We know that last week, Joel (Pedro Pascal) was left in a precarious situation. We know he is likely not going out like that because he’s the star of the show. However, sidelining Joel does allow Ellie (Bella Ramsey) to truly take over for a stint. The Last of Us – Episode 7, “Left Behind” – seeks to help us understand her perspective. For the first time, The Last of Us allows us to dive into Ellie’s backstory, one that is just as inflicted with trauma and sadness. Director Liza Johnson tells an intimate and emotional tale between friends (and potentially more). Yeah, The Last of Us has forced us to hear that one before.
The Recap – The Last of Us – “Left Behind”
In an abandoned house, a horse sits in a house. Ellie cares for Joel, who tells her to leave him and go to Tommy. She reaches the top of the stairs and hesitates. As she reaches for the door, we jump backward.
In the past, Ellie runs in a gym while listening to “All or None” by Pearl Jam. A girl comes up and steals Ellie’s headphones. When Ellie asks for them back, the girl makes a snide comment about Ellie having lost a friend. Ellie responds by punching her.
Ellie gets sent to Captain Kwong’s office. He asks her what is wrong and she blames the fight on Bethany. Kwong (Terry Chen) tells Ellie that Bethany picked up 15 stitches because of their fight. He warns Ellie she’s wasting her potential. He believes she will become an officer, but she’s acting like a grunt. Ellie tells Kwong she understands and asks for her Walkman back.
In her dorm room, Ellie reads comics and listens to the rain. After she’s fallen asleep, someone sneaks into the dorm. Ellie throws the figure off of her and pulls a knife on the mystery person. Riley (Storm Reid) tells her to calm down and that her prank didn’t go as planned. Riley went missing three weeks ago, and Ellie hasn’t heard from her. Ellie demands to know where Riley went.
Riley reveals she joined the Fireflies. Ellie is furious with Riley for sneaking out and putting herself in danger. She gets dressed (telling Riley to turn around), and they sneak out. Riley won’t tell Ellie where they’re going, but they make it out of the FEDRA compound.
Riley tells Ellie to chill out and stop fighting other FEDRA trainees so much. They joke back and forth. Eventually, Riley tells Ellie they’re breaking into an abandoned apartment building. They come upon a dead body as they sneak through. The body appears to have overdosed on pills and alcohol. The ground shifts and the corpse falls through the floor.
On the roof of the building, Ellie and Riley drink. They tell stories of their familiars and parents. Ellie spies Riley’s gun and asks to hold her gun. She pushes Riley to explain why she’s joined the Fireflies.
Riley tells Ellie she had met a woman who recruited her to the group. Ellie and Riley run across the rooftops. The two debate the positives of both FEDRA and The Fireflies. They finally reach their destination, the old mall. Riley leads the way, and they break in together.
Recently moving more refugees into the QZ forced FEDRA to wire up more lots. Riley discovered this allows the mall to have power. They kick on the lights and explore the mall. They go down the “electric stairs” (escalator). As Riley and Ellie go deeper into the mall and joke about the things in the stores.
After some heckling about lingerie, Ellie checks her hair in the mirror and Riley takes Ellie’s hand. Riley takes Ellie to a carousel (and we hear an old-timey version of “Just Like Heaven” from The Cure play in the background. They pass the bottle of alcohol back and forth, with Riley getting lost in thought while Ellie stares at her.
The Carousel breaks down. Just before Riley goes to fix the carousel, Ellie asks her why she ran away again. Riley admits that Kwon gave her an assignment after all: Sewage Detail. While Riley thinks that Ellie could change things, she knows she cannot. Riley and Ellie go into a photo booth and begin taking pictures. Riley hands the pictures over to Ellie, and they leave.
They find an arcade (“Raja’s Arcade”), and they begin playing games. Riley breaks the coin machine, and they begin playing the games. They play “Mortal Kombat II,” which ends with Riley’s victory.
In another store, an infected can hear them. It awakens. Ellie pushes for them to return back to the QZ, but Riley continues on. She takes Ellie to a room where she’s been sleeping. Riley shows Ellie another pun book, but Ellie discovers that Riley’s been guarding the Firefly bombs.
Ellie storms off, and Riley admits she’s being sent to Atlanta. She tried to ask Marlene to send Ellie too, but Marlene said no. Ellie asks Riley why they’re in the mall. Riley says it was only to say goodbye and Ellie runs away. She steps through the mall but begins to feel uncomfortable. At that moment, she hears a scream. Believing Riley is in trouble, Ellie sprints back to save her friend. However it was just a prank, and the two sit together.
Riley admits that she wants a family again. The Fireflies make her feel like she belongs. Ellie admits that she always cared for Riley and that hearing this makes Ellie want to punch her. She also admits that she’ll miss Riley when she leaves for her new assignment.
Riley pulls Ellie onto the jewelry counter and they both dance. Even though they’re wearing costume masks, Ellie cannot help herself. They take off their masks, and Ellie asks Riley to stay. Riley says she will. They kiss. When Ellie asks what is next, Riley says they’ll figure it out.
From the darkness, they hear items fall over. Riley grips her gun, telling Ellie to run. An Infected comes bursting out, and Riley begins shooting. It tackles them and drags them to the ground. Ellie stabs it in the head, but not before they’re both bitten.
Joel shivers in the basement. Ellie runs upstairs, desperately searching for medicine.
Riley and Ellie handle their impending doom with wildly different reactions. Ellie smashes items in the store while Riley sits solemnly on the floor. Riley discusses their options. They can take the easy way out with the gun, or they can live their final moments together. “Whether it’s two minutes or two days, we don’t give up.” They cry and hold each other.
Ellie continues searching for Joel. In a drawer, she finds a needle and thread. She rushes downstairs and begins to stitch Joel’s wound.
The episode unfolds as another tragic love story set in the apocalypse. It’s hard to argue with the results when they’re as devastating as The Last of Us, but there’s certainly worry to be had. Using emotional gut punches like this will continue to be effective, but we need more diverse stories to ensure the show does not become repetitive.
To the episode’s credit, the first two stories dealt with side characters. This one involves one of our leads. It’s not too dissimilar from our pilot and provides plenty of backstory to understand Ellie’s fight for survival. At the same time, we know the events of this series took place mere weeks after Riley is bitten. It feels like the effect on Ellie passed much faster than we might anticipate.
The music cues in this episode are among the best of the season. The needle drop for “Just Like Heaven” is one of the needle drops of the year. The other song choices, including Pearl Jam and Etta James, help tie us to Ellie’s mindset.
There’s a lot to be said about Ellie’s obsessions coming out in this episode. She doesn’t always get when music is released, but she proves to have somewhat eclectic taste. Additionally, Ellie’s love of comic books and pun books is introduced. The ways in which “Left Behind” allows us to earn more background on Ellie are important. They also drift into “prequel” mode a little too often. Sometimes, I don’t need to know why Ellie like comics. Simply knowing she does is enough.
The real triumph of the episode comes in its closing few sequences. Mazin scribes another beautiful line of dialogue, this time coming from Riley. Considering that Riley never joins up with Joel and Ellie, it’s fairly safe to assume that she will not make it out of this situation alive. The question now becomes: “Will The Last of Us reveal Riley’s last minutes from ‘Left Behind?’”
Frankly, we hope we never see Storm Reid on this show again. We do not need to be handheld through this. In fact, it is better for the show if we know she likely died, but we never saw it happen. It raises the stakes for Ellie, and it forces us to live in our worst nightmares of what their final days were like.
Of note, Reid astonishes once again. I’m not sure why Hollywood has not gone all-in on the actress, but with a resume already boasting Euphoria, Missing, The Last of Us, and A Wrinkle in Time, you can bet we expect her to continue to soar.