The Last of Us sets grief and laughter side by side

The Last of Us

Joel and Ellie hit the road and learn that hell is other people when they find themselves trapped in Kansas City. 

Hello all, and welcome back for the fourth episode of HBO sensation The Last of Us. With this episode, “Please Hold My Hand,” we’re about halfway through the first season. How are we feeling? Have we recovered enough from last week to hang out with Joel and Ellie again? This episode features excellent character moments, introduces a couple of new characters, and reminds us not to get too attached to anyone or anything in this world. Don’t fall in love with Bill’s truck.  

While Joel (Pedro Pascal) siphons gas outside an old gas station, Ellie (Bella Ramsey) unsettlingly plays with her gun in the mirror inside. She returns to Joel, who chides her for wandering off. A beaming Ellie tells him their ride will be great—she’s got a book of puns! Joel is less than enthused. Once underway, Ellie pulls out an adult magazine stuffed to the spine with nude men. Catching sight of it in the rearview mirror, a horrified Joel tells Ellie that it isn’t for kids. She retorts that she wants to “see what all the fuss is about!” When she asks why some of the pages are stuck together, Joel somehow manages not to drive off the road in mortification. Ellie is just messing with him though and tosses the magazine out the window with a laugh.

“People are bigger threats than the Infected” is Joel’s big lesson for Ellie this week…

After a “driving through an overgrown and destroyed America” montage, the pair stop to camp for the night. Ellie suggests a fire when they make camp, and Joel, seizing a teachable moment, asks her why he’s going to refuse. Ellie admits that smoke would attract attention, and they get ready for bed. Ellie asks Joel one of her puns, and he finishes it with an almost smile. You’re getting to him, Ellie! After a time, a worried Ellie asks Joel if anyone will find them out there, and while he assures her that they won’t, he gets up and stands watch through the night.  

The next morning, Ellie gets Joel to tell her a little about Tommy. Joel describes his brother as a “joiner”: he joined the Army as a young man, then after Outbreak Day, he joined up (with Joel tagging along) with a group heading to Boston, where they met Tess; after some time in the Boston QZ, Tommy joined the Fireflies and headed west. Joel’s creed: you have to keep going for family, and no, Ellie isn’t family. She’s cargo. He’s doing this because he promised Tess he would, who was family. Keep on telling yourself that, Joel. Their journey pauses when they reach a blocked tunnel; Joel decides that they’ll speed their way through Kansas City to find another exit.  

The duo ends up deeper in the city than Joel had wanted and stops when Ellie spies the remains of the Kansas City QZ. Their reverie is interrupted by a wounded man in front of the truck begging them for help. Without blinking, Joel tells Ellie to get her seatbelt on and drives full blast toward the man. He jumps out of the way, but another man drops a brick onto their windshield, stymying their escape. This sends them over nails set in the street and crashing into a storefront. They bail out of the wrecked truck to find attackers shooting at them from across the street, and Joel gets Ellie to hide through a hole in the wall. Joel kills two of the men, but a third sneaks into the store just as Joel’s gun jams. Ellie leaves her hiding place and shoots the attacker. The wounded man begs for his life. Joel takes the gun from a frozen Ellie and tells her to get back behind the wall. She does and cries as the man calls for his mother before going silent. Joel joins her on the other side of the building, and the two take off as more armed people drive up and see the carnage. So long, truck of supplies. You were nice while you lasted.  

The Last of Us
Kathleen (Melanie Lynskey) uses her position of power among Kansas City’s survivors to seek vengeance for her brother’s death in The Last of Us on HBO.

In a FEDRA building, a woman named Kathleen (Melanie Lynskey) interrogates an old man in a small cell. She’s reading the man a list of names, names of people, we learn, who snitched on rebels when FEDRA was still in charge of Kansas City. Thanks to this information, one of the men killed was Kathleen’s brother. Ultimately, a rebellion overthrew FEDRA and the QZ, and Kathleen is its current leader. The man insists he’s seen none of the people, particularly not someone named Henry, whom Kathleen considers personally responsible for her brother’s fate. The man begs Kathleen to reconsider what she’s doing—he’s the doctor who delivered her for goodness’ sake! Kathleen, ice cold and trembling with anger, does not care. Horns outside interrupt the questioning as a truck brings in the bodies of the men Joel killed. Kathleen’s second-in-command, Perry (Jeffrey Pierce), thinks mercenaries killed the men since the truck was so well-supplied, but Kathleen blames Henry regardless. Furious, Kathleen returns to the cell and wordlessly shoots the old man. She sends her people out to find Henry and the people from the truck and to kill them all.  

Joel and Ellie hide out in a building with papered-over windows, knowing they’re only safe for a short while. Joel wants to head to a high-rise building they can see in the distance. They awkwardly ask each other how they’re doing, and Joel apologizes for putting Ellie into a situation where she had to hurt someone. She quietly admits that it wasn’t her first time doing so. Joel gives her a quick gun lesson and tells her to stow her gun in her pack; Ellie agrees only to sneak it into her coat pocket instead. ELLIE. 

The Last of Us
Kathleen (Melanie Lynskey) gives orders to the men under her command while her chief agent, Perry (Jeffrey Pierce), looks on in The Last of Us on HBO.

Perry takes Kathleen to a building across the street from the crashed truck; the attic there has been recently occupied. Kathleen finds several drawings by a child and tells Perry it must be Henry, accompanied by a child named Sam. Perry, in return, is trying to be cagey about something but, faced with Kathleen’s iron will, takes her to the basement where, in a locked storage room, a large…sinkhole? Pit? is beginning to move. Please don’t tell me you just dumped all the Infected in a hole and hoped for the best. Kathleen, that’s absolutely not a feasible solution. She doesn’t want the others told yet—they’ll handle the thing in the pit after they find Henry.  

Night has fallen. Joel and Ellie have made their way to the tall building they saw before. After a journey up many, many flights of stairs, they break into an apartment for the night. Joel asks Ellie about the first time she hurt someone, but she doesn’t want to talk about it. Joel sets up to sleep closer to the door, but Ellie suspects he won’t hear it if anyone breaks in. This isn’t just an old man joke–she’s noticed he’s harder of hearing in his right ear than in his left. Joel admits it’s probably from years of firing guns and promises to sleep on that ear. Ellie reads another pun, and Joel actually laughs. Laughs! We’ve got laughter, people! The scene fades out on their laughter only to cut back in abruptly as Joel wakes up. Joel rolled over onto his good ear at some point, and now he and Ellie are being held at gunpoint by two male strangers.  

The Last of Us
Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) commiserate over the heavy consequences of hurting other people in The Last of Us on HBO.

After last week’s run through the emotional wringer, “Please Hold on to My Hand” goes for a different, but no less moving, approach. Back with Joel and Ellie, we see the subtle cracks that are forming in Joel’s firmly anti-Ellie mindset and how much Ellie has warmed up to Joel. Her jokes aren’t all entirely personal anymore. “People are bigger threats than the Infected” is Joel’s big lesson for Ellie this week, and Lynskey’s Kathleen and the other occupants of Kansas City bring his warning to life. Directed by Jeremy Webb (who also directed the episode of Downton Abbey where Lady Sybil died, so he’s on my list) and written by Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin, “Please Hold on to My Hand” reminds us that not everyone got the idyllic lives of Bill and Frank. Something bad happened in Kansas City, and now Ellie and Joel are trapped there with Joel’s worst nightmare: other people.  

Airborne Spores:  

  • Can Ellie have a gun? She can!  
  • Ellie asks Joel how he knew that the injured man was faking. Joel admits he’s been on both sides of that scam.  
  • On their way up in the high-rise, Joel almost has to give up on Floor 33. Ellie goads him up, calling him a lazyass. “I’m 56 years old, you little shit,” Joel responds, but it gets him moving again.  
  • The credits song is a cover of “True Faith” by New Order, performed by Lotte Kestner. 
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CategoriesRecap TV
Megan Sunday

Megan Sunday is a writer, archivist, and cohost of Let’s Get Weirding: A Dune Podcast. She lives in the DC area with her family and her growing collection of horror paperbacks.

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