One of the great joys in watching The Last of Us is seeing how Joel and Ellie (Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey), as individuals and as a duo, are given new dimensions by interacting with the show’s sprawling character web. Back in Episode 3, Bill protected Frank in the same way Joel strives to protect his family (Sarah, Tess, Tommy) and, now, Ellie. In this week’s episode (“Endure and Survive”), we encounter new dynamics that both reflect and diverge from Joel and Ellie: brothers Henry (Lamar Johnson, a Toronto native recently seen in Clement Virgo’s Canadian drama Brother) and Sam (Keivonn Montreal Woodard), as well as Kathleen (Melanie Lynskey) and her own brother, who was only briefly mentioned in the most previous episode. Both of these relationships are unique from Joel and Ellie in that they are siblings, which makes it fascinating to compare and contrast them.
When we first meet Henry and Sam, they have Joel and Ellie at gunpoint. Henry went insofar as to prepare Sam with a gun of his own, a stark contrast to Joel’s previous adamance that Ellie not have one. As their backstory unfolds in an extended flashback, many other differences become very apparent, both in terms of the physical––Sam is deaf, so he and Henry largely communicate through sign language––and the emotional––Henry makes great efforts to comfort Sam, allowing his imagination to flourish despite their surroundings, whereas Joel doesn’t have that same skillset.
However, when you really break it down, both relationships share the same essential quality: protection over anything else. While the four take refuge in an underground bunker, Henry explains more of his backstory in a scene that, frankly, feels a bit too nakedly expository in comparison to the episode’s extended flashback. Henry reveals that he helped FEDRA locate Kathleen’s brother, the resistance leader, in order to secure medicine for Sam’s leukemia, resulting in him being beaten to death. “I am the bad guy because I did a bad guy thing,” he says. Joel, however, is not one to judge. He has also done some pretty “bad guy things” to protect the people he loves most in this world. It’s another thematically excellent moment in The Last of Us’ dissection of why and how we make difficult choices and the depravity that can come from the traumatic repercussions.
Speaking of depravity, Kathleen’s character comes into major focus during this episode. Lynskey’s balancing act of a performance already gives the character a unique edge, but the backstory involving her brother––another nakedly expository moment that fares better thanks to Lynskey’s monologuing skills––paints her lack of remorse as even more unsettling. Like Joel, Kathleen is someone who failed to protect her family and has become hardened because of it. However, Joel’s selfishness mostly translates as apathy; Kathleen’s translates as action. Earlier in the episode, Kathleen has a group of fellow FEDRA whistleblowers killed, even after one of them fesses up to Henry’s location. She will leave no stone unturned if it means “justice” has been served. Her self-loathing cannot even be quelled by her own brother’s call for forgiveness; give Joel some credit, at least he took Tess’ final words to heart.
All of this development comes to a head in the episode’s shocking climax. Right before Chekov’s Clicker fires on all cylinders, Kathleen confronts Henry in the final stretch of the group’s escape. Henry asks for Sam and Ellie to be left alive, but Kathleen cannot turn a blind eye. “Kids die all the time,” she says without a shred of irony; Kathleen, who has never had to care for a young child, clearly has no emotional bandwidth for that kind of empathy, like Joel and Henry. “You think that he’s worth all this?” It’s written so plainly, yet is immensely poetic. Writer Craig Mazin gets to the heart of the nuances between all of these characters so succinctly, yet leaves us with plenty to ponder in this simplicity.
However, that pondering is cut short by a swarm of infected who violently rise from underground. Simply put, they wreak complete and utter havoc in one of the show’s most intense sequences yet. Jeremy Webb, whose directorial voice had thus far been middling between this and last week’s episode, steps up to the plate for this setpiece: incredible blocking, sharp crosscutting, stunning visual effects, and satisfyingly destructive fates for Perry and Kathleen. What makes this sequence especially tragic is the realization that the Kansas City uprising had asserted its power barely two weeks prior. Just like how FEDRA blindly underestimated an insurgency, so too did Kathleen with a wave of ravenous infected. The punishment fits the crime, after all.
In the episode’s final moments, Ellie and Sam continue to bond over their shared love of Savage Starlight, a fictional comic book series that provides the episode’s titular slogan. Like how Joel is reflected in Henry, so too Sam in Ellie, the younger tagalong who has an air of independence and wisdom beyond their years. Their chemistry sprinkled throughout the episode is one its highlights, which makes what happens next all the more shattering. In the earlier chaos, Sam was bitten by a clicker, which prompts Ellie to mix her blood with his to try and make him immune to the effects. However, her methods do not work, and Sam becomes rabid the following morning. Before he can do any damage to Ellie, Henry shoots him and, shocked by what he has just done, shoots himself. Much like how Frank was Bill’s purpose, Sam was Henry’s. Looks like Mazin went to the George Lucas school of screenwriting.
To call this moment heartbreaking would be sugarcoating it (with extra sugar), but it does serve as a core character moment for Ellie, who had only just managed to overcome her survivor’s guilt following Tess’ death. Henry and Sam are now two more bodies to add onto the list, two people who she had come to care for and protect herself. It’s another staggering reminder of the insurmountable loss that permeates the entirety of The Last of Us, a reality we won’t soon forget.
New episodes of The Last of Us air Sunday nights at 9 PM ET on Crave, HBO, and HBOMax.