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Show vs Game: The Last of Us Episode 5 – “Endure and Survive”

We have reached the midway point of the season, episode 5. It’s all about new friends, old grievances and, of course, constant pain.

SPOILERS for this episode and the Game chapters Pittsburgh – Escape the City through to the end of The Suburbs.

Oh Henry!

Episode 5 opens with a two-weeks-ago flashback, a celebration of the hunters taking down the Kansas city FEDRA. This includes someone dragging a body stabbed with thirty knives (that’s some imagery). We see the two characters from last week’s ending, Henry and Sam, hiding. Sam, eight years old and hearing impaired, is scared, so Henry signs to him that they’ll be out of the city in two blocks. That night the formidable Kathleen lectures a group of ‘collaborators’ for shopping the whereabouts of freedom fighting ‘hunters’ to FEDRA (including someone who did it just to get some apples?!). Kathleen hopes they’ll now shop Henry’s location to her. Thinking he’ll get a lenient sentence when put on ‘trial,’ one guy reveals that Henry is with Edelstein (the now dead doctor from episode 4). Kathleen, immediately proving that power corrupts, tells right-hand Perry to burn the collaborators’ bodies “it’s faster.”

Henry and Sam hide out with Edelstein, with no ammunition and little food. Sam uses an etch-a-sketch pad to ask if they’re safe, but Henry (unconvincingly) says they are. Sam crayons pictures of his brother as a superhero fighting FEDRA agents. Time ticks on and Edelstein hasn’t returned from a supply run (because he’s dead!), so they decide to leave. Henry paints goggles on to Sam’s face, he’s the superhero now. While outside, Henry watches Joel (in last episode’s shoot out), then that night Henry and Sam effortlessly make it up 33 floors of the skyscraper, avoid the strewn glass and ambush Joel and Ellie, and we arrive at last week’s end scene.
Henry tries to reason with our Mr Paranoid, Ellie begging Joel not to use his “asshole voice” and the four just about forge a tense but tentative bond. Sam and Ellie get on great, but Henry admits to blabbing to FEDRA, earning Joel’s disapproval. Yet these two men need each other: Henry to show the way, Joel to clear the way. Henry says they must take the maintenance tunnels (episode 4’s wobbly floor scene now screaming ‘don’t do it!’) even though it’s “dicey as fuck”.

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They push on, finding an underground primary school, where Sam finds an issue of Savage Starlight (the cool comic series from the game as discussed in last week’s recap). He and Ellie share a love for the comics and their message: “endure and survive.” The kids kick a ball around while Joel apologies to Henry. Henry tells him that Sam had leukaemia and the rare drug needed to help cure him was held by FEDRA. Henry had to shop the leader of the resistance movement (Kathleen’s brother Michael)  in exchange for the drugs. He did a bad guy thing so he asks if he’s a bad guy? Joel is silent. Henry changes tack, saying that he can tell that Joel was a parent.

Talking of kids, Kathleen meets bodyguard Perry in her childhood bedroom. She talks of how good Michael was, even after he was imprisoned by FEDRA, as he told her to forgive Henry. But Kathleen can’t accept that as justice. Perry basically calls her the GOAT of bad guys and that you can only beat the real bad guys with a bad guy (great logic), so everyone supports her pursuing Henry.

The Gang of Four head down a deserted residential street, giving Ellie time to wisecrack at Joel’s gruff expense, until they’re rudely interrupted by a lone gunman trying to pick them off. Joel stalks around the back of the shooter’s house to ambush him, and finds an old man, who refuses to cooperate, a walkie-talkie announcing Kathleen is on her way. Trucks arrive, surrounding Henry, Sam and Ellie. Henry tries to trade himself in for Sam’s safety, but Kathleen refuses, stating that one kid can’t be more important that everything else (not very Captain America of her). Henry is saved by a sinkhole appearing and a ton of fast Infected spill out. We finally get to meet a show Bloater (just as horrific as in the game) who easily rips Perry’s head off. Joel – in a perfectly executed game homage – uses the lone gunman’s rifle to pick off the Infected going for Ellie. He’s a crack shot but Ellie still has to shiv a Clicker, while Kathleen’s revengeful hubris climaxes in her hilarious mauling by a flying clicker child. Somehow Ellie and gang escape.

Cut to a silent motel. Joel tells Henry that children can get through this better than adults because they don’t have responsibilities, then asks him and Sam to join them in Wyoming. Sam asks Ellie if she’s scared and she eventually admits to a fear of ending up alone. Sam reveals a bite, and a medically misguided Ellie cuts her hand trying to use her blood as a topical vaccine. Alas, in the morning light, the fully Infected Sam attacks her. Henry stops Joel from shooting Sam and then does it himself.  Realising the ramifications of his actions, he kills himself. Joel buries the bodies. Ellie writes ‘I’m sorry’ on Sam’s word pad and they head west. And so concludes a heartbreaking tragedy.

Oh no, Henry!

In the game, we head out, still in Pittsburgh. Game Sam is much older than his show equivalent, calling himself “close to being 14,” so probably 12, he’s also not hearing impaired. Unlike the show’s portrayal of a resistance movement, Henry says the military abandoned the QZ (can’t think why, it’s so pleasant). Henry assumes that Ellie is Joel’s daughter, the pair finishing each others’ sentences, correcting him that Joel promised someone he’d look after Ellie. We enter a toy store, where Henry and Sam argue over their rule to “only take what we have to,” forcing Sam to put down the cute Transformer toy. There are more hunter shootouts to get through, not helped by Henry calling Joel “old timer.” Game Henry is much more confident than his show counterpart, having killed many hunters and Infected. In “my office” he points the way out of town through a heavily guarded QZ checkpoint gate, so they’ll need to leave at night. Sam and Ellie pop blueberries and Joel looks on fondly. Henry is heading to a radio mast to meet some Fireflies, which is convenient. Unfortunately, game Henry’s “I’m the bad guy” deeds are of the live-action kind, as he casually leaves Joel stranded when a ladder breaks on their run from the hunters (back in their murder tank). But that crazy, stupid Ellie jumps back down to stay with Joel, “we stick together.”

The tank is merciless, forcing Joel and Ellie to jump off a river bridge. Joel keeps non-swimmer Ellie afloat but gets knocked out in the process, then wakes up having been dragged to safety by…Henry and Sam. Joel is pretty angry that Henry abandoned them, but Henry isn’t bothered, he “made the choice to protect Sam.” The river bank makes a nice change of scenery allowing the exploration of a beached boat, and Ellie seems upbeat, as usual. They head into some drainage tunnels, Ellie jumping at seeing rats but STILL HUMMING, like the Pied Piper of clickers?! Joel swims to find a floating pallet to help Ellie cross water and the gang of four explore a makeshift underground living facility, which is bigger, cooler and grimier than in the show. Joel opens a door and a bottle-smash sound trap alerts all of the nearby Infected.

Through notes from a man called Ishmael, we learn that it was Ish’s boat that beached. He hid out in the tunnels and later befriended local families convincing them to live underground and escape looters… until the Infected got in. Only Ish and a woman survived, but her kids perished. Another awful tale.

A second door trap separates Joel and Sam from the other two. As they watch five clickers chase Henry and Ellie, Joel tells Sam “they’ll be fine!” Okaaaay.

The pair despatch a lot of angry Infected and chat about the kids in the facility’s classroom, before reuniting with Henry and Ellie. When the next Infected fight is over, they head outside, near the radio tower. In temporary peace, the four chat, Ellie telling Joel how proud he should be because she took out some Infected by herself. Ellie wonders about small town life, marvelling at an ice cream truck “Man, you lived in a strange time.” Henry remarks how well Ellie and Joel get along. Henry and Joel discuss how 20 years ago people barricaded themselves in their homes, and then the looting began. Joel sighs, “and that’s when you found out what people are really capable of.” Joel turns out to be terrible at darts, but he does find the combination to a safe and grab those pills and bullets. Joel seems to have forgiven Henry, inviting the boys to Wyoming to find Tommy. Then the plot coalesces with episode 5, except this lone shooter operated in broad daylight, and is not so alone. Joel stalks round “to get the angle on him,” leaving with Ellie’s “hey, be careful.” This shooter isn’t the show’s old man, but a hoodie hoodlum ready to stab Joel, but don’t worry kids, our favourite mass-murderer Joel Miller stabs him five times for good measure. Joel must then use the rifle to protect the other three – first from hunters, then from the tank, and then from the infected (but no Bloater)

They escape to eat canned food by the radio tower. Joel talks about how he and Tommy rented two Harley’s and drove cross country for Tommy’s birthday (is this the plot of Days Gone?). Ellie watches Sam count canned peaches. Sam says he thinks he fucked up (and we know why). They have the same ‘are you scared?’ conversation, Sam really wanting to know if the people infected are still trapped in their bodies. Ellie doesn’t believe in heaven, but she does believe in good turns, handing Sam the Transformer she had pinched from the toy store (well, Joel’s rule is take everything). And then we (but not Ellie) see Sam’s bitten leg. Ellie wakes up and the same distressing events of the end of episode 5 unfurl, except this Henry cruelly says that it’s all Joel’s fault before he kills himself. There’s no burial, no sorries, instead the screen goes pitch black.

Until…a single word appears – FALL.

Ellie get your gun.

Playing the game concurrently with the show is a great way to appreciate all the creative flourishes contained within the video game. It’s also an opportunity to look at what uncomfortable truisms I choose to blindly accept when gaming. During this section, I really noticed the role of guns in TLOU. At one point, Henry, Sam, Joel and Ellie all happily brandish weapons against human and Infected foe. When Joel opens that coveted safe he is rewarded with bullets. The TV show isn’t that different, Bill’s full armoury lovingly on display, and every character in every town having easy access to a gun, unlike food or gas. Both game and show make rifle training and shooting look…really fun. And both have Ellie yearn for and feel empowered by wielding a weapon. Very few characters ruminate about the fleeting nature of life, funnily enough, it’s only Joel, the biggest life-taker of them all, who feels weighed down by all that death. Of course, this is a stealth and combat game and a show based in a lawless American dystopia, but as Ellie would say, Man, we live in a strange time.

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