Three months have passed since the tragic events involving Ben, Sam and Kathleen’s militia… the weather has turned colder and Joel and Ellie are well on their way to reaching Wyoming. A local couple are ‘persuaded’ to give them directions, but it’s not long before the travellers find themselves on the wrong end of a well-armed posse who use sniffer dogs to kill any intruders that might be infected.
As Joel finally reunites with his brother Tommy, the siblings discuss loyalties and responsibilities, but as ever they don’t see eye to eye on the past or the future.
With Joel feeling the weight of recent injuries and the change in climate, he has to reassess if he’s really the best chance Ellie has or if the mission itself is over. However, the decision the brothers make will directly affect Ellie and the dangers further on the road…
After the events in Endure and Survive, Joel and Ellie have spent three months crossing through several States.
Those viewers seeing the ‘Three Months Later…‘ tag at the start of this episode might be concerned that we’re starting to go down a House of the Dragon route with big time jumps., but shouldn’t be too concerned. As with the game itself there are occasional times when some time-frames are skipped over (or back to) to get us to the next important event, but, on the whole it’ll be easy to follow.
In what amounts to a piece of whimsical writing for a brief prologue, we begin the episode by seeing our heroes momentarily holding a Native American couple ‘hostage’ to make sure they can get an honest confirmation of their bearings. The couple, Marlon and Florence – played by veterans Graham Greene and Elaine Miles – make a delightfully acerbic duo who clearly have different points of view about their visitors and situation, but neither of them taking it or each other too seriously. It’s little more than a cameo and a few minutes of screen-time, but it’s a nice light moment following the rather harrowing and bloody end to last week’s entry and some of the places we’re going next.
There’s a good piece of tension when Joel and Ellie are intercepted by a group of menacing and heavily-armed riders (about whom they’ve been warned, noting their cruelty and violence) and who reveal that they have dogs who can sniff out the virus so they can kill any threat. Joel is helpless as one of the hounds edges towards Ellie growling, aware that there’ll be nothing he can do to save her once they realise she’s been bitten… only to have the dog act like a playful puppy. A mini-miracle? Not so much. It turns out it’s all a ruse and that the ‘show of force’ is simply there to intimidate and deter people away from the small but well-stocked and otherwise peaceful Jackson community, one that is cautiously thriving as a kind of suburban-sized commune. And that’s where Tommy has made his home.
Even slightly altering the pacing of the story, it was only a matter of time before we saw Joel and Tommy reunited and it’s a touching moment as we really haven’t seen Diego Luna since the flashback in the opening episode’s initial outbreak. There’s brotherly hugs and manly tears between the two frontiersmen and a wry line about Tommy having hardly aged over the years while Joel is more weathered, but the two actors make believable siblings with all the love, banter and underlying resentments that start to immediately surface. It would have been easy to paint Tommy as the more reckless brother – after all, Joel has repeatedly said that Tommy doesn’t think through things with his head, only his heart – rushing off to join causes, becoming disillusioned and heading off to join another. Joel’s trek has been informed by the need to reach Tommy, with Ellie simply in tow as a side-mission and a means to an end – or that’s how it started. But viewers need to remember that the opener’s events already paint a different picture. Tommy was arrested for an off-screen fight but it was as the virus was becoming apparent and may have involved someone who was violent because of the infection. Equally, it’s Tommy who saved Joel’s life during that tragic confrontation with the military, even though it was too late to save Sarah.
The Tommy we meet here is still recognisable, but arguably more complex, aware of his flaws but now settling into a community where he’s valued and where – we find out – he’s now married to one of the community’s council and with a baby on his way. Joel openly wonders about how committed Tommy will remain to all aspects of the latest status quo. But on the flipside, Joel is also afraid that he himself is no longer up to the job of escorting Ellie and thinks it should be Tommy to risk all his new-found responsibilities and go off on a dangerous mission to deliver her. Tommy – in one of those comments that hurt the most when they come from a place of family and truth – notes to Joel that “Just because your life stopped, doesn’t mean mine has to…” (It’s not entirely clear whether Joel’s recent shortness of breath earlier in the episode is down to some underlying condition or the thinner air in the higher plains… but it’s an indicator he’s battered and bruised and not as young as he used to be.) It’s also true that Joel still quietly fears he might fail Ellie and after losing his biological daughter, that loss might prove too much.
In an episode that’s slower and more character-building, particularly between Joel and Tommy and Joel and Ellie (in one scene speaking word for word their conversation about loss taken from the game), it’s also good to see Tommy’s new wife, Maria (Rutina Wesley) make an impression though it really wasn’t until the second PS4 game that she had more to do. We got an idea about her edge in the game, but though they’ve changed the race of the character, Maria is still very much a person you don’t want to cross. If memory serves me right we also originally never saw the commune of Jackson in quite such expansive detail in the PS4 outings until The Last of Us: Part 2, (it was mentioned in the first game but most of the dialogue and interaction took place at the nearby hydroelectric dam which we only glimpse in passing here) but it’s lovingly recreated in great detail (even the string lights are right) and there’s lots of fine touches (including a moment where Ellie calls out a local girl for staring at her…in what could well be a call-forward to the character of Dina in that second game).
Eventually it’s Joel who decides that Tommy is right and that Ellie is Joel’s responsibility and so they saddle up to move forward in the likely direction of the Fireflies base. They end up navigating the nearby highways and end up in a large university complex (fans of the game will remember it’s a rabbit-warren of courtyards and hallways involving duck-and-dive gameplay against some n’er-do-wells, but our heroes almost escape unscathed). Almost. In the game Joel ends up impaled on debris as he kills the last attacker. Here Joel is shanked in part of the escaping conflict and we fade to black as he starts to bleed out.
Is this really the end of the road? (Hint… this is only episode six!)
- Production Design / VFX9