Full spoilers ahead for The Last of Us episode 4
Following a significant and heartbreaking departure from the game’s plot, episode 4 returns to a more traditional path, with their Kansas City adventure closely resembling that of the game’s Pittsburg section. This is not to say that the story has remained unchanged, as a new character, Kathleen, the ruthless leader of a revolutionary movement in Kansas, has been introduced. The growing bond between Joel and Ellie is the episode’s main highlight, with standout performances from Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey.
Joel’s inability to open up to Ellie is demonstrated in the first section of the episode; Ellie’s puns and attempts at conversation are not taken seriously right away; with Joel attempting to survive and deliver ‘cargo,’ he simply cannot afford to be entertained or distracted. He almost appears perplexed by the fact that someone in this world can still laugh at pun jokes.
Ellie’s innocence is demonstrated by the way she handles a gun, playfully practicing how to aim a gun with a smirk on her face at the start of this episode; however, this innocence is shattered later in the episode after a gruesome violent event.
Ellie reminds Joel that a 20-hour journey without seeking connection to another will become stale very quickly. So Joel makes the decision to be more open about his background and family, detailing the time period in between the start of the outbreak and the start of Ellie and Joel’s journey. Eben Colter’s stunning cinematography for the episode shines in the road trip’s stunning post-apocalyptic vistas, character close-ups, and action scenes.
The relatively calm start is quickly shattered when the duo arrives in Kansas City, where Ellie discovers that infected aren’t the biggest treat, humans are. The intense car crash ambush puts the duo in danger in a high-stakes situation; however, these types of scenes don’t always feel as natural as I would have hoped; the gunshots and tension don’t come across as terrifying, but rather as a plot device leading to an important story event. The event the action scene leads to however is quite brilliant.
Ellie is forced to act after Joel is threatened with death; it is the first time Ellie is forced to use the gun she has seemingly been obsessed with having since asking for one to protect herself earlier in the season. Ellie is temporarily stunned after the victim lets out a shriek cry, similar to enemies begging for their lives in The Last of Us games. Joel must complete the task, and Ellie is soon left alone in tears and reluctance, demonstrating that she is not prepared to handle herself in the harsh world she finds herself in.
While Ellie pulls away, Joel draws closer to her, understanding the mind of a child he once lost and being able to empathize with a 14-year-old girl who had to witness such a gruesome sight, finally tightening the bond between the two through their shared experiences.
The duo travels through Kansas City, where an anti-FEDRA movement is taking place; the parade’s leader, Kathleen, is revealed to be ruthless in her pursuit of Henry and Sam. Her presence isn’t overstated, and she is terrifying in the most subtle ways of her facial expressions and actions. I can’t wait to see more of her terrifying performance in episode 5.
The episode ends with a touching scene between Joel and Ellie, drawing a clear parallel between the two characters. At the start of the episode, Ellie seeks connection with Joel but is largely ignored. In the final scene, Joel seeks connection with Ellie and they bond through humor and conversation. This parallel highlights the characters’ shared need for human connection, even amidst the challenges of survival. However, their moment of bonding leads to them to a loss of focus on their survival, which results in them being discovered by Henry and Sam.
Episode 4 delivers a powerful and emotionally charged journey, showcasing the growing bond between Joel and Ellie. With standout performances from Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey, the episode takes us on a road trip through post-apocalyptic vistas, highlighting the changing dynamics between the two characters. The introduction of the ruthless leader Kathleen adds a new layer of tension to an already violent world. With a runtime of just 45 minutes, the episode is a quick but powerful experience, concluding with a touching scene between Joel and Ellie that draws a parallel between their struggles for connection.