Did you watch The Last of Us when it came out 6 months ago?? Do you vaguely remember enjoying it??? Well here are a bunch of my opinions and an in-depth analysis of each and every episode:
- HEAVY SPOILERS AHEAD… Be warned, be scared. I’m only going to quickly summarize what happens in each episode so it may be more enjoyable to read this if you’ve seen the show.
- I did not play The Last of Us video game, so I am only writing about the show in this article.
The Best Episode – Episode 3, “Long, Long Time”
Comparing this episode to the rest of the show is difficult; this mini-story feels like a different show, a different genre entirely, but in terms of the writing, the directing, the acting, it’s just so good. It was trending on social media totally independent of the show, which I rarely see happen. I have even heard it described as HBO’s Magnum Opus. The episode begins with our main characters, struggling to bond with each other, making their way to the house of Joel’s old friends. One criticism is that there isn’t enough character development for our main characters, but the first 15 minutes provide a great window into the slow process of bonding. We also get good background about the origin of the pandemic. Then, for the first of two times throughout the show, we flashback. We encounter a new face, a middle aged Bill, living the life of an anti-government survivalist when his paranoid suspicions are confirmed, and his entire town is forcefully evacuated. Everything works together here to show us exactly who this person is, by building up our assumptions about him. From the big beard, to the DIY booby traps, to the massive “Don’t Tread on Me” poster, we already think we know Bill. But as it turns out, we don’t. Several years pass in a few minutes, and we suddenly see his routine life of survival interrupted by the arrival of Frank. The characters immediately do have some kind of tension, which I passed off as accidental, or inconsequential, or the result of distrust, but when we find out that this was in fact sexual tension, it feels like a perfect twist–one that you can understand if you rewatch the episode. Several of the things that typically fall into the category of the ultra cisgender male (like hunting your own food) actually overlap with a hint of qualities associated with culturedness and homosexuality (like Bill’s knack for wine-venison pairings). The episode transcends the show in many ways. Every shot just feels emotional and beautiful, which complements the beginning to end arc of the episode by making the characters feel worth following, despite their lack of importance to the main plot. You should watch this episode even if you aren’t going to watch the rest of the show.
2. Episode 5, “Endure and Survive”
There isn’t much for me to say about this episode in terms of writing, except that I just really enjoyed watching it. I think this was mainly due to the action towards the end, when hundreds of infected burst from the ground, attacking the bad guys and causing mayhem, which felt like the show apologizing for not having virtually any other zombies. (This is an exaggeration but it is really very few). Besides this, the writing just felt very solid. It had a great, nuanced villain, and some new characters that brought us on a really satisfying (albeit depressing) emotional roller coaster.
3. Episode 8, “When We Are in Need”
You wouldn’t think that the episode I would least want to rewatch would be one of my favorites, but this one is. I would describe it as gut-wrenchingly violent. I stood from my couch after finishing the episode and just stared into space for several minutes, scenes replaying in my head over and over again (it felt like I was the one who did the butcher knife stabbing and not Ellie). Maybe I’m sensitive, but it hit me hard. It took a while to put my critic hat back on, but once I did I realized how good the storytelling is. Episode 9 is the finale, but this episode is the climax: our characters are tested like they never have been before, and are forced to grow into their roles. But also each other’s roles. For example, Joel learns what it’s like to be helpless (like Ellie often is), and also to be the optimist in someone else’s life, and Ellie learns what being a protector really means (as Joel often is). The villain of this episode acts as a perfect test for Ellie, drawing her to the dark side of herself. One line that stood out to me was when he is giving his monologue about his creepy predatory “mentorship” of Ellie, he refers to her as having a “violent heart.” It feels like a perfect way to describe the Ellie that we fear she might become, but I think he’s wrong. I think she doesn’t have a violent heart, but a kind one, as we see throughout the series (especially in episode 5), and has been forced to embrace violence as a response to a violent world. It’s hard to “recommend” this episode, but it is undoubtedly a good one. I do highly recommend this analysis video by Schnee on the subject: GREAT VILLAINS are TESTS… (The Last of Us Ep.8)
4. Episode 1, “When You’re Lost in the Darkness”
I like this episode mainly for the first half, which is a twenty-years-earlier, how-did-this-happen story. I think it worked well to set up Joel’s backstory of losing his daughter, and it gave the people (like me) who were hoping for some of that delicious first-day zombie-apocalypse content what we wanted. They didn’t just do the obvious though–they killed off what appeared to be our main character! I know it wasn’t a surprise to the TLOU gamers, but I was like “HUH?” I thought the actor they chose was good, which helped to make us the least prepared we could be when she’s killed, and makes us identify with the Joel-Ellie dynamic even more. The second part felt a little less interesting, but still introduced the core characters and their personalities well.
5. Episode 9, “Look for the Light”
I thought the directing and writing of this episode were pretty good, or at least nothing to complain about. Well, except for one part, in which Joel and Ellie feed giraffes. I’ll explain quickly: the two travelers are in a building, making their way up, when Ellie, due to being super traumatized, ignores Joel, drops a ladder on him, and runs away calling for him to follow. It’s really confusing because they then go up multiple flights of stairs to where Ellie somehow saw that there were a bunch of giraffes. The ensuing scene feels like they took the cut scene straight out of the video game and at the end of it Ellie’s trauma is fully healed. Most of the episode was not like this though, so I forgive it. It is especially made up for by the amazing ending. I did actually know, by reputation, how the game ended, so I might have had a different experience watching it, but despite not being in the dark, it still works so well. Joel’s character culminates perfectly in a moment where he must choose between Ellie, his second shot at a daughter, and the entire world. In the end, he chooses Ellie, which is such a perfectly Joel, and a perfectly The Last of Us thing to do. We can disagree, but in the end, no one can say they don’t understand. The final scene is a beautifully ambiguous moment where Joel lies to Ellie about what happened, and Ellie responds with a resigned “OK,” which gives such a window into her entire experience over the course of the show.
6. Episode 4, “Please hold my Hand”
I don’t have too much to say about this episode. It wasn’t bad, and it wasn’t great either. There was a lot of time at the beginning dedicated to character development, which I respect, and then the tone switches quickly from mellow to quick, scrappy, and action-packed when Joel and Ellie are attacked suddenly; this is jarring and a good decision. All in all, it feels like it functions mostly as a setup for Episode 5, and less as its own arc, which is fine, but doesn’t give it much merit on its own.
7. Episode 6, “Kin”
There’s nothing expressly wrong with this episode, but I just wanted less slowness from it. For me, it was like watching a psychological thriller: you’re always worried that something is about to happen to someone, and it never does (until the very end, for like 3 seconds). The character development in this episode is some of the most important in the show, but it didn’t make it much more interesting for me than it already was because I couldn’t stop thinking about what cataclysmic event I assumed was about to happen. Even in the last part, when Joel and Ellie explore the abandoned lab, there isn’t a jumpscare, and we see the trouble coming from a mile away.
8. Episode 7, “Left Behind”
Episode 7 is the only episode that I don’t like. It suffers from the weird suspense in episode 6, but it’s amplified and a lot more annoying, and it’s also writing that I just don’t appreciate. It takes place almost entirely in an Ellie flashback, about that one time when she decided to go on a date with her friend Riley in an abandoned mall in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, and surprise surprise, gets bitten by a zombie. If I went through every time I was quivering with frustration, this would be by far the longest section, so I’ll simplify it to a few main problems.
- Character behavior: There’s a quote that I couldn’t find online, which goes something like this: “Characters that we are supposed to relate to should always make the decision that we think we would make.” Being a main character, Ellie should act according to a basic understanding of… something, right? I think so. Or at least not go “weeee” as she rides the escalator into an abandoned mall which CLEARLY has Infected in it. (The reasoning for entering the building in the first place by the way was: it was closed off when there were zombies inside. There is now a way to get in and therefore, no possible way anything could go wrong). A little noise from being a stupid, excited teen would be fine, but both characters talk and joke at full volume throughout the entire episode.
- Other writing and pacing issues: compared to every other episode, the dialogue and acting felt forced, but mainly I had an issue with how many perfectly set up times there were for disaster, when an Infected might have appeared and chaos could ensue, like when the carousel turns off randomly, or when they’re both wearing masks and dancing on the arcade counter, but nothing happens. They just move on to the next section of their romantic tour. I get that this kind of thing could be intentional, to build suspense, but you can’t set yourself up with great reveals/jumpscares/satisfying action, and then FORTY MINUTES into this boring, frustrating mall outing, the zombie just comes meandering slowly out of the shadows.
In conclusion, I did not like this episode in the slightest, despite the positive LGBTQIA+ representation. It was just boring and poorly written, and I was the most frustrated I have ever been watching a television show.
That’s said, despite this one episode, I loved the show. I have overwhelmingly positive things to say about the writing, directing, acting, everything.
If you’ve read until here, I’m very impressed, and I hope you enjoyed it!