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The Last of Us, Episode 5

The show is back on track and improving

At the end of Episode four, Joel was being held a gunpoint by a mysterious child. We also saw that Ellie was being held at gunpoint by another man as well, but before episode five reveals what has become of them, the writers first give us a flashback, explaining how the child holding Joel at gunpoint, whose name turns out to be Sam, and the man holding Ellie at gunpoint, Henry, the same Henry Kathleen has been chasing, came to find Joel and Ellie in the first place. The two brothers were on the run after FEDRA fell to Kathleen’s resistance movement. Henry was an informant for FEDRA, and he snitched on Kathleen’s brother, who was the former leader of this resistance.

Before continuing to explain the flashback, I have to take a moment to say that episode five does a very good job establishing Kathleen and Henry’s connection. And I found myself really appreciating the way they set the situation up because one of the nagging questions from episode four was how Kathleen, a soft-spoken yet violent women, had come to win the favor of a bunch of freedom fighters. It turns out that when her brother was killed, the burden of leadership was passed onto his sister, and Kathleen was well-equipped for the task, finishing what her brother had started. There is a very strong scene later in the episode that explains this in more detail. It was fascinating to watch because Kathleen’s second in command is a gruff, bearded man, and it seems almost impossible that such an imposing figure would follow such an unintimidating woman like Kathleen. Yet during this scene, he listens to her explain how her brother told her to forgive Henry, but she simply couldn’t do it. Then he says that while he and his men loved her brother, her brother wasn’t the one who took the city. She did. And so, despite her brother’s final wish and the pointlessness of trying to find one man when they’ve just recaptured the city, he and his men are willing to follow her lead, no matter what she asks. It will prove to be their undoing, but this interaction between the two characters did a very good job showing everyone’s points of view. Despite the travesty of episode three, I have to compliment the writers on this moment because it’s one of the best scenes in the entire series.  

Returning to the flashback, we find that Henry and Sam are hiding in an attic, but eventually, they run out of food. While leaving their hideout, they see Joel and Ellie exchanging gunfire with a couple of the freedom fighters. When they see Joel and Ellie win their firefight, they decide the follow the two travelers, then sneak up on them in the dead of night. The reason for this ambush is simple. Henry has a plan to get out of the city, but he believes he needs somebody who can handle himself in a fight, so Joel is chosen for the job, whether he likes it or not.

That brings us to the point where episode four left off. When Henry is convinced that Joel isn’t going to attack them, he tells Sam to lower his gun. Sam does as his older brother says, and after a quick meal, Henry explains his plan to Joel. It turns out there are some maintenance tunnels under a portion of the city which are widely believed to be infested with zombies, but Henry has learned this isn’t the case. He wants to use the tunnels to sneak into a residential area outside of downtown Kansas City, where they will cross a bridge and run to safety. Joel is dubious about the plan, but since he doesn’t know of a better way out of the city, he decides to go along with Henry’s scheme.

I found this portion of the episode to be a tad unbelievable. It seemed unlikely to me that a sparse band of freedom fighters would be able to guard an entire city well enough to prevent anyone from escaping. It might’ve been different if Joel and Ellie were trapped inside one of the Quarantine Zones, but episode four clearly shows that FEDRA’s QZ has been taken out by the resistance. It’s a minor complaint, and in the grand scheme of the episode, this plot hole amounts to very little because Henry’s plan goes smoothly until the four travelers are in the residential area, close the bridge. There, they are spotted by a sniper, and once Joel is able sneak up on the sniper and kill him, he realizes that the lone gunman told Kathleen that he had located the four of them, and now, Kathleen is on her way.

Less than ten seconds later, lights are seen in the distance, and soon, Ellie, Henry, and Sam, are running from a procession of vehicles. Joel takes the sniper’s rifle and begins shooting at the lead vehicle. He manages to kill the driver, and the large truck crashes into a nearby house. However, shortly after this, Joel is spotted and unable to continue shooting because the resistance movement’s rifles are all pointed at him. He’s pinned down. Ellie, Henry, and Sam hide behind a car, and Kathleen gets out of her vehicle and begins telling Henry that it’s over. Henry finally agrees to come out of hiding, but while the two are having their final chat, the truck which had crashed earlier sinks into the ground, and a horde of zombies erupts from the crater. Among those zombies is the infamous Bloater.

The “Bloater” Arrives

When I first watched this episode, I thought this moment seemed random, a deus ex machina to get the heroes out of trouble, but upon watching episodes four and five a second time, I found that the writers did try to set this moment up but failed.  In episode four, Kathleen and her second in command were talking about a sink hole located in a hidden room. It’s now evident that the groaning noises and shifting debris inside the sink hole during this previous episode was the Bloater and his zombie army trying to escape, but nothing was implied or explained by Kathleen or her second during this previous scene, so when the Bloater and his army springs from this hole in the ground in episode five, the moment felt very random and a little silly. Kathleen could’ve mentioned that FEDRA had said there was something dangerous underground before the resistance took over, then she could’ve asked her second in command if he thought the rumors were true. It wouldn’t really matter what the second in command said at that point because the implication to the viewer would’ve been made clear. The promise of a foreboding monster would’ve been established, making this scene in episode five a payoff, rather than just unrelated chaos.

But regardless of whether this scene was properly set up or not, the Bloater and his army come charging toward the resistance fighters and the battle begins. Joel provides sniper fire for Ellie as she helps Henry and Sam escape, but just as our four heroes reunite, Kathleen confronts them and is about to kill Henry; however, she is unsuccessful because one of the zombies jumps on her from behind, and Joel and the others flee while Kathleen is eaten alive. As for the Bloater, he ends up killing Kathleen’s second in command, then he and his massive horde are last seen charging toward downtown Kansas City.

The next scene takes place in a hotel, and before getting too deep into this, I have to mention that Sam is actually deaf. Throughout the episode, the writers do a good job showing Ellie and Sam bonding. They share a love of comics, play games together, and eventually begin to communicate using a writing instrument called a magic slate paper saver. So, when Henry and Joel are sitting in one room, recovering from the hectic night, Ellie and Sam are sitting in another room, writing messages back and forth. Sam asks Ellie what she is afraid of. Ellie finds this odd and jokes that she’s afraid of scorpions. Sam seems to be annoyed by this answer, so Ellie tells him that she’s afraid of ending up alone. Sam then asks whether the original person is still inside their body once they turn into a zombie. After that, he shows Ellie a bite on his leg. Ellie, afraid of losing her new friend, shows him that she was bitten too and explains that her blood is medicine. She then slices her palm and smears the blood into Sam’s wound, hoping to save the child.

I really liked this moment, and this is one of the rare instances where a departure from the original scene from the game made the story better. In the game, Sam is older, able to hear, and more irritable. He also doesn’t tell Ellie that he’s infected. Their conversation is similar, but Sam seems much angrier, so when Sam turns into a zombie in the game, the emotional impact isn’t the same.

Strong Episode, Tragic Ending

But in the show, a strong connection is established between the two characters, and of course, Ellie rubbing her blood into the wound doesn’t work. So, when she wakes up and checks on Sam, the moment she realizes Sam has turned into zombie has a larger impact because she tried to save him, and it also raises the question of whether her blood can really save humanity. The way the scene is set up in the show also gives the actress a chance to show real kindness and goes a long way to offset the angry tone her character was given at the beginning of the series. In short, the show does the characters and the scene more justice than the game.

Sam attacks Ellie, and Ellie stumbles into the next room where Joel and Henry spring to their feet and go for a gun. Henry grabs a gun first, and after a brief hesitation, shoots his brother. Then Henry commits suicide.

After that, Joel and Ellie bury the two bodies, and Ellie writes that she is sorry on the magic slate. She and Joel walk away, and the episode ends.

Episode five is very strong—if you excuse the random Bloater. It’s the best in the series so far. I’m not sure it’s good enough to offset the travesty that was episode three, but it’s close, and puts the series back on solid footing. We’ll see if episode six continues following the plot, or if we’re going to get more deviations from the script for the sake of critical acclaim.

Gary Varner

Gary Varner is the Assistant to the Managing and Associate Directors at the Center for Science & Culture in Seattle, Washington. He is a Science Fiction and Fantasy enthusiast with a bachelor’s degree in Theater Arts, and he spends his time working with his fellows at Discovery Institute and raising his daughter who he suspects will one day be president of the United States. For more reviews as well as serial novels, go to www.garypaulvarner.com to read more.

The Last of Us, Episode 5