Some shows take your breath away with each episode, whether it’s because of a great cast, cinematography, or a bold soundtrack; or because it all at once delights us with what it illustrates. We can all agree that The Last of Us is one of those series that proves its rightful place among the classics. Each episode is meticulously crafted to satisfy both game fans and those who solely watch the show. Episode seven, titled “Left Behind”, isn’t an exception. The newest episode is an emotional rollercoaster with layered performances by Bella Ramsey and Storm Reid. The episode written by Neil Druckmann and directed by Liza Johnson puts the characters at the center of its heartbreaking story, analyzing their dynamics and showcasing Ellie’s life before Joel. 

In “Left Behind”, the action picks up even more as injured Joel (Pedro Pascal) lies in a shed Ellie managed to find. After the man attempts to push the teenager away and begs her to leave him behind, Ellie reflects on her past and a person who changed everything. The creators bestow upon us a well-constructed narrative, previously known as the expansion to the first game of the same title. As the plot progresses, we get to know Ellie better, particularly her best friend and love interest, Riley (Storm Reid). Both girls were born into a world full of the Infected and raised by FEDRA precisely to act against and eliminate any rebellious activities, especially the group known as the Fireflies. 

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After Riley returns from her three-week escape, Ellie discovers the 17-year-old joined the Fireflies. Ellie is clearly upset about the event, but the older teenager has ways to make up for the getaway. As the duo ventures outside, Riley gives the other girl something she’d never experienced: a true, old-fashioned “mall date” in the abandoned complex connected to the power grid. Ellie is overjoyed to see her friend again, but she demands answers.

As we see both of them on their way to the mall, it’s clear that Ellie is working up the courage to tell Riley about her feelings. But first, Reid’s character spoils Ellie by bestowing the “Four Wonders of The Mall” upon her. As A-ha’s “Take on Me” begins to play, Ellie encounters her first wonder—escalators, or as she refers to them at first, “electric stairs”—for the first time. The scene ponders a reflection on the girls’ growth in a chaotic world full of danger and murder. Yet something so trivial and essentially unknown to Ellie as an escalator causes her such happiness.

They then proceed to Riley’s first wonder (which is now officially the second wonder due to Ellie’s astonishment with escalators)—a colorful, lit-up carousel. This episode is full of unspoken emotion, making it all the more effective. Ellie’s beaming smile at Riley as the carousel spins says more than words could ever convey. The character’s bond reminds us that finding someone who looks at you in the same way that Ellie looks at Riley in a world full of disarray is still a very special feeling.

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Another wonder is yet another reference to the game, which has now been also immortalized in the HBO Max series. It’s the mall photo booth, producing low-quality but memorable images. The show’s Ellie and Riley strike amusing poses and get their faded, colorless, but still very much important photos. Every moment between the teenagers feels extraordinary as they steal glances and smiles. Ramsey and Reid give it their all as their facial expressions reveal that their friendship is slowly evolving into something else.

The final wonder is also something very special to me. Mortal Kombat was one of the first video games I played with my wife after we met. Cristina showed me this diverse world—with Mortal Kombat at the forefront—even though I wasn’t raised on video games and had never owned a game console. The final wonder is an impressive arcade room that, lo-and-behold, has Mortal Kombat II vs. The Turning working game in this possession. If we return to the beginning, we see the MK poster in Ellie’s room, which makes Riley’s efforts shine even brighter. “This is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” Ellie exclaims as she takes everything in. The girls take some time to challenge one another, laughing and goofing around in this innocent, fleeting moment. 

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Unfortunately, the happiness of the moment is gone when Riley tells Ellie she’s leaving Boston to join Fireflies in another zone. The younger girl is on the verge of angrily skipping the mall but doesn’t want to go on bad terms. They spend more time together, putting on funny masks and dancing to Etta James’ “I Got You, Babe.” Eventually, Ellie pleads with another not to leave, and Riley agrees. At that moment, they exchange their first kiss. It’s truly endearing and innocent when Ramsey’s Ellie learns that Riley reciprocates her feelings.

Unfortunately, as the game and show frequently remind us, the world of The Last of Us is seldom a happy world. Before they know it, they’re attacked by the Infected moments later, and both are bitten. Although we already know Ellie is immune, seeing how they both react is intriguing. Ellie begins yelling and smashing glass everywhere as Riley collapses to the floor, completely defeated. But the episode gives the audience a strange feeling of serenity, as they both agree to keep going for as long as possible.

Ramsey and Reid are undeniably the stars of “Left Behind.” However, the cinematography contributes significantly to the episode’s impact. Ksenia Sereda, the episode’s cinematographer, does an excellent job of transforming the game narrative into a rich, emotional heartthrob. The episode stays true to the DLC game while expanding at just the right moments, such as the previously mentioned Mortal Kombat game session.

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Ramsey and Reid have great dynamics and contribute to the expansion of Ellie and Riley’s narrative. We now know why Ellie is so desperately trying to figure out how to help injured Joel—she isn’t ready to let him go, just like she didn’t let Riley go then. The episode shows Ellie in a different light as a young person who also lost someone she loved. Despite being only 14 years old, the protagonist went through first love, first kiss, loss, and grief. As a result, Ellie’s innocent personality transforms for the viewer. Underneath a curious personality lies a strong person who doesn’t give up on people and won’t let others hurt those she cares about.

“Left Behind” concludes bitterly, reminding the audience that Ellie may be young but has already survived plenty. She was forced to grow up faster after losing Riley, yet she maintained a childlike wonder. This is also shown in this episode when Riley finds the second volume of the pun book that Ellie later bugs Joel with. The latest episode is another one for the books; not only does it deliver one of the best LGBTQ+ stories, but the creators also perfectly expand on the game’s premise. We couldn’t ask for anything more.

The Last of Us is streaming on HBO Max.

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Zofia Wijaszka

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