The end of episode 6 – what a cliffhanger, right? While you’ll be happy to know that Joel’s fate will be revealed fairly quickly, Episode 7’s real focus isn’t on him at all. In this episode we finally learn more about Ellie, how she was bitten by an infected and who exactly Riley – the person Marlene (Merle Dandridge) talked about in the first episode – is.
Oh, and just a word of warning: no house will go dry-eyed tonight. Do what you want with it.
(Warning: Spoilers ahead for The last of us.)
After passing out from blood loss from being stabbed by an assailant at the university, Joel (Pedro Pascal) is not feeling well. Yes, he’s still alive, but hardly. We discover that Ellie (Bella Ramsey) was able to keep him safe in the basement of an abandoned house, but she struggles to figure out how to help heal him. Joel encourages her to just leave him, triggering a painful and current memory for Ellie.
This particular memory is not from 2013 The last of us video game, but its shorter spin-off game from 2014, left behind. The standalone adventure follows Ellie as she searches a mall for supplies to fix Joel after he is injured at university. As you explore the mall, the game skips back to the first time Ellie was in a mall – her first and last date with her best friend Riley.
The show bypasses Ellie’s shopping mall scavenger hunt to focus solely on her memory of Riley – a wonderfully creative choice that forms a more impactful story.
We jump back a few months before Ellie met Joel or even knew she was immune to the cordyceps. You might mistake the new environment for a high school gym jar, but it’s actually a Boston FEDRA school. Ellie is a FEDRA trainee who tends to bicker with her fellow cadets. But it’s kind of up to the brand.
Just as Ellie is making the decision to walk the right path and become an officer, someone from her past resurfaces. Her best friend Riley (Storm Reid), who disappeared three weeks ago and secretly joined the Fireflies, returns to smuggle Ellie out for “the best night of her life.” What could go wrong?
The two are almost caught by FEDRA patrols on the way and also come across a dead body. (They also steal the dead man’s alcohol.) Eventually, they arrive at Riley’s surprising location: an abandoned mall. Ellie doesn’t know, but Riley found that when FEDRA reconnected power to a new block, the group also reconnected power to the mall. Seeing Ellie’s face light up as the mall comes back to life is priceless. And when she discovers the joys of the escalators, you’ll smile with her.
Ramsey really shines here, capturing Ellie’s childlike spirit and, let’s face it, gay panic. In fact, the show feels more like the start of a sweet rom-com than a post-apocalyptic drama. By setting the escalator scene to A-ha’s “Take on Me” (a nod to a particularly moving role in The Last of Us Part II), writer/co-creator Neil Druckmann addressed fans of the games directly.
Riley tells Ellie that she can show her four wonders of the mall. Well, now of course five wonders after the escalator. The first wonder is a fully functional carousel that Ellie and Riley ride in an adorable moment.
However, like all carousel rides, it eventually grinds to a halt. Ellie, still trying to figure out why Riley left FEDRA for the Fireflies, asks Riley if she really thinks the group can liberate the Boston (QZ) quarantine zone. Riley relents and tells her that she knew what her FEDRA job would be – patrolling while people shoveled shit – and she knew there was no future for her there.
Ellie begins to understand why Riley left FEDRA for the Fireflies when she hears what life was planned for her. But they still have three more miracles to overcome. Next comes: the photo box. It’s your classic photo booth at the mall, but the perfect place to add some more sexual confusion to Ellie. The scene is a near-perfect recreation of the same scene in the video game, with subtle changes. I personally liked the addition of the bunny ears pose – always a classic.
Now get ready for the fourth wonder, because it’s a dork. Riley earns some major brownie points and possibly the title of “Best Scheduler Ever” for taking Ellie to an arcade with multiple operational games. The two end up fighting each other Mortal Kombat II– a game that we know Ellie is obsessed with since she mentioned it back in Episode 3. Riley has taken the liberty of breaking into the slot machines so they have endless money to play games. Seriously, she’s the best.
endless games? Sweet bonding with your crush? Maybe the apocalypse isn’t so bad after all. Just kidding – it’s awful, and we’re reminded exactly why as the two girls pummel each other Mortal Kombat. Somewhere in a dark corner of the mall, an infected is awakened by all the noise. This reveal shot is a masterclass in horror directing, with a slow pan and menacing music that exquisitely instills fear. It’s a powerful reminder that even as this show leans into recklessness, something terrible lurks nearby.
Before moving on to the mall’s fifth wonder, the two take a quick detour, as Riley gave Ellie a gift: the pun book you may remember from Episode 4. While receiving this gift, Ellie realizes that the mall is not Riley, only shows her a location where Riley guards the fireflies’ explosives and weapons cache.
Angered that Riley hid the real reason she knows this mall so well, Ellie bolts. Riley stops her by telling Ellie that she is heading to Atlanta QZ and tonight is her last night in Boston. Still upset and now even more so, Ellie finally turns around. Her walk back to Riley’s turns into a run when she hears screams, but she soon realizes the noise isn’t her boyfriend in danger, it’s a Halloween store: the mall’s fifth wonder.
After further discussion, Ellie comes to terms with Riley leaving. Before saying goodbye one last time, the girls put on some Halloween masks and throw a dance party. But soon Ellie can no longer contain her feelings. She takes off her mask and kisses Riley, telling her not to go. Riley agrees to stay. It’s a sweet moment of young love.
Then all hell breaks loose. The infected from before attacks Ellie and Riley. Eventually they kill him, but not before they are both bitten.
Shaken by their fate, the two decide to “be all poetic and shit and just go insane together”. However, we all know that only one person goes insane, and we all know who needs to kill the other. It’s absolutely heartbreaking to see Ellie start smashing the glass table they once danced on.
The show then jumps back to the present. Ellie won’t leave anyone else important to her behind, so she looks everywhere for something to help Joel. Eventually she stumbles over the needle and thread and uses it to close his wound. He’s not out of the woods yet but he’s in better shape now.
This episode is another powerful reminder of that as well The last of us is to tell the most human of all stories. Left Behind belongs to Bella Ramsey and Storm Reid – and the fans of the game it came from. Your performances are breathtaking. In less than an hour, they made us laugh, cry, and fall in love with their doomed relationship and forget the horrors of their world. It’s a tremendous display of the range these two young stars are endowed with. If only we could have seen more of their love story.
What challenges does next week bring? You’ll have to wait and see. See you next Sunday. Hold on and survive, everyone.