The Last of Us: season 1, episode 6 – Kin

“Be careful who you put your faith in. The only people who can betray us, are the ones we trust.”


After last week’s sturm und drang of action and emotion, it’s a much quieter ep for The Last of Us this week. As the title suggests, it’s all about family – both blood and adoptive. We’ve seen Joel and Ellie’s relationship thawing into something like an ersatz father-daughter relationship throughout, and this ep brings that front and centre as both are forced to confront how they feel about each other. Without an Infected anywhere in sight, which might displease some of the game fans watching.

We’ve seen relationships that mirror Joel and Ellie’s from the outset, most notably the tragic Henry-Sam one last time. But Joel’s also been looking for his brother from the moment they left Boston, and finding him this week (unexpectedly early, for me) is forced to confront some unpalatable truths.

We probably learn more about Joel this week than in the previous five eps combined – and as we learn about him, so does Ellie. We already know that he’s done Bad Things in the past; we also know that he’s 56 years old and not in the best of health. I’m assuming his game counterpart didn’t suffer from aching knees and hearing loss; this week, we also discover that he’s becoming prone to panic attacks, the first of which grips him as they leave the little snowbound cabin.

Speaking as someone who suffers panic attacks, the symptoms were unmistakeable, and well-portrayed by Pedro Pascal. In real life, they tend to assail you for no discernible reason, but this is TV drama – so there had to be an underlying emotional cause.

Turns out it’s all that guilt backed in him, along with a healthy dose of worry for the girl he’s come to care about. Both Pascal and Bella Ramsey are on top form this week, exploring their characters in ways that weren’t possible outside the safe haven of Jackson, Wyoming. It’s a chance for both to show the vulnerable sides of these people; Pascal in particular is sensational in that scene with Gabriel Luna’s Tommy, as he discusses his past sins, eyes brimming with tears, before revealing his fears that he’ll fail Ellie in the same way as he failed his own daughter. It’s nicely foreshadowed by his spotting of a girl in the town square who looks remarkably similar.

Ellie too is learning about Joel – this is the first time she finds out that he had a teenage daughter of his own, long-deceased. Bella Ramsey nicely varies her performance this week – the usual teenage snark is ever-present, but it’s getting easier to tell when she’s using it as a defence mechanism to avoid painful emotions. We actually get to see genuine anguish, honestly expressed, in the scene where she and Joel argue about whether she’d be better off left in the safety of the town. It’s an emotional scene, well done by both actors.

The dilemma is understandable. Joel obviously still feels the death of his daughter keenly, as does Tommy. Gabriel Luna is less intense than Pedro Pascal, but works well as a foil for him. You can see Joel’s obvious confusion when Tommy refuses to go with him – he’d obviously expected his brother to follow him without question, as he’s done in the past. But with a family of his own to think about, it reinforces Joel’s loneliness, a loneliness he can’t quite bring himself to abandon for Ellie.

All this emotional unloading is helped by a strong guest cast. Aside from Luna, it’s great to see True Blood’s Rutina Wesley as Tommy’s wife Maria, while the elderly couple played by Elaine Miles and the redoubtable Graham Greene were a fun bit of comic relief after the darkness of last week’s conclusion.

Of course, Our Heroes’ ultimate decision to stay together comes as no surprise – the show could hardly carry on without that. But their renewed bond serves to add jeopardy to the end-of-ep cliffhanger, as Joel, stabbed by raiders and losing blood by the pint, falls from his horse, near to death. Ramsey carries the scene well, with genuine heartfelt emotion. Despite her earlier assertion that she’s not his daughter, by this point she effectively is – and her father is bleeding out at her feet.

It’s a strong conclusion to an emotional ep. I know some of the game fans have been less than pleased with the show’s tendency to skip well-loved action set pieces, and I gather this little interlude wasn’t even in the game, so their displeasure is likely to continue. But as an actual piece of TV drama, it’s very strong indeed, once again foregrounding the characters over the action. The actual plot does move on slightly, with the discovery that the Fireflies have moved on from that abandoned university to Salt Lake City; but the heart of this ep is in the two lead characters, and the confirmation of their father-daughter relationship. Cementing that bond is bound to lead to more trauma as we go on.

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