After a brief stand-off, Joel and Ellie form a pragmatic alliance with Henry and Sam, the fugitives being sort out by the city’s militia. But Henry may not have been as open as he could be about the reasons they are being chased… and Joel – no stranger to ethical dilemmas himself – has to assess if the newcomers are allies or liabilities.
However, Kathleen is not stopping to make such distinctions and is prepared to pursue and kill anyone who would undermine the city’s rebellion. But as she closes in and escape seems imposisble, a new threat rises from the city’s own ‘underworld’…
In many ways, last week’s episode and this form a two-parter… in the sense that the previous entry saw Joel and Ellie arrive in downtown Kansas City and get trapped by its militant population and this sees them try to fight their way out.
Throughout Endure and Survive, characters shift in our opinion of their moral standing as we learn more about what they’ve done in the past and why they did it. This is a signature part of The Last of Us (both the game and – even more so – the series)… that the ways people love and act on that love can be their salvation or damnation depending on where you or they stand. In this world good and bad are fairly fluid concepts based largely on your desire to survive.
At the end of Please Hold To My Hand we finally met Henry (Lamar Johnson) and his young brother Sam (Keivonn Woodard) both interesting characters portrayed by effective actors…and though Henry – the fugitives that were mentioned last week and for whom the militant leaders of the community are searching. Young Sam waves a gun in their direction, it isn’t long before the two brothers are sharing food and some of their stories of survival with each other, cautious but glad of the companionship as they look to find a way out. We quickly discover that the younger brother, Sam, is deaf and find that Henry is being specifically hunted by the city’s matriarch Kathleen but it isn’t until far later in the episode that we start to know why. Henry ultimately admits that Sam was seriously ill with leukemia and the only way to get the necessary medicine was through co-operating with the occupying FEDRA forces, who then demanded rebel intelligence as payment. It was a horrendous deal to make, but Henry felt he had no choice if he was going to get Sam treated. He’s carried the guilt with him but would still go through it all again to save his little brother. That Joel initially calls him a ‘rat’ and then, later, after learning the reasoning, reassures him they’ve all had to make hard choices, underlines the turbulent morass of the ‘new’ world.
THE LAST OF US WILL NOT ONLY ENTERTAIN YOU BUT SIDE-SWIPE AND GUT-PUNCH YOU SECONDS AFTER DELIVERING A WRY SMILE OR SNAPPY BANTER (AND VICE VERSA). SO FAR, THERE HASN’T BEEN AN EPISODE THAT WON’T RIP YOUR HEART AND STOMP ON IT, YET MAKE YOU WILLINGLY ASK FOR MORE…
In turn, Please Hold To My Hand painted Lynskey’s Kathleen as a merciless leader, brutally killing anyone who crossed her and seething with an innate anger that was hard to pin down – as bad as the people she’d replaced and held in scorn. Now we learn more about the brutality she experienced under FEDRA’s rule and the specific loss she incurred. She remains a real threat to our main characters and at no point do you want her to win, but key scenes point to legitimate reasons for her feelings. Henry’s betrayal – by informing on her brother Michael, the resistance’s de facto leader (and leading to his execution) – is something that drives her forward. In a key conversation she admits to her second-in-command (Perry – played with dangerous calm by Jeffrey Pierce who voiced Tommy in the original game) that she knows Michael had ultimately forgiven Henry, understanding his reasons and wanted her to do the same, but that’s she’s simply not a good enough person to do that and can’t stop until the job is done. This is a person who will never forgive who will absolutely keep going until either she or Henry is dead. In a series like The Walking Dead she’d likely be a less complex and more posturing season-long adversary, but her story, sad and twisted though it may be, is more contained and ultimately ends here in pixelated gore when she’s caught by one of the infected and devoured. Lynskey, as always is great throughout (perhaps much to the consternation of America’s Next Top Model Adrianne Curry who bizarrely criticised Lynskey’s look on twitter and was subsequently ‘owned’).
The Last of Us has made character-development its priority, but it does remember here that one of the hooks was the monster-quotient and gives us some of the firefight that many fans will have waited to see. After we saw the ground ‘flexing’ last week, now we have all Hell breaking loose. There are a raft of successful zombie films and shows that tackle the threat in various ways. But the scale of an undead plague was probably given its biggest panorama by 2013’s World War Z. Even a high-budget and exquisitely-rendered production like The Last of Us probably couldn’t emulate sequences like the Jerusalem attack on quite the same widescreen. However, Endure and Survive – directed by NOS4A2, Punisher and Locke and Key helmer Jeremy Webb – does deliver a battlefield scene of chaos and carnage as a writhing mass of infected including ‘runners’, ‘clickers’ and ‘bloaters’ rise from under the city at just the convenient right/wrong moment to foil Kathleen’s revenge. Convenient timing issues aside, this is probably the best vision of cannibalistic carnage you’ll see on your living-room screen and it seems impossible to survive. Joel, who has just managed to take out an errant sniper has the job of shooting away a path for Ellie, Henry and Sam to get out of the horde’s way. There are moments when you can clearly see the sequence’s game-play origins, but it certainly gets the heart-rate pumping. The VFX department earn their season fee in what is arguably the entire series’ most overt apocalyptic set-piece.
But it’s always possible to snatch defeat from the unlikely jaws of victory. The fates of some guest-characters in the series differ from the game, but not here and it underlines a hard truth. The Last of Us will not only to entertain you but side-swipe and gut-punch you seconds after delivering a wry smile or snappy banter (and vice versa). So far, there hasn’t been an episode that won’t rip your heart and stomp on it, yet make you willingly ask for more.
It turns out near the end, with everyone ‘safe’ that young Sam was actually just bit… he reveals the bite to Ellie as they bond over the shared love of comics (Bella Ramsey shifting wonderfully between survival mode and the adolescence she’s missed. In a quiet moment, Ellie cuts herself and puts her blood on his wounds, hoping that will be enough to save him. But that’s not how her immunity works and mere hours later, Sam has ‘turned’. There’s no choice but to kill or be killed but it’s actually Henry who takes the shot, knowing he has no choice. However his brother was his entire world and the reason he’d make all the same choices if it meant saving him. With Sam dead he has nothing to live for and turns the gun on himself before Joel or Ellie can stop him. The game played things out a little differently, but it’s yet again another sliver of examining the way love and family comes in several forms and how much love can save or damn in the decisions you make for it.
Yes, it’s an undeniably downbeat ending, not the first nor will it be the last, but one designed to keep you watching and invested in Joel and Ellie and their journey as much as ever.
- Production Design / VFX10