The Last Of Us - Episode 07 - Left Behind Review
*It’s rare that we at Player 2 cover anything that isn’t in the video game realm, but with it’s roots firmly in gaming, and the prestigious talent involved in it, HBO’s adaptation of The Last Of Us is an incredibly fascinating project. So join us, each week as we dissect the newly released episode, from the series’ first to its last.*
While recent episodes of The Last Of Us have featured a number of deviations from the source material to flesh out certain characters in ways that the game never could, from Bill and Frank, to Henry and Sam, and now, most recently, the character building of Tommy and Maria, as well as the worldbuilding of Jackson. Neil Druckmann, Craig Mazin and the team on the HBO production have done a superb job of finding ways to meaningfully expand upon the world of The Last Of Us that was established in the game, while cutting the more heavily video-game oriented elements, namely the combat sequences that lead into further combat sequences. With Episode 07 – Left Behind, a beloved chapter in the story of The Last Of Us, the HBO adaptation sticks the closest to its roots than it ever has previously, and the show is better off for it.
Left Behind is an adored part of The Last Of Us, despite it being a post-release add-on to the original game (for the non video-game versed among you, imagine it being like a deleted scene that is added into a Director’s Cut). Compared to the core game’s 15 hour run time, Left Behind clocked in at 2.5 hours and was the story of Ellie and her friend Riley in a time before Joel had entered her life. As a result of its brevity, and with the gameplay elements stripped for the TV adaptation, Left Behind, in its entirety is almost told 1:1 in this episode, allowing the relationship between the duo to flourish before the crushing weight of the world sets in.
Left Behind (the episode) begins as we see Ellie dragging Joel into an abandoned home. He’s in dire straights, and is begging for Ellie to return to Jackson to get Tommy for help. Ellie, an emotional wreck at the time refuses, and this triggers a flashback, one to another time where Ellie was emotionally high, as she’s in FEDRA training camp beating the stuffing out of another kid who dared to suggest that the mysterious Riley (someone we’ve only briefly heard mentioned in the show so far) might be dead or gone. Ellie is hauled in front of FEDRA leadership where she is presented the opportunity to become an officer, with the allusion being to the fact that she can achieve more than what the others within the troupe might be capable of. Ellie accepts the role and departs the office, unpunished for her actions.
Later than night Riley surprises Ellie in her sleep, sneaking in to startle her friend, and convinces her to join her on a nighttime escapade. After some rooftop climbing, some rebellious and quickly regretted underage drnking, and a few near misses, the pair are living the teenage dream, until Riley reveals that she’s joined the Fireflies and makes a failed attempt (not dissimilar to the way Joel promptly shut down a pitch in Episode 01) to bring Ellie aboard. This moment creates some initial tension that quickly washes away as the pair continue their journey, Ellie being led by Riley to an abandoned shopping mall. For Ellie, there are a lot of things that she’s never seen before, and is completely rocked by, things that we currently take for granted, like escalators, as well as advertising for movies like “Dawn of the Wolf II” (a fictional movie for those playing along at home), and a whole lot of real, very familiar retail brands, including ESprit, Foot Locker, The Body Shop, GAP, Victoria’s Secret, and many more. These brands weren’t a part of the game, presumably for financial and business reasons, however with the prestige of HBO being a part of this project, the presence of such brands grounds the world in ways that the way wasn’t able to.
Riley takes Ellie to a new part of the mall, one with a merry-go-round in it, and the pair have a great time riding on it. You can see the childish glee spilling out of Ellie as the ride moves around until, of course, the power goes out, ending the fun. Ellie, still frustrated by Riley’s choice, pleads with her to come back to FEDRA, but Riley insists that the way she was treated by the governing body is what pushed her away to join the Fireflies in the first place. Tension is building between the two, in a manner of ways, with Ellie’s feeling of abandonment by her best friend, the affection they have for one another, and of course, a little bit of alcohol, all playing a part.
The fun continues however as the pair find an arcade where they try out a photo-booth and an awesome Mortal Kombat II arcade machine, another direct video game reference that couldn’t be made during the time of developing the original game. This is also a reference to the conversation that Joel and Ellie had during Episode 03 while exploring the abandoned building for Joels’ resources. The pair are having a great time, but the noise they’re making has awoken an infected individual and drawn its attention.
The love is spilling over for the two girls though, with Riley presenting Ellie with a gift, “No Pun Intended 2”, another reference to the book that Ellie was reading to Joel earlier in the show. It’s a great moment but the high is punctured by Ellie then discovering a range of bombs that Riley had made to take out FEDRA, FEDRA personnel like Ellie, but Riley insists that they were never meant for her as it’s her final night in Boston and that she’ll be leaving with the Fireflies the next day, and that her reason for bringing Ellie to the mall that night was to say goodbye. Ellie storms off and nearly exits entirely before she turns back. As she gets closer she hears a scream and panics, although it was just Riley in a halloween mask, which spurs one final moment of fun, masked dancing, which ends in a moment of romance, a kiss between the two, that then turns horrific as the infected who they alerted bursts in to ruin the party, biting both girls before they can kill it.
The gravity of the situation weighs enormously on both, they believe they’re going to die, and Ellie doesn’t take it well, destorying stores in a range. We don’t see what plays out from here, we know Ellie goes on to survive, now learning about her apparent immunity, but we don’t see the death of Riley, nor Ellie’s escape – it’s all implied, something that I think we all appreciate.
The action returns to the present day where Joel is still in intense pain, and Ellie is desperately trying to find a way to save him. Ellie finds some thread to sew up Joel’s wounds, and does so. The episode concludes with a heartwarming but still terrifying moment of handholding between the two, the viewer still unsure of what Joel’s fate will be.
Left Behind is a heartstring tugger, one that fills us wth hope often before finding one of many different, painful ways to tear it all down. The story of Ellie and Riley is a brutal one, and provides the viewer with a host of evidence that explains why Ellie has become so guarded and so angry, as well as the comment about everyone in her life having either abandoned her or died to Joel in the last episode. The HBO adaptation of Left Behind shows the strength of its source material.
The Last of Us is available to stream now on BINGE, with new episodes every Monday. This episode was reviewed with early access kindly provided by BINGE.