Ellie and Riley in HBO's The Last of Us
Image Source: HBO

Actually, HBO’s The Last of Us Ep. 7 Is the Series’ Most Important Yet

Some of us get there faster than others, but we don't quit.

HBO’s seventh episode of The Last of Us featured a flashback containing content from the Left Behind DLC of the TLOU video game. While the episode itself had a high level of importance regarding Ellie and her past, it’s no secret that this is currently the lowest rated episode in the series, with viewers citing it as “boring”.

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Naturally, everyone is allowed to have an opinion. Still, there are plenty of reasons why the episode contains a strong undertone and powerful message that many may be overlooking. Here’s a deep dive into The Last of Us episode seven and the more profound meaning regarding the Left Behind storyline and Ellie, making it arguably the most critical episode in the series yet.

**Warning: This article contains significant spoilers for The Last of Us episode 7**

Previously, episode six brought to life one of the most memorable scenes from the game regarding Ellie and Joel, shedding light on their budding father-daughter-like relationship and forcing Joel to confront the fact that Ellie reminds him of his lost daughter, Sarah.

Many words are exchanged within the argument that kicks off between them. Among them, one thing, in particular, is spoken by Joel towards Ellie that brings emotion and hurt bubbling to the surface for the teen. Just seven little words:

“You have no idea what loss is.”

This phrase infuriates Ellie, causing her to reveal to Joel that everyone she has ever cared for has either left her or died. Now, in the seventh episode of the series, we finally get to see a little more background regarding the most important person Ellie has lost in her life thus far – her best friend, and first lover, Riley.

From the first glimpse of Ellie back in her FEDRA school life, it becomes blatantly apparent that she’s dealing with some emotional turmoil. From the quick, violent reaction to being taunted by a bully to the empty bed on the other side of the room, Ellie is clearly missing someone close to her. And then, out of nowhere, this missing person stumbles through the window in a terrifyingly bad idea of a joke. This mystery individual turns out to be none other than Riley, who reveals that she has become a Firefly in her three-week absence.

From here, Ellie’s beloved bestie manages to charm her into setting out on a night of fun, and the two sneak out into the streets, climb abandoned buildings, and steal some alcohol from a corpse –just average rebellious apocalyptic teen activities. And to top it all off, Riley surprises her with a visit to the abandoned shopping mall.

Immediately, Ellie’s whole mood does a complete 180. Gone is her scowl and brooding anger, replaced with her jokester quips and a bright smile. Until this moment in the show, Ellie hasn’t enjoyed anyone else’s presence in such a way, making it obvious how dearly she holds Riley to her heart.

Ellie and Riley in HBO's The Last of Us
Image Source: HBO

Riley then showcases the ‘four wonders of the mall’ to Ellie. Together they ride the carousel, explore what’s left of the shopping center, and hit up the arcade to face off in Mortal Kombat, yelling and jumping around in all the fun and excitement.

Of course, with the fun comes some heartache when hidden truths are revealed. Despite the bittersweet intentions of the night, the experience really indicates Ellie’s trust in Riley, as she has proven herself to be a very guarded individual. For perhaps the first time in the show, we get to see Ellie fully let down those defensive walls and share moments of vulnerability.

However, this beautiful emotion is only fleeting, as a sole infected interrupts the intimacy of their newfound feelings with a cloud of terror.

The two fail to fend off the infected without the cost of being bitten, forcing their budding happiness with one another to be cut unfairly short. While this may have been easy to foresee and expected development in the episode, it’s not the bites that have a significant impact or moving sentiment, but Riley’s words and beliefs following the situation, which stay with Ellie forever, motivating her in her darkest moments.

Ellie and Riley in HBO's The Last of Us
Image Source: HBO

As the two tearfully sit together, dreading the end, Riley offers Ellie two options. The first is to take the easy way out before turning, which Riley quickly dismisses. The second option, however, is to keep going and fight for every last moment together until infection consumes them. When Ellie appears to have given up hope, she states, “It’s over” for them. Here’s where Riley offers a view that Ellie never forgets.

“It will be… but not yet. It ends this way for everyone sooner or later, right? Some of us just get there faster than others. But we don’t quit.”

Riley’s determination to never give up is perhaps the most critical thing Ellie has carried on in her memory, a sole fragment of her past that keeps her fighting against all odds. While Joel is adamant about Ellie leaving him behind, Ellie refuses to do so, remembering Riley’s determination to keep fighting, even when all hope is lost.

Though Riley’s death is a traumatic memory for Ellie, the result of what happened has impacted her not only in a hurtful way but has also given her the will to dig deep and fight for those she cares for. Riley’s philosophy causes Ellie to never give up and continue searching for a way to help him because she does not want to lose someone as she did with Riley.

Joel and Ellie in HBO's The Last of Us
Image Source: HBO

Ultimately, it was Riley’s will that led Ellie to save Joel’s life, meaning the impact that the flashback episode has not only on Ellie but on Joel and the overall story is crucial. While the episode itself sees no plot progression, the events do much more to move things forward than one may initially believe. After all, what if Ellie had given in and left Joel behind? Who knows what would have happened and how long it would have taken them to continue their journey? And that’s if they would have even been capable of continuing at all.

If Ellie had left Joel behind, he could reasonably have succumbed to his wound and died. So in a way, Riley helped to save Joel’s life from beyond the grave. I’m sure a part of Riley has been following Ellie every step of her journey, ensuring she keeps fighting on, a permanent reminder never to give up, even when there’s nothing left to gain. It’s an episode that explains why Ellie is the way she is, why she’s stubborn and protective over her relationship with Joel, and why she fights to stay with him even when he’s trying to push her away to Tommy.

Viewers might not realize it just yet, but The Last of Us isn’t just Joel’s story; it’s Ellie’s too. We know what Joel’s motivations are, and it only makes sense that the show takes time to tell us what drives Ellie as well.

While she may be gone, Riley will forever live on through Ellie’s hilariously bad and terribly punny joke book, and I hope to see many more occurrences of the latter using it to annoy Joel.


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Author
Grace Black
Grace is a writer and digital artist from New Zealand with a love for fiction and storytelling. Grace has been writing for Twinfinite for one year and in the games industry for two years. She's an enthusiast of everything spooky, an occasional anime enjoyer, and a die-hard Ghost-Type Pokemon fangirl. Her favorite video games include Overwatch 2, Life is Strange, The Last of Us, Baldur's Gate 3, and Pokemon - all of which she will never tire of.