Of course episode 7 is when we get the Left Behind storyline. Last week’s episode, ‘Kin’, ended on a cliffhanger as Joel was mortally wounded. Is he dead? Where are they? Who knows and there won’t be any answers this week either.
Left Behind isn’t strictly a part of the main game narrative. It’s a DLC (which stands for downloadable content), an expansion pack on the main game. It explores Ellie’s past and her friendship with a girl named Riley.
We first observe Ellie (Bella Ramsay) at a military school in Boston weeks before she has met Joel and Tess. Ellie is just as we know her now; frustrated, angry and causing trouble. Her friend Riley (Storm Reid) sneaks into her dorm room at night and lures Ellie out for the night.
We learn that Riley ran away to join the Fireflies and she’s about to depart Boston for good, but wants to spend one last night with her best friend. We’re reminded that these are just two young kids playing adults as they try whiskey and grimace at how it burns the throat on the way down. It feels relatable; we’ve all done it, but we just didn’t have hordes of infected waiting to rip our faces off.
Riley takes Ellie to an abandoned mall. There, the girls waste the night away. They run around, dance, laugh, perhaps even forget for a minute or two that the world has become a major shitstorm and so do we. This is about as normal as it gets in The Last of Us, but even that fabricated, brief sense of normalcy is interrupted by dead bodies scattered around the mall.
The mall is brought to life vividly. The challenge with apocalyptic set design is making a place feel like it was once alive, bustling with people. Everything is covered in dust, everything is still but the details really bring the iconic location alive in a dead kind of way.
The episode also explores Ellie’s sexuality. The girls bicker and argue about Riley leaving, but it’s revealed that Ellie has feelings for Riley, who ultimately reciprocates. Ellie begs for Riley to stay and she finally changes her mind. The future looks bright; it might be the end of the world, but at least they’ve got each other. The two kiss in a moment of such perfect combination of romance and innocence.
Innocence isn’t a word that often comes up when talking about The Last of Us, simply because any speck of it is usually annihilated pretty quickly. Ellie and Riley’s shenanigans have awakened a dormant infected who makes their way to them. You already know this won’t end well.
Both get bitten. We already know Ellie is immune but at this point, Ellie doesn’t know it yet. Ramsay is in every scene of this episode and goes through an incredible emotional rollercoaster but she sells every minute of it. Equally impressive is Reid, who is currently also starring in Missing.
Ellie is ultimately forced to shoot Riley, who has succumbed to the cordyceps and turned into a monster. While Left Behind was never a necessary part of the game, but a thoughtful, insightful exploration of Ellie’s background, it feels much more crucial in the TV show.
Ellie has lost everyone around her; she needs to save Joel, who is revealed to be hanging on to dear life as Ellie patches him up in the present day. So far, we’ve really only seen Joel’s need to keep Ellie safe to somehow make up for the fact he was unable to save Sarah, but showing how much Ellie needs Joel brings some much-needed nuance into the show.
It’s also wonderful to see Ellie’s sexuality make it into the show. It’s a huge part of The Last of Us Part II and much like episode 3, ‘Left Behind’ is such an important part of the very DNA of the show. It’s not representation for representation’s sake but a crucial part of who Ellie is and where she fits in in this world.
Next week, Ellie and the still-recovering Joel encounter a terrifying villain in the penultimate episode of The Last of Us.