SPOILER ALERT: This interview contains spoilers from Episode 7 of “The Last of Us,” now streaming on HBO Max.
Ellie takes a devastating walk down memory lane in Episode 7 of “The Last of Us,” recalling one of her most painful moments — as she frantically attempts to save an injured Joel’s life in the present day.
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The episode, named after the “Left Behind” downloadable expansion pack from the 2013 video game, reveals what happened on the night Ellie discovered she was immune to infection.
The rebellious runaway Riley (Storm Reid) brings Ellie (Bella Ramsey) on an adventure through an abandoned mall, soaking up the wonders of a Mortal Kombat arcade game, a merry-go-round and a photo booth. Just as Ellie finally reveals her romantic feelings for Riley with a kiss, and convinces her to stay, things take a gut-wrenching turn: both teens are bitten by an infected.
Actors Bella Ramsey and Storm Reid spoke with Variety ahead of the episode’s premiere to break down their emotional arc.
Storm, you had to establish your entire character from beginning to end in just one episode. Did you feel a lot of pressure?
Storm Reid: Bella and [showrunner] Craig [Mazin] and the entire team just made me feel so welcomed as soon as I got there that there wasn’t any space for nervousness, really. I was just met with so much love and support. And then getting on set and having to develop and build Riley was a little interesting, but I don’t think it was hard. It was just finding the nuances, finding her quirks, finding her optimism and how she moves through the world and takes up space. But I really enjoyed myself. I had the best time, and I’m just glad to be a part of it.
How did the two of you build Riley and Ellie’s chemistry, on and off set?
Bella Ramsey: One of the really cool things about it is that they’re so relatable. When you have a crush on somebody, you’re like, “I don’t know whether they like me back! I don’t know how I feel!” So I think the way that that is shown and translated into a story like this is so cool, and especially unexpected for a post-apocalyptic show. Who would have thought that we would be zooming in on two teenagers figuring out an awkward friendship-crush situation? It’s something that was very much just there in the script. I’d seen quite a lot of gameplay of “Left Behind,” so I sort of felt it from that, too.
In terms of me and Storm, we just got along instantly. We didn’t have a lot of time to get to know each other beforehand. We very much just got to know each other as we were shooting, and it helps that we got along instantly. We just, like, trust each other, and felt very safe with each other. It wasn’t awkward at all.
Bella, you demonstrated a slow build up of confidence in Ellie throughout the episode, finally culminating in her kissing Riley. How did you approach that?
Ramsey: I guess when you become a character, you feel what they’re feeling anyway. The awkwardness of that, and the heartbeat beating faster. I could sort of feel myself when we were filming it: My heart would beat faster and my palms got sweaty, because we were so very much immersed in what we were doing. It becomes real between action and cut.
Bella, you’ve previously spoken about the homophobic backlash to the show, and why you’re not letting it scare you. Storm, what’s your take on this topic, especially knowing that there will likely be a response to this particular episode?
Reid: I think Bella put it perfectly a couple of weeks ago: “If you don’t like it, don’t watch.” There’s so many other things to worry about in the world. I think being concerned about who people love is just absurd to me. I just don’t — I will never understand it. I don’t get it. I think despite what people are going to say, if they don’t like it, I think there are going to be a lot more people that appreciate it. A lot more people that feel represented and seen and heard. So that’s what matters. That’s where the work comes in. And that’s when it’s appreciated, and you prioritize looking at those tweets rather than the ones that aren’t the best.
The moment Riley and Ellie realize they’ve both been bitten is so emotional, and they each have a very different response to the news. How did you prepare for that scene?
Ramsey: I hadn’t seen that bit of gameplay, and I’m really glad that I didn’t. I became aware after that I reacted differently to how Ellie reacts in the game. I think it was maybe more explosive, and there was more anger, rather than fear. I think that Ellie’s response is such intense emotion that she doesn’t know what to do with. It becomes very outward and expressive and explosive. That was really cool. I was very much trusting Craig and Liza [Johnson], the director, to guide me in that way. I loved that scene. I love scenes where you get to feel things really intensely, because you don’t often get the chance to do that in a super safe space. To get that chance was awesome.
Reid: It was an intense scene. think I we’re so used to seeing Riley so optimistic about everything: “Oh, yeah, everything’s gonna be OK. Yeah, we can keep going. Yeah, we’re in this post-apocalyptic world, but it’s us. We’re about to have fun.” I think it’s our first time really seeing her realize the weight of the world. The possibility of her world ending is earth-shattering to them, and they process it in different ways. Riley’s emotions are a little bit more internalized, because I think it’s the moment where she realizes this is no joke — not that she took it as one before. But you know that things can happen, and then when you when they happen to you, you’re like, “Oh, this is what this what this feels like.”
We don’t see what comes afterward, when Riley turns into an infected and Ellie doesn’t. Did you shoot that scene?
Ramsey: I’m sure they talked about that possibility, but the first scripts that we got, you didn’t see it. I think sometimes the things that you don’t see are more impactful, because then it’s left to your imagination, which can sometimes be even darker than what maybe you’d see on screen. I like that it ends so poetically. I think it’s more heartbreaking, Riley saying, “Let’s be all poetic and lose our minds together,” it’s horrendous to then know what happens after that. The fear and the confusion that Ellie felt, and the survivor’s guilt. There’s so much that comes with that.
I think it’s actually more impactful that it wasn’t shown. You see the effects of that on Ellie throughout the rest of the season.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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