SPOILER ALERT: This column contains potential spoilers about the fifth episode of “The Last of Us.”
Episode five: “Endure and Survive”
You build worlds with the people you love. You’re safe in those worlds — it’s just you and one other person. Like Kathleen (Melanie Lynskey) said about the world she shared with her brother, “This was just a big wooden box. A big wooden box that nothing could get inside of. And it didn’t matter if there was lightning or tornadoes or gunfire. He said as long as we were together, in our perfect box, we would be safe. He did that for me.”
The box is safe. The box is home. But sometimes the box breaks open and you lose the person — the world — you love the most. And when you lose the person and world you love the most — the one you spent the most time building, the one you spent the most time getting delightfully lost in, the one you spent the most time loving life in — I… don’t know. I can’t even find the words to convey that pain.
But this show is littered with that pain.
Bill and Frank. Kathleen and Michael. Henry and Sam. Joel and Ellie.
We’ve still got Joel and Ellie. And god — I’m holding on to them for dear life. We’ve lost so much as viewers while watching this show. Obviously, it’s a choice to watch — I get that. If I don’t want to be so heartbroken, I don’t have to give it the time of day. But it really is this constant loss that’s intriguing. Morbid as it is, it’s highly relatable, and it allows uncomfortable questions to swirl around in your head.
Bill (Nick Offerman) can’t live without Frank (Murray Bartlett), so he takes the pills, too. Henry (Lamar Johnson) can’t live without Sam (Keivonn Woodward), so he shoots himself, too. Kathleen technically lives on without her brother, Michael, but she is constantly seeking out the opportunity to avenge him. And, in the end, she meets a grim death, too.
Everything seems to come in twos and toos with this show. My person — my purpose — is dying? I’ll die, too. My brother became infected and there’s nothing I can do to save him? I’ll die, too. The one person who made me feel safe in this disgusting world is gone? I’ll make sure the person who sealed their fate dies, too.
Two, two, two. Too, too, too.
I think the “too” we get with Joel and Ellie — as of now — is represented with Joel helping Ellie grieve the deaths of Henry and Sam. He saw how instantly close Ellie had grown to Sam. He was another kid — and it reminded viewers and Joel that Ellie is still a kid, too. She needs to play like a kid does. She needs to run freely like a kid does. She needs to go to school like a kid does.
But she doesn’t get any of that. And the closest she got to feeling even remotely like a child was with Sam. When Joel and Henry let Ellie and Sam hang out in the playroom they found while in the tunnels, you realized just how much the kids needed that. You realized, in that moment, just how much they’d been through. And through it all — through an entire zombie apocalypse — the kid in them was still there.
And maybe Joel realized he’s not just Sarah’s (Nico Parker) dad anymore. He’s Ellie’s dad, too.
Then it brings up — the questions simply do not stop coming in this show, I’m sorry — what is a dad? What is a parental figure? What do they do? Joel is Ellie’s protector and he’s clearly growing to love her. I’m already fearing the end of this season because I feel our hardest loss coming.
Does Ellie have to die? Is it like with Harry Potter, how he’s raised like a “pig for slaughter”? Will Joel — her other half in this journey — save her? Like Bill and Henry and Kathleen, Joel is a protector. And when you love the person you protect, you have to make a decision: when there’s nothing left you can do to save them, do you end it all, too?
And, if you do save them, how do you justify to the world that the person you love is more important than the person they love?
That may be something that can never be justified — even for our main characters.
Ugh. So much to think about. “The Last of Us” always hits on that classic existential question of whether love is worth it or not. Good timing with Valentine’s Day right around the corner, right? Obviously, in “The Last of Us,” we’re given an extreme circumstance, but the question is always the same: does the joy of loving someone — while they were still in your life — outweigh the pain that’s left when they leave?
My answer — without a doubt — will always be yes.
But this show really does make you question that undoubted yes.