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Show vs Game – The Last of Us Episode 7 – “Left Behind”

Each week I recap the latest episode of The Last Of Us TV show and replay the corresponding chapters of the 2013 game to see what has changed. I thought it was odd for episode 7 to be based on the game’s bonus downloadable content (DLC). But my hazy memories were wrong, as this is, chronologically, the perfect spot for us to get into important Ellie backstory.

SPOILERS below for episode 7 of the TLOU show and all six chapters of the Left Behind game DLC.

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All poetic (and shit)…

We start in the present, Ellie having dragged Joel to an abandoned house somewhere in snowy Wyoming. Still bleeding from last week’s injury, Joel musters the breath (and surly attitude) to tell Ellie to leave him and go north to Tommy. She leaves.

We cut to Ellie in military sweats (very Clarice Starling) running in a school gym, listening to her Sony Walkman, before she met Joel. It’s always a Bethany that starts the fights, isn’t it? But here, Bethany only mentions Ellie’s friend to warrant Ellie’s violent attack. Sat in Captain Kwong’s office (Terry Chen – think Principal with shiny brass buttons) he tells Ellie to become…a FEDRA officer, “there’s a leader in you,” so she can lawfully boss Bethanys around all day. That’s quite enough bureaucracy with an iron fist for my liking. Ellie’s dorm room shows what’s important to her: joke book, dinosaur drawings, Savage Starlight comics and that prized penknife. But the bed opposite is conspicuously empty. At 1.53am, a young girl comes in through the window scaring Ellie awake. This is the friend, Riley (Storm Reid), who announces that she’s now one of the Fireflies, which goes down with Ellie like a lead balloon. No, Ellie can’t go on an adventure, she needs to be up early for school drills, “you know, where we learn how to kill fireflies!”

Riley is unperturbed and the two break out, Ellie’s black eye prompting Riley’s concern, “you can’t fight everyone.” With flashlights on, they casually steal a recent suicide victim’s bottle of whiskey. Swigging the bottle, Ellie asks if Riley dated a firefly dude? No, she just met this woman, Marlene, “really old, like 40 or 50” who asked her if she hated FEDRA and her yes was enough to get full membership. They run across rooftops, trading propaganda. Riley calling FEDRA “Fascist dick bags” and Ellie calling Fireflies “terrorists” in response.

Then they head to that staple of zombie stories, the abandoned mall! Riley turns the lights on, taking Ellie on a tour of ‘the four wonders of the mall’. Ellie is delighted at the “electric stairs,” then, to the tune of Aha’s 80’s classic, Take on Me they explore the delights of Esprit, Footlocker and The Body Shop. Ellie asks why only some shops have been looted, Riley replying that that’s what people needed the most, Ellie’s snarky “so sneakers, not soap?” makes me think, forget FEDRA, I see a Marxist in the making! Riley tries to imagine Ellie wearing skimpy lingerie, prompting Ellie to check her reflection, then Riley shows her an old timey Carousel (its tinkly carousel music courtesy of The Cure).


Ellie lovingly gazes at Riley and things start to click into place. Riley, at nearly 17, ran away because Kwong was going to put her on sewage duty (can’t say I blame her). They pull poses in a Photo Booth, its black and white printer just about working, then head to their personal Mecca – Raja’s Arcade for an epic Mortal Kombat 2 battle. Alas, all that laughter awakens a nearby Clicker. Riley has a gift for Ellie, who hopes it’s a dinosaur or tacos. Better than that, it’s Volume ‘Too’ of the world’s worst joke book. Ellie discovers Riley has been guarding the mall and making bombs, causing her to storm off, hurt. When she returns, Riley reveals she is being sent to the Atlanta QZ and Marlene refused to allow Ellie to join her. They say a sweet goodbye and Ellie leaves, this time returning to the sound of screams…from a Halloween costume shop.

They have a proper talk, albeit wearing Halloween masks. Riley saying that she finally felt like she mattered to the Fireflies. She plugs in Ellie’s Walkman and they dance on the counter to a hyper version of ‘I got you, babe’. Ellie pleads for Riley not to go. Riley says okay and they kiss, this romantic revelation curtailed by the Clickers (always the mood spoilers). Riley shoots, Ellie stabs, but it’s too late, they’ve both been bitten.

We cut back to the present. Ellie ransacks the house, looking for something.

Back to the mall, and Ellie is just fine with being infected, smashing any glass counter within reach. Riley is more sanguine, and uses one of the games best lines, suggesting that they deal with their inevitable demise by being “all poetic (and shit) and lose our minds together”

In the present, Ellie finds needle and thread, returns to Joel and holds his hand, before sewing him up.

RIP Winston and his horse. 

The Left Behind DLC content was released in 2014, a year after the TLOU game, as a great example of extra gameplay adding character depth. The show keeps close to many game events, but there’s a lot more going on with Ellie in the present day.

It begins in the past, Ellie woken by a returning Riley (Yaani King), who has been missing for 46 days. Riley shows Ellie her fireflies dog-tags (as collected by Joel during gameplay), but is skeptical of this newfound affiliation.

It cuts to the present, where Ellie and Joel have also taken refuge in an abandoned mall, giving the mall flashbacks better context. Ellie tapes up Joel’s wounds, Callus the horse standing guard, because game Ellie would never consider leaving Joel! She hunts for first aid in the mall pharmacy and visits a creepy western doll-making shop (briefly shown in the episode). Players can also examine the treasure trove in Ellie’s backpack: no bullets (damn), but two joke books, the Walkman, a heartrending letter from Ellie’s mum and poor Sam’s Transformer toy. She heads to a medical helicopter crashed on the mall roof, left notes revealing that the pilots made difficult choices: “I executed the Infection Protocol before Officer Caulfield could become infected,” key word: executed.

Back to past Ellie and Riley, who’re catching up while running through abandoned buildings. Their banter is harsh, Riley is arrogant and Ellie mocks her friend’s love of the Fireflies. Perhaps she’s right to, these Fireflies do sound like terrorists, forcing Riley to kill infected as part of her initiation. Riley takes Ellie to a mall without power, promising a surprise. This Ellie also wants a dinosaur, or maybe her confiscated water guns. I noted in the Tommy’s Dam chapter that Ellie mentioned that ‘Winston’ taught her to ride. Left Behind reveals Winston as an older friend who lived in the mall, sadly he had recently died of a heart attack (Riley impressed to find that people could still die of natural causes). Here it’s Winston’s whiskey they drink. This pair have more fun than in the episode: japing around the Halloween store in masks using a fortune-telling skull toy, then taking part in a brick-throwing contest. The game also hints at a big argument on the day Riley left.

In the present, Ellie is prevented from reaching the copter by an electric gate with no power. She wades through water and gets scared by a cat, looking for a generator, then siphons gas for it (a nice link to show Joel teaching Ellie to siphon). But ah! she’s attacked by Infected called Stalkers – a terrifying hybrid of Runners and Clickers! After an elaborate traversal puzzle across electrocuted water she makes it through the gate and dramatically jumps in the copter.

We’re back with Riley, who turns on the mall power and shows Ellie the carousel, just like the show. Riley’s surprise is a third joke book, where the player (as Ellie) can read multiple jokes. They muck around in the Photo Booth, and here the player can share photos to Facebook, but of course, the power of the Internet and social media are lost on Ellie and Riley, “maybe they put your face in a book?”

They take the escalator to Raja’s Arcade, but, more realistically, Ellie’s favourite (imaginary) arcade game: The Turning doesn’t work. Riley asks Ellie to close her eyes and takes the player through a number of complex button combos as Ellie imagines what the fighting game is like to play: “You Win.” They then fight for real, because Marlene is making Riley join another Fireflies group out of the city. Riley soothes Ellie’s distress by giving her water guns, and they have a cute water fight. Riley tentatively asks Ellie “Can I at least walk you home?” but first, she plays ‘I Got You, Babe’ LOUD as they dance on store counters. They kiss, but the music has lured more Stalkers.

In the present, Ellie finds a first aid kit, and heads back to Joel, fighting Infected and human hunters “yeah, kill each other, you fucks.” She also finds an audio recorder from the copter pilot. Having chopped off his arm after being bitten, he has been…wait for it…left behind, and died of blood loss. Well, that’s depressing! Ellie then discovers hunters trying to get into the store lock-up where Joel is recuperating, that damn Callus being all horsey and neighing, giving them away! Once the men are all dead (courtesy of Ellie’s skills with a bow) Ellie goes to Joel.

We cut back to Ellie and Riley running through the mall, away from Infected, until Ellie falls off a ladder and there’s a tense fight where both girls get bit. In the present, Ellie sews up Joel’s wound. Then we quickly head back to the past, this Ellie furiously smashing plant pots to ease her pain. Left Behind ends with King delivering a fantastic speech about the preciousness of life, Riley telling Ellie “we fight for every second we get to spend with each other.” Her last words are “Let’s get out of here” and the screen cuts to black.
No, you’re crying.

I Got You, Babe?

Now for a little critique, When Left Behind arrived I loved its exploration of LGBTQIA themes, given that Bill and Frank’s relationship had not been confirmed. However, this story about teen lesbians has a certain ‘written by straight older men’ feel to it, which still doesn’t sit right.

The 2023 show is much better at subtly revealing the budding affection between Riley and Ellie, yet both game and show include unnecessary scenes, with characters fixating on lingerie and awkwardly talking about boys. The DLC ventures further into strange territory, with both girls mimicking a FEDRA announcement using ‘sexy female voices’ and making them make ‘sexy’ poses in the Photo booth. Nowadays, we’d call this performative heterosexuality, but that term didn’t exist in 2013, so I’m inclined to see it uncharitably, as how straight men thought gay women behaved. One of the jokebook jokes is: “Two peanuts walked into a park. One was assaulted.” when you think about it, that joke isn’t funny on any level.  I am not a gay teen, so cannot demand how this should be portrayed, and anyone with a crush knows to first test the waters before announcing undying love, but my discomfort replaying Left Behind shows how tastes have changed in a decade.

I do commend the TLOU franchise for its work on sexuality, trans issues (thoughtfully explored in TLOUP2), female representation and, multi-racial characterisation. The show takes this further by replacing my kin (white, blonde women) with black characters. But like Ellie, you know the drill: if the gaming and screenwriting industries allow more women, more non-white and more non-straight writers to create narratives these problems are less likely to arise.

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