Let’s discuss The Last of Us episode four
Unlike previous episodes in the series, episode four (known as “Please Hold To My Hand”) of The Last of Us could be cosidered part one of, I assume, two. Last week’s episode was largely its own, self contained, installment. Meanwhile, episode one and two both had a very clearly defined break in the narrative at their close.
A lot of episode four, however, feels like it is setting us up for episode five. It is laying down the groundwork for what is next, and asks more questions than it answers.
But even though this may be the case, there is still plenty to discuss. Let’s dive on in.
PLEASE NOTE THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR BOTH THE SHOW AND THE GAME SERIES IT IS BASED ON.
Episode four continues on with Joel and Ellie’s journey across America, with the focus almost always remaining on them throughout. Like last week, this episode does not have a cold open. Instead, we begin with Ellie in the rotting bathroom of a roadside petrol station.
Here, Ellie plays with the gun she found in episode three which Joel still does not know about. Ellie is enthralled by it, and while she is doesn’t have the same finesse as Joel, she knows how to work it. She even smells the gun. Apart from just making me nervous, this scene further reiterated that Ellie wants to have power.
In last week’s episode, we saw her cutting the head of a trapped infected before brutally stabbing it in the neck. These actions are very unlike Ellie in the game at this stage of her journey, and are perhaps pathing the way for the show’s now-confirmed second season.
While all of this is going on, Joel is outside syphoning petrol for the truck they now have, thanks to Bill. Ellie rejoins Joel and to pass time whips out – get ready for it – No Pun Intended: Volume Too by Will Livingston.
“What did the mermaid wear to her maths class? An algae bra.”
Those who have played the games and the Left Behind DLC will know all about Ellie’s love of puns, and how this book features in all installments.
Those who know Left Behind’s story will know why this book is special to Ellie. For those who don’t know it – yet – this simply adds another layer of playfulness to Ellie’s personality while setting up what we’re still to see. Joel, on the other hand, is not amused (yet).
When the two are back on the road, Ellie searches around the back of the truck. She comes across another cassette, this time Hank Williams’ “Alone and Forsaken”. This song was used in one of the earliest trailers for the show.
“Alone and forsaken by fate and by man,
Oh Lord, if you hear me, please hold to my hand.
Oh, please understand”
She also comes across some of Bill and Frank’s literature. Yes, that moment from the game has made it into the show. Ellie, teasing Joel, goggles at a porn magazine and asks why the pages are all stuck together.
“How’d he even walk around with that thing?!” Ellie jokes, assuring Joel she is just “fucking with” him before tossing the magazine out of the window.
I am pleased the showrunners made the decision to save this moment for a new episode. This slightly crass humour would not have felt right in episode three, where the show did such a wonderful job of retelling Bill and Frank’s story. Still, I’m glad it made it in, as its adds to the blossoming playful dynamic between Joel and Ellie.
As the two make their way further into the wild, Joel decides they need to get off the road for the night. In the woods, the two can dine on tinned ravioli. Ellie asks if she should get a fire going, but Joel tells her not to. This is not because he is scared of the infected, Joel says – they are not smart enough to follow fire – but because of a bigger threat: people.
As they settle down for the night in Bill and Frank’s old sleeping bags, Ellie continues to read her pun book and strives to make Joel laugh – “Why did the scarecrow get an award?” To Ellie’s amazement, and pleasure, Joel replies, “Because he was outstanding in his field.” Their relationship is slowly warming.
We also see Joel’s fatherly side, although he hides it from Ellie. As in episode one, when Ellie showed apprehension about leaving the Boston QZ, Joel comforts her. Not in the way he would have comforted Sarah, but those paternal instincts are still very much there. When Ellie once more shows that, really, she is scared, Joel assures her no one will find them. Then once she is asleep, he stands guard over their camp with his gun in hand.
As I’ve mentioned before, this The Last of Us adaptation focuses on the people in this world and their stories. One such person getting steadily more fleshed out is Tommy. While not in this episode directly, Joel tells Ellie more about him as they drive (itself a change in Joel’s attitude to Ellie).
Joel explains Tommy joined the army after high school, where he was soon shipped off to Desert Storm. However, this career didn’t “make him feel much like a hero” and he left. When the outbreak happened several years later, it was Tommy that convinced Joel to join a group making its way to Boston. Joel went along to keep an eye on his little brother, and eventually met Tess.
When the group made it to Boston, Tommy then met Marlene, who in turn convinced Tommy to join the Fireflies – this is similar to the game, where Tommy joined the Fireflies after becoming upset and uncomfortable with Joel’s growing inhumane activities and the military’s arbitrary use of power. Back in the show, Joel reflects on Tommy joing the Fireflies, stating his brother made the “same mistake he made when he was 18”.
Joel believes wanting to save the world is a delusional pipe-dream. Ellie questions this, asking if there is no hope for the world “why bother going on”. To this, Joel replies “you keep going for family”, and that while Ellie is “cargo” he made a promise to Tess and she was like his family. Of course, in time, Ellie will become Joel’s family as well, even though he is trying to keep her at a distance. These words foreshadow some of his decisions further down the road.
Remember those people Joel was worried about from earlier? Well, we are about to meet some of them.
Encountering a long-since abandoned traffic jam, Joel and Ellie turn off the road and head into a nearby city. In the game, this is Pittsburgh. In the show it is Kansas City.
Even before Ellie and Joel get into any real trouble, there are signs things are wrong. The show’s music changes, Ellie and Joel start snapping at each other, the camera shows a pile of burnt, uninfected, human remains. We see piles like this in the game as well.
Ellie suddenly notices the QZ is abandoned. FEDRA is noticeably absent. A seemingly injured man stumbles out onto the road in front of them. Joel stops and orders Ellie to get her seatbelt on, and Ellie seems confused as to why they aren’t going to help him.
This moment is straight from the game – and Joel knows this is an ambush. He revs up the car and drives straight at the man. Gunfire ensues, a brick hits the car, and Joel crashes into the side of a building.
In the game, Ellie and Joel have hunters attacking them as soon as they have crashed, with one pulling Ellie from the car. In the show they both manage to stumble out and take cover behind their truck as shots are fired at them. Joel proceeds to protect Ellie.
Things in the show continue to play out a bit differently, but still stay true to the core feeling of the Pittsburgh section. One of the main differences is that, with this being a TV show, Joel can’t really be seen mowing down waves of nameless, generic goons in their droves. Instead, the showrunners now have Joel only shooting at two rebels at first. When they are both dispatched, Joel then puts his guard down for a moment.
With Ellie hiding in a room to the side (a room she entered by squeezing through a small gap, something Joel couldn’t manage), Joel is taken by surprise by a third hunter, who begins to choke him.
Hearing Joel struggle, Ellie comes out from her hiding place and after a moment of doubt shoots the rebel attacking Joel with the gun she found at Bill’s. However, he does not die.
The now badly injured rebel releases Joel and tries to surrender. Once Joel catches his breath, he takes Ellie’s gun and sends her back into the side room. With the camera remaining on a crying Ellie, Joel executes the rebel off-screen. There is no gun shot sound, so he must have used a knife.
In the game, Ellie’s first time shooting someone happens further into this chapter, when Joel and Ellie get separated after he falls several floors down a shaft. Joel is attacked by a hunter who gets the upper hand and tries to drown him in a pool of water. Ellie, having come looking for Joel, grabs a nearby gun and shoots the hunter in the head, killing him.
Back in the episode, Joel and Ellie reunite and head away from the laundrette they had crashed into. As they sneak out, other hunters can be seen arriving at the scene. When Joel and Ellie are safe, they take a moment to reflect on what has happened, and comfort each other.
Joel, slightly awkwardly, says he feels bad Ellie had to shoot someone at her age, and apologises to her. Ellie wipes away some tears and tells him it wasn’t her first time. This is a change from the game and, again, I have a feeling I know where this line is leading (if I am right, that is a discussion for another day). Joel proceeds to teach Ellie how to use her handgun properly. It’s an important moment for the two of them, with Joel showing Ellie he will trust her.
This is a slight change from this point in the game, where Joel and Ellie fight over her coming to his aid. Joel is angry she didn’t stay put, as it was disobeying his orders to her; Ellie, meanwhile, is pissed off he’s not more grateful. The two eventually make up when Joel teaches Ellie how to use a rifle, and when he acknowledges it was “him or me” back there. After she has finished with the rifle, Joel then gives her a handgun.
As with the need to reduce Joel’s kill count for TV, Ellie’s shooting streak here also ends at one. In the game she proves an impressive sniper, covering Joel as he clears their route of hunters.
Now let’s talk about the Kansas City/Pittsburgh rebels in a bit more detail.
In the game, these bandits are very hostile and hunt people for sport. It is more like a twisted game to them, with members boasting about chasing down “tourists” and killing them for no other reason than because they can.
The show’s equivalent rebels are certainly still hostile, as seen in how they try to trick Joel and Ellie. But they also seem to have a clear agenda, and in the case of episode four, it’s to find several people who have wronged them, including Henry – a character that those who have played the game will know of.
For those watching the show with no prior knowledge, the episode doesn’t add any more detail on why the rebels want Henry, though it seems to have something to do with Kathleen’s now-dead brother and the absence of FEDRA.
And that brings me on to Kathleen.
Kathleen is a new character for the show played brilliantly by Melanie Lynskey. She is described as a “ruthless leader of a revolutionary movement in Kansas City”, and that fits the bill.
While in the game, the Pittsburgh hunters talk of a “boss” during moments of ambient dialogue, there is nothing more to this person other than they are male and he expects the hunters to “hold their ground” when faced with Joel.
In the show, we have an almost quite sweet character with an unassuming look, making me wonder what Kathleen was like before the outbreak and the removal of FEDRA in the QZ. However, no matter what she was like before, she is now a character laced with sinisterness and suffering.
We are introduced to Kathleen as she interrogates an older gentleman in a cell. The man happens to be the doctor who once delivered her as a baby, though this past connection does not seem to mean as much to Kathleen as he would have hoped. Kathleen holds a gun at this man’s head – she wants to know more about Henry, and where he is hiding.
The man is spared from Kathleen’s interrogation when a commotion outside announces the bloody arrival of the rebels fighting Joel earlier in the episode – and one is dying. Kathleen asks of a doctor could help save the one that is still alive, but when she is told nothing can be done, she goes back to the doctor in the cell with a swift, single, gunshot. She then blames Henry for her men’s deaths, saying he must have brought mercs into the city.
“Find who did this, find every collaborator, and kill them all.”
This episode also introduces us to Perry, and those familiar with the game will no doubt recognise the actor. It is Jeffrey Pierce, perhaps better known as Tommy Miller from the games.
Perry is one of Kathleen’s men, and he is extremely loyal to her cause. On her command, he rallies more rebels to search the city for Henry and any who may have helped him. Though he ultimately doesn’t find Henry, he does manage to show Kathleen the attic where Henry has been hiding, apparently with someone called Sam.
This attic space is covered in drawings of superheroes, and littered with empty tins of food. Kathleen sees that Henry has run out of supplies and hopes to use this to her advantage. But Perry has something else on his mind.
Perry takes Kathleen down to a storage room where the floor appears to be buckling and groaning. The two seem afraid, but Kathleen says they can’t do anything about it now. Once again, I have theories – I think this could be the bloater we have seen rising from the ground in earlier trailers for the show.
Joel and Ellie have meanwhile managed to evade the hunters, and take refuge in an office building for the night. As the two climb up to get a vantage point over the city, Ellie asks how Joel knew the guy who ambushed them wasn’t really hurt. As in the game, Joel admits he has “been on both sides” of a stunt like that. “Did you kill innocent people?” Ellie asks, as Joel looks awkward and avoids the question.
In the game, Ellie verbally takes this avoidance by Joel as confirmation that he did indeed kill innocent people. In the show, Ellie says nothing. However, it is clear she knows what Joel has done, and Joel knows it as well.
When the two make it up as far as Joel’s body will take them (he’s in his 50s, you know), they set up camp. This set up includes a sound trap, with Joel scattering broken glass at the door to the room they are sleeping in.
This is a similar tactic used by characters in the games as well, with one sound trap startling Joel and Ellie as they make their way through Pittsburgh towards the radio tower.
When the room is ready, the two talk further. Ellie avoids answering Joel’s question about when she had to hurt someone before, even as Joel sympathises with her having to deal with this all at her young age. She asks if it gets easier as you get older. “No, not really,” Joel replies.
Ellie tells Joel she has noticed he doesn’t hear too well from one side. Joel says this is probably from shooting and suggests she sticks to her knife. After this small tête-à-tête, Ellie tells another punny joke, and the two share their first genuine laughs together. It’s another sign the walls are coming down between the two.
“Diarrhoea is hereditary… It runs in your genes.”
A classic! But of course, this being The Last of Us, the good times can’t last long.
The screen soon cuts to a sleeping Joel, with Ellie calling his name to wake him up. Depsite his sound trap, two unknown intruders have managed to get into their room, and they are holding Joel and Ellie at gunpoint. Yes, after all this time, we finally meet Henry and his little brother Sam.
But why are they wanted by the rebels, and what are they doing in Joel and Ellie’s hideout? It looks like that is something for next week, as this is the end of episode four.
This episode provides viewers with a slow and even burn, but one I think should result in a great payoff. I enjoyed the extra time with Joel and Ellie, seeing their relationship develop further. While Joel may want to believe he only sees Ellie as cargo, she is clearly more to him than that now. He just needs to let himself realise it.
I have a lot of theories about where this episode is leading us. But, alas, for now they are just theories. I am looking forward to next week to see if I am correct. Also, I didn’t cry in this one!
A couple of honourable mentions and a quick thought before I go. Firstly, I would just like to give a shoutout to Bella Ramsey for recreating Ellie zonked out in the front seat of the car like we see in the game. It just really made me smile.
Secondly, Joel’s car coffee needs some praise. While Ellie may think coffee smells like “burnt shit”, Joel does not care what she thinks and winds her up by slurping the good stuff as noisily as possible.
Thirdly, there were no water sections. I want to see Ellie on a pallet! Maybe next week…
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