf to blame”. 

They find an abandoned QZ checkpoint and Joel, as in the show, reminds us that ‘this is what most places look like’. He educates Ellie on FEDRA’s retaining of food rations, then there’s a huge gunfight in the kind of huge book store that has also died in our reality. Afterwards, Ellie quotes “Endure and Survive,” the mantra of Savage Starlight’s lead. We read about Pittsburgh’s grass roots revolution against FEDRA, including a letter from a character called Eva. Radicalised by the death of her son, she’s a possible inspiration for Kathleen in the show. Joel (the little hypocrite) says, “with that kind of thinking no one wins.” Ellie asks why a poster model is so skinny and Joel explains that people sometimes didn’t eat “for their looks’”. Ellie splutters “that’s stupid!” Amen.

The crew of two enter a hotel (similar to episode 2 of the show) and we arrive at my favourite part, where they walk around in relative safety, plan practical solutions to problems and shoot the breeze. Game Joel is not lucky enough to have coffee, instead reminiscing over a hotel coffee machine. Of course there are hunters on every floor, so conversation is put on hold to fight their way up. Unfortunately, Joel falls down a lift shaft, landing in the watery hotel basement, yup, he’s lost in the darkness. After swimming past mangy floating bodies he fights his way past a bunch of Infected, only to have to then fight more hunters. This is a tough death-strewn section. But is Ellie okay? Oh yes, as she shoots a hunter who holds Joel’s head underwater. Unlike, show-Ellie, this Ellie feels immediate remorse, crying, “I feel sick!” Ellie and Joel bicker, as he is not grateful that she saved his life, trading pithy insults in the hotel ballroom, this time Joel tickling the piano ivories. Then they stumble upon a rifle and this is where Joel teaches Ellie how to shoot – “make ever shot count” (I sense a dig at my own bad aim). He can’t quite bring himself to thank Ellie for saving him, even when she shoots five more guys, but does reward her with her own little pistol “for emergencies only” (yeah, right). We see a group of hunters in a tank gun down people in the street for kicks. Ellie is disgusted and scared and then of course there is more fighting, the tank now chasing them. Joel climbs through the window of a building only to be put in a headlock by a guy. Joel is about to punch him to death until he sees the young boy aiming a gun at him. But Joel and Ellie “are not the bad guys,” (debatable). This is Henry and Sam, and Ellie wants to help them get out of the city…

Morality check

One of the criticisms levelled at TLOU (which is later explored in TLOU2) is its creation of a subjective morality in a post-dystopian hellhole. Who is in our ‘tribe’ and in what circumstances is it okay to hurt others? There’s a light new civil war thread running through the game, and it’s very pro-gun, whereas the show seems to comment on everything from the American diet, to the military industrial complex and a fascist thirst for political power. Let’s keep an eye on this.

Previous PostNext Post


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.