Anyone complaining that The Last of Us doesn’t have enough zombies in it should shut up with the release of the season’s fifth episode, “Endure and Survive.” After a thrilling, tension-filled escape from Kansas City, Joel, Ellie, and some friends found themselves up again hundreds of zombies of all shapes and sizes. And even so, that was far from the scariest part of another excellent episode.
Episode five of The Last of Us, “Endure and Survive,” began in the past. It takes a few minutes to realize but the scenes of carnage we’re witnessing are the people of Kansas City rising up and taking power away from FEDRA. But they’re not just taking back power, they’re beating and torturing the soldiers. We see some of this through the eyes of a man and a child who you may recognize from the end of the previous episode. They’re the people holding up Ellie and Joel at gunpoint and we’ll soon come to know them as Henry (Lamar Johnson) and Sam (Keivonn Woodard), the people Kathleen (Melanie Lynskey) has been trying to find. They speak mainly in ASL as Sam is unable to hear.
Kathleen hasn’t found them yet though and questions a room of people she calls “informers” about them. These are people who Kathleen claims would rat on fellow citizens to FEDRA to get certain luxuries. She’s about to kill them all when one of them says he knows where Henry and Sam are. They’re with a doctor named Edelstein, but he doesn’t know where. Satisfied, Kathleen leaves the prisoners and tells her army that finding Henry and Sam is the number one priority so they should start looking for them and Edelstein. As for those informers? Kathleen orders them to all be executed, which happens in a chilling offscreen manner.
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Henry and Sam sneak around the city and make it to a secret space protected by the doctor we saw Kathleen questioning in the previous episode. His name, you guessed it, is Edelstein (John Getz). He brings Henry and Sam into his hidden attic space and figures out that with the food they have available, they can’t last more than 11 days. In the next 11 days, they need to find a way out of Kansas City. To try and assure his younger brother—they’re siblings, as it turns out—Henry lies and says he’s not scared, so Sam shouldn’t be either, and gives him some crayons to decorate the otherwise drab space.
Let’s take a quick pause here. If you remember in last week’s recap, I mentioned that that episode would be made even more rewarding after seeing this one. Well, in last week’s episode, we learned that Kathleen captured and killed Edelstein for not saying where Henry and Sam are (though we didn’t know it was Edelstein then) and then we saw that she actually finds his hidden attic space which has already been all decorated. So The Last of Us is filling in some tiny holes from the previous episode in a really elegant way.
Ten days pass and Edelstein is gone. (We know he’s not coming back but the characters don’t know yet.) Sam is hungry but Henry is holding out hope for the doctor’s return with some food. When he’s not back the next morning (day 11) Henry tells Sam that Edelstein is probably dead (good guess) and they should leave (good instincts). But, because they’re both scared, and Sam paints an orange mask on all the superheroes he draws, Henry paints an orange mask on his brother too.
They’re about to go out the front door when Henry hears a bunch of shooting and screaming outside. He peeks out and sees a blue truck crashed into a building and a devilishly handsome man with a mustache and a flannel killing the attackers. Of course, it’s Joel, and we’re seeing the events of the previous episode from another point of view. After seeing what Joel is capable of, Henry tells Sam their plan to escape has changed.
It’s evening and Sam and Henry are climbing the same steps we saw Joel and Ellie climb in the previous episode. We know what’s about to happen—they’re about to hold up Joel and Ellie and gunpoint—but now knowing their backstory, and knowing they don’t have any bullets, any fear we may have felt for Joel and Ellie shifts. We know this is a huge bluff by Henry and Sam and so our fear transfers to them. Again, just really smart, interesting storytelling that connects us to each and every crucial character.
Finally, we’re back at the end of the previous episode, and after a tense moment where Joel’s asshole voice almost ruins everything, a reluctant truce is made. Henry explains that he’s the most wanted man in Kansas City but he thinks Joel may now be the second and thinks they should work together.
Joel and Ellie give Henry and Sam some food and you can see that while Joel is still very cautious about the situation, Ellie is anxious to have another kid to be a kid with. She almost instantly starts joking around with Sam and soon, the pair are laughing together, which warms both Joel and Henry’s hearts.
Henry reveals that he has Joel and Ellie figured out. They were trying to find a high point to see a way out of the city. He tells Joel that he knows the way out of the city and has devised a plan to use underground tunnels to escape without Kathleen or her army finding them. Joel is reluctant again because a) Henry reveals he was an informer and Joel doesn’t like that, and b) those tunnels are where all the city’s infected are. However, Henry doesn’t believe that to be true anymore. A FEDRA source of his said the tunnels have been cleared. But, in case they aren’t, he knows Joel is a much more capable man than he is in terms of protection. “I show the way, you clear the way,” Henry proposes, and Joel agrees.
As the two men and two kids head into the building, The Last of Us had a tension and energy it hasn’t yet. That’s because for the first time, the audience knows that the characters actually have a plan and we’re going to watch them execute it. Are there infected in the tunnels? Will Joel have to kill them? Does Henry know what he’s talking about? Will Kathleen find them? All of this circles in our minds as the four of them head down below the city.
Henry was right. The tunnels seem to be clear and, soon, they come up upon a room that’s kind of like a daycare, decorated with all kinds of drawings and kid’s toys. Ellie and Sam immediately dive in and the group decides maybe it’s not such a bad idea to take a break so they can emerge from the tunnel a little closer to nightfall.
Sam and Ellie play soccer and read comics as Henry explains to Joel exactly why he’s not just wanted, but on the run. He explains that Sam was diagnosed with leukemia and the only medicine that could help him was controlled by FEDRA. In order to get the medicine to save Sam, Henry had to trade them something big. And so he traded the whereabouts of the leader of the resistance movement in Kansas City, a great man that he admired who just happens to be Kathleen’s brother.
Henry feels guilty about this but Joel, and the audience, aren’t so sure. Yes, he had to basically sentence a friend, a man he admired, to death. Which is awful. But the flip side is that his little brother, the one person counting on him in this world, would die if he didn’t. Is Henry the bad guy? He seems to think so, but we’re not certain we agree.
Meanwhile, Kathleen goes home. She’s standing in her childhood bedroom when her second in command Perry (Jeffrey Pierce, who voiced Tommy in the original games, did you know that? I didn’t) strolls in. She tells him about the ways that her brother, Michael, would make her feel safe and loved. Michael was such an amazing person, in fact, that before he was killed by FEDRA, he told Kathleen to spare Henry. To show him mercy. So, Kathleen believes, her brother would not approve of everything she’s done. Perry, who has been taking all this in, says that while everyone loved Michael, his kindness didn’t get anything done. It was Kathleen that took Kansas City back, and they’re there for her.
This scene, while small in stature, was huge in thematic ramifications. To see Kathleen—like Henry, like Joel—struggle with her own morality is really what this whole section of the show has been about. There’s good and bad in all of us and we choose which side to let out.
That scene was also the perfect dose of calm to set up what was about to happen. Joel, Ellie, Henry, and Sam make it through the tunnels unscathed and emerge into the residential area on the outskirts of town. A few more blocks and Henry thinks they’re home free. Everyone is chatting and happy when bullets start whizzing by their heads. There’s a sniper at the end of the road and Joel leaves his friends behind cover so that he can take care of it.
Joel makes it to the house and finds a relatively older man behind the rifle. Joel pleads with him to just give him the gun and wait—he’ll be spared—but the man doesn’t listen and turns to shoot, so Joel is forced to kill him. For a moment, it seems like all is well once again, except Kathleen is on the radio. The sniper told her the people were there and she’s on the way.
Now only is Kathleen on the way, she’s bringing her army. Lead by what can only be described as a snow plow for cars, Kathleen and her team arrive in truly bombastic fashion. Ellie, Henry, and Sam run for it as Joel shoots with the sniper rifle. Eventually, he hits the driver of the plow, which crashes into a house and then explodes.
Kathleen yells to a hiding Henry to come out, which he says he will if she lets the kids go. She says no and tells him that maybe Sam was supposed to die. That he’s not worth risking everything for. But before the conversation can end, that burning truck collapses into the ground. Remember last week when Kathleen and Perry were scared about the ground moving? And remember earlier in this episode when Henry explained FEDRA moved the infected underground? Is it all coming together for you?
Soon, an avalanche of infected come pouring out of the ground and for the next five minutes, The Last of Us became the full-fledged zombie show people probably expected it to be. Ellie, Henry, and Sam attempt to run as Joel covers them via sniper rifle from down the road. But Kathleen’s army is getting eaten up. Literally. We even get our first look at one of the fan-favorite characters from the video game, a Bloater. It’s big, it’s gross, it’s strong, and though Perry successfully saves Kathleen from him, he’s not so lucky. RIP Bearded Will Forte.
Ellie hides in a car but is followed by a clicker who moves like something out of The Ring. Joel continues to cover her. Finally, just when Henry, Sam, and Ellie think it’s safe, Kathleen catches up with them. She’s about to shoot when that same clicker who was after Ellie jumps on her back. RIP Kathleen and RIP Kansas City—as the infected, thinking they’ve killed everyone in town, run back towards the city.
Desperate for rest, Joel, Henry, and the kids find an old hotel. Ellie and Sam act like everything is fine, which Henry and Joel think is one of the best parts of being a kid. What they don’t see though is Ellie and Sam talking about their fears and, eventually, Sam revealing to Ellie he’s been bitten. She shows him her wound and explains that her blood may be medicine, so she cuts herself and wipes it on him. Ellie promises to stay up all night to watch over Sam.
Ellie falls asleep though, and when she gets up, finds Sam already awake. She walks over to him but he’s gone. He’s infected. Sam attacks Ellie and they smash through the door into Joel and Henry’s room. Henry grabs the gun but hesitates to do anything as Ellie is being attacked. Quickly though he shoots Sam in the head, killing him. “What did I do?” he keeps saying through fear and tears. Joel asks him for the gun back but Henry puts it to his head and pulls the trigger. The guilt of not just losing his brother, but having to do it himself was too much.
It’s a powerful, heartbreaking, scary moment all rolled into one and it plays out in a very purposeful way. Instead of us seeing Henry commit suicide, we watch Ellie’s reaction to it. Through that, we see her fear, her horror, and exactly what this world is doing to her innocence. It’s a huge moment for Ellie, to so quickly lose something you were beginning to love.
Outside, Joel and Ellie bury their friends and Ellie leaves a note on Sam’s grave: “I’m sorry.” She truly thought maybe her blood could help him. Or that she should have been a better protector when the infected rushed them. Nevertheless, Ellie today is not the Ellie of the day before. She’s harder, more jaded, and things are just getting started.
“Endure and Survive” (named after the catchphrase of the comic book Ellie and Sam read throughout the episode, which I’m now realizing I didn’t mention up to this point) was phenomenal. The way Henry and Sam’s story filled in gaps from the previous episodes and recontextualized emotions, the philosophical conversations highlighting the show’s central themes, and, of course, the big, badass action sequence filled with infected. As great as The Last of Us has been, this felt like the episode where things finally came all together, and there’s still almost half a season to go.
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