Ellie must find a way to save Joel after he sustains a life-threatening injury, with the fear of loss stemming from a place in the past, as explored in this episode, which is based on the game DLC chapter ‘Left Behind,’ which highlights Ellie’s bond with a dear friend, Riley. The HBO adaptation makes for excellent expansion on character development and further enriches Ellie’s background story showcasing her motivations and fears.
This prequel chapter begins in the middle of the narrative loop, rather than after the story has concluded, as it did in the game. The context of the game’s ending opened the door for another story to be told, which has now been prematurely closed. It will be interesting to see if this changes the show’s inevitable ending, and if so, whether it is for the better or not.
The episode highlights that even in a deadly, clicker infected post-apocalyptic world there is still plenty of fun to be had, playing games at the arcade was they get drunk while running up and down from an escalator (which has a nod to Take on Me from A-ha), something Ellie could have never imagined seeing through more than just comic books and wall posters. While watching the episode may give you the illusion that we may finally have a happy story that’s told in The Last of Us universe, but this illusion won’t stand on it’s own for long. Riley, portrayed by Storm Reid captures the essence of her character in an excellent way
One notable difference between the show and the DLC is that in the DLC, Ellie shifts between present and past while she searches for medical supplies to save Joel, which also takes place in a mall, establishing a comparison that shows desperation in a similar setting. But, in the show, more emphasis is placed on Ellie and Riley’s character development, which may feel a tad bit rushed, but may be a better fit for the television format.
The episode also depicts various “political” perspectives, with Ellie being promised she could be a leader of the FEDRA group, while Riley fled and was offered to join the “enemy” camp, the fireflies. This creates tension in the episode as Ellie’s long-held beliefs are challenged by someone she falls in love with, resulting in conflicting emotions of anger, happiness, and sadness, further cementing Bella Ramsey’s excellent performance as Ellie.
After discovering their revelation through their first kiss, they are the happiest they have ever been together. When an infected presence attacks the couple in a well-choreographed dance of violence and tension, their happiness is quickly disrupted. After Ellie finishes the runner, the two exhale a sigh of relief at having survived the attack, until they discover they both have bite marks and will be doomed to become infected. Ellie showcases foreshadowing behaviour upon this discovery, smashing all the glass she can find to bits, showcasing Bella Ramsey will do just fine as a more violent portrayal of Ellie in the next season.
Joel told Ellie in the last episode that she doesn’t know what loss is. The heartbreaking end of Riley proves both come from having experienced tremendous loss in their lives, explaining their often distant behaviours and motivations, and knowing what shaped these characters to what they are now.
Left behind makes for an emotional rollercoaster of emotions, with happiness, sadness and anger all beautifully displayed by the excellent performances of Bella Ramsey and Storm Reid. The exclusion of a parallel mall section from the game may feel rushed for viewers familiar with the franchise, but provides more depth to Ellie and Riley’s relationship which suits the tv format better.