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‘The Last of Us’ Episode 5: These Deaths Will Tear Your Heart Out

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‘The Last of Us’ Episode 5: These Deaths Will Tear Your Heart Out
‘The Last of Us’ Episode 5: These Deaths Will Tear Your Heart Out

THIS POST CONTAINS spoilers for this week’s episode of The Last of Us, “Endure and Survive.”

“Endure and Survive” takes its title from the catchphrase of a comic book that Ellie (Bella Ramsey). Her new friend Sam (Keivonn Woodard) find while traveling out of Kansas City with Joel (Pedro Pascal).

Plus Sam’s older brother Henry (Lamar Johnson). Like a lot of comics language(*), it sounds more dramatic than it actually is, since “endure” and “survive” have roughly similar meanings.

But it also speaks to the larger question of the series, and of many post-apocalyptic dramas. Which is whether mere survival, even in the face of the apocalypse, is enough to make life worth living.

‘The Last of Us’ Episode 5: These Deaths Will Tear Your Heart Out

Of our two main characters, Joel has clearly settled on this as his motto, but Ellie wants more. She wants to have fun, wants to explore all the artifacts of the before times, wants to live a life.

(*) Or, for that matter, HBO drama language. Remember when Rust Cohle on True Detective explained that time is a flat circle?

(**) Station Eleven, with which Last of Us has a surprising amount in common, was entirely about this theme.

There’s a similar split between Henry and Sam — and, for that matter, between their pursuers. Kathleen (Melanie Lynskey) and Perry (Jeffrey Pierce). Sam is sweet and curious and creative, even as he is keenly aware of all the danger that surrounds him and Henry.

‘The Last of Us’ Episode 5: These Deaths Will Tear Your Heart Out

Henry, on the other hand, just wants to keep Sam alive at all costs, even if it meant selling out Kathleen’s brother and FEDRA’s other subjects. Even if it now means they have to leave the only home Sam has ever known. With Kathleen and Perry. It’s a bit different: he seems content to bask in the victory they won over FEDRA and enjoy life as best they can in a city that’s largely free of infecte.

She needs more, though, even if that more is vengeance for her brother at all costs.

This is just a masterful episode — not as lovely or focused as the Bill and Frank spotlight. A great example of how strong an on-format Last of Us can be. It takes all the dominoes that were set up last week and knocks them over, one by one. In devastating fashion. It efficiently sets up the brothers and Kathleen as three-dimensional characters whose deaths matter.

It’s so potent in its human conflicts, in fact, that it’s easy to forget about the infected at all(*), until Kathleen’s revenge mission inadvertently releases all of them from the underground places they’d trappe by FEDRA for the last 15 years. (When Joel and company were so hopelessly outnumbere and outgunned by Kathleen’s forces, it did not even occur to me that the infected would prove to be their salvation.)

(*) Because the monsters don’t turn up until the end, the show fortunately doesn’t have to overplay the idea that Sam’s deafness. How he and Henry communicate inaudibly, is extra valuable in a world where the most deadly creatures can trace you only through sound. It’s also a nice touch that we get subtitles whenever the brothers are talking in a scene from their point of view. When the perspective shifts back to Joel and Ellie, the captions go away, because they don’t know sign language.

This could easily play as sadistic toward not only the characters, but the audience. While it’s a brutal ending to a brutal hour, though, it does not feel unfair or manipulative. It’s sad because this is a sad world. But it’s also a human one, and Sam and the others all feel like people rather than canon fodder. It’s terrible, but it works, down to the concluding beats where we see that Ellie is able to better put this behind her than Joel. Who has some unfortunate experience with seeing a beloved child die in front of you.