After the ambush at the university, Joel is left severely injured and fighting for life. Though Ellie has managed to get them away from the site of the attack, their temporary shelter in a neighbouring town building only offers them a short reprieve from the dangers around them. Joel has been her protector for these past few months, but with limited supplies and an infection starting to take hold in Joel, Ellie isn’t sure what she can do to return the favour and stop him slipping away.
As she struggles to look for immediate options, Ellie remembers another time, several years before and back in Boston where her life changed forever…
We left Joel and Ellie in rather dire straits at the end of ‘Kin‘ and the opening moments of Left Behind don’t look good for Joel – he’s still bleeding heavily after the knife wound and though Ellie has (somehow) managed to transport him on a makeshift stretcher to a safer area, the wound looks to be getting worse.However, if you’re expecting a quick resolution to this, you’ll have to wait… because though it’s Joel slipping in and out of consciousness, it’s actually Ellie’s memories that we’re going to follow in another one of the show’s flashback diversions.
Unlike Long Long Time, which segued into elements only hinted at within the game, this is taken almost directly from the original PS4 mythology. A year after the release 2013’s The Last of Us game and six years before Part Two was released, there was a ‘DLC’ (aka new downloadable content) from the Naughty Dog developers, an additional mini-game where fans were able to follow some of Ellie’s backstory , elements of which had only been hinted upon during the first game. For existing fans of the game, this episode will offer few surprises or dynamic deviations from the source material, but expands it slightly and honours what came before.
The short version: During her time in FEDRA captivity, Ellie and a close friend called Riley encounter something dangerous in a deserted mall… and it doesn’t end well.
Most of The Last of Us has played to character strengths rather than monster-encounters (the real monsters, as is too often the case in real life, seem to be humans) and this episode once again slows the pace a bit to make sure we care about people and events before crushing us once more…
It turns out that Riley has recently gone AWOL from the FEDRA training facility in which Ellie is still boarding by night and getting into trouble in by day. But Riley sneaks back in to take Ellie on a special night out. They head to an underground shopping mall, long-since abandoned by the living where Riley has found no end of amusements in the arcade and the long-forgotten, discarded toys, clothes and games. It’s a night of freedom away from the stricter rules and regime of the day that Ellie didn’t know she needed so much and it’s a chance for the audience to see a slightly different side to Ellie – still bristly and sarcastic and flexing against authority but with just a little less cynicism and enjoying more of what a teenager should have been doing at her age. Storm Reid makes an immediate impression as Riley – as forceful and as dynamic and as compelling as Ellie (and Bella ramsey) in her own way. The girls are kindred spirits and it’s interesting to glimpse, just for a moment, the road not taken and the fact that the girls could have had a future together… or either girl could have ultimately been the heart of the ongoing story if the fates had been different or kinder.
The Left Behind DLC introduced the fact that Ellie is gay or bi and that it was an attack on she and Riley that leads to them both getting bit – with Ellie surviving, but having to kill Riley when she ‘turns’ – her first ‘kill’ which she alluded to several episodes before. Most of that is played as subtext here, but there’s the obvious gnawing feeling, no pun intended (especially as we know Ellie’s modern situation) that things are going too well and happily to actually end well. We get to see the fun the girls have, the confession from Riley that she’s going to be leaving and wants Ellie to come with her… and then the attack against them by an awoken ‘runner’. We see their realisation that any dreams they now have are gone, with both girls expecting their injuries and bites are a death sentence. Of course, they weren’t for Ellie, but we don’t get to see her full realisation of that or the ‘killing shot’ needed against Riley but we return to a modern Ellie ever more motivated to find a way to save Joel.
Most of The Last of Us has played to character strengths rather than monster-encounters (the real monsters, as is too often the case in real life, seem to be human) and this episode once again slows the pace a bit to make sure we care about people and events before crushing us once more. Some of the audience will be frustrated that last week’s cliffhanger really isn’t dealt with or significantly progressed (we’ll see more of it next week), but it was inevitable that the show would have to give some parity to Ellie’s background and the straight-forward Left Behind adaptation works well as yet another piece of the jigsaw.
There are two episodes left in this run and, without giving anything away to the uninitiated, they’ll mostly follow the game’s closing chapters. It’s been a ride. And it isn’t over yet.
- Production Design / VFX9