Joel and Ellie cross a "river of death" and stumble upon an unexpected oasis in the wilderness.
The Last of Us Pedro Pascal

It's been three months since Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) escaped from Kansas City, a trail of fire, fungus, and blood in their wake. Now, lost in the wintry sprawl of Wyoming, the pair are turning to a kindly, self-sufficient couple for help finding Joel's brother, Tommy (Gabriel Luna). 

Marlon (Graham Greene) and Florence (Elaine Miles) are more amused than scared when Joel and Ellie act tough. Unlike our heroes, they haven't spent the last 20 years around clickers and raiders; they've just been hunting, gathering, cooking, and living in their own remote cabin, far from civilization. Because of that, they're not locked in such a defensive crouch. They also, however, can't offer Joel and Ellie more than a bowl of soup and a warning: The major cities are crawling with the Infected and all they'll find west of the river is "death." 

"We never see who's out there," says Marlon, "but we see the bodies they leave behind. Some infected, some not." If Tommy's west of the river, he's gone. 

Skeptical, they decide to take their chances. Outside, as Ellie quietly steals one of the rabbits Marlon's trapped, Joel nearly collapses, hand over his heart. He blames the cold air, but Ellie suspects there's more to it. "If you're dead, I'm f---ed," she says. But they march on towards the "river of death." 

Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsay in season 1, episode 6 of 'The Last of Us'
Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsay in season 1, episode 6 of 'The Last of Us'
| Credit: HBO

They build a fire, sip whiskey, and discuss what life might look like for them after the Fireflies do whatever it is they hope to do with Ellie's magic blood. Joel might like to own a ranch and raise sheep someday. Ellie wants to go to the moon like her hero, Sally Ride. She tells Joel about her attempt to save Sam by rubbing blood into his wound, the failure of which has her wondering, maybe for the first time, if a vaccine is even possible. "Marlene's no fool," Joel says. "If she says she can do it, she can do it." 

Joel tells Ellie to sleep, saying he'll keep watch throughout the night. The next morning, he's mad when he realizes he dozed off and Ellie covered for him. He's not mad at her. She handled herself well. He's mad at himself because his cracks are starting to show. 

Seeing no sign of danger, be it human or Infected, the pair cross a bridge and discover a dam. Soon, a dozen masked men and women on horseback crest the hill they're climbing and hold them at gunpoint. An Infected-smelling dog is with them and its teeth are very sharp. It smells Joel, who's fine, then turns its snout to Ellie. Joel frets. Ellie, as we know, carries the virus, but will a dog be able to sense her magic blood? Apparently so! All Ellie has to worry about is the slobber from its kisses. 

When Joel says he's looking for his brother, a flash of recognition crosses one woman's eyes. She asks his name. He tells her. It's clear he's in the right place. 

The masked rangers take Joel and Ellie to a gated community that's reinforced with wood and steel, not to mention a whole host of armed guards. But there's no FEDRA beyond the gates, nor is there a bloodthirsty warlord like Kathleen. This community is clean. It's bustling. There's even a Christmas tree lighting up the thoroughfare. Nobody's burning bodies or dangling from nooses here. Instead, the men, women, and children are woodworking, gardening, or tending to the myriad shops that line the streets. Electricity, courtesy of the nearby dam, hums. Even the plumbing works. "This place actually f---ing works," Joel marvels. It's called Jackson. 

Joel sees Tommy, who looks healthy and trim. They hug, fiercely. It's been a long time. And when Tommy asks what Joel's doing there, it's comical for Joel to say he came here to save him. Who on Earth is safer than the people of Jackson? 

Gabriel Luna on 'The Last of Us'
Gabriel Luna in season 1, episode 6 of 'The Last of Us'
| Credit: Liane Hentscher/HBO

As Joel and Ellie stuff themselves in the cafeteria, Tommy reveals that Maria (Rutina Wesley), the woman who brought them in, is his wife. She's been there roughly seven years and has worked tirelessly to protect the community from those who would try to bring it down. Marlon and Florence's perception of the area as dangerous is exactly what she and the rest of the people of Jackson want. But, as Tommy puts it, a "bad reputation doesn't mean you're bad." 

Tommy elaborates on this when he and Joel split off for a drink. There are rules to staying in Jackson, he says, and one of them is ensuring the "wrong people" don't show up. Joel puts two and two together and realizes Tommy wasn't returning his messages because he was in danger, but because he was forbidden from communicating with Joel.

 "Am I the wrong people?" Joel asks. 

Well, yes and no. 

Joel and Tommy's violent past resurfaces as Tommy brings up their old methods of survival. Now that he's got a kid on the way — Maria is newly pregnant — he can't risk getting sucked back into that life. "I gotta be more careful," Tommy says. 

This throws a wrench in Joel's plans for Ellie. Tommy tells him that the Firefly facility they're looking for is south of them at a university in Colorado. It's about a week's ride, he says, and it's not an easy one. Joel wants Tommy along for that ride, but Tommy refuses. An angry Joel says he and Ellie will be out of their hair by morning. 

Ellie, meanwhile, gets a shower, a jacket, and a haircut courtesy of Maria. Maria also gives her a menstrual cup, which Ellie calls the "weirdest gift ever." She sees a chalkboard hanging over the fireplace at Maria's house with two names written on it: Kevin and Sarah. Maria, who was an assistant district attorney prior to the Infected, explains that Kevin was her son. Sarah, meanwhile, was Joel's daughter and Tommy's niece. This is new information for Ellie. 

Maria, as Tommy hinted, is not thrilled that Joel is back in Tommy's life. She's also concerned for Ellie. "Be careful who you put your faith in," she says. "The only people who can betray us are the ones we trust." 

Rutina Wesley on 'The Last of Us'
Rutina Wesley's Maria investigates the arrival of Joel and Ellie on 'The Last of Us'
| Credit: Liane Hentscher/HBO

As the rest of the town — including Maria and Ellie — gather in a lodge to watch an old movie (1977's The Goodbye Girl), Joel and Tommy reconnect. Joel spills his guts to Tommy, telling him the truth about his mission with Ellie and his fears of failure. His health troubles, he says, are born of fear. "My heart feels like it stops," he says. "I'm just gonna get her killed, I know it."

Joel's fears propel him to ask Tommy if he'll take Ellie to Colorado himself. "It's why you took off on me, right? To make up for the things we did? Well, here's your chance to bring your kid into a better world," Joel says. "It's the last thing I'll ever ask of you." Tommy, moved by Joel's brokenness, says he'll take her at dawn. 

When Joel meets up with Ellie, she knows about his conversation with Tommy. "If you're going to ditch me, ditch me," she says. When Joel says she'll be better off with Tommy, she goes on the offense: "What are you so afraid of? I'm not her, you know." Joel turns cold at the mention of his daughter and remains that way as Ellie says she'd just be more scared with Tommy. 

"Come dawn," he says, "we're going our separate ways." 

But Joel's there when Tommy and Ellie meet in the stables the next morning. He wants to give Ellie a choice, and she makes it quickly. "Let's go," she says, shoving her bag into his arms. 

Joel and Tommy say goodbye, with Tommy telling Joel that, despite the concerns Maria has about Joel, there's a place for him and Ellie in Jackson. It's something to look forward to, and when Joel and Ellie hit the road it's like a weight has been lifted from his shoulders. Maybe it was just getting the ghost of Sarah out in the open, or maybe it was opening his heart up to Tommy about his fears, or maybe it was the simple act of Ellie choosing him. Regardless, the conversation between him and Ellie flows smoother than it ever has, and he finally begins to teach her the basics of hunting and shooting. 

It takes them five days to make it to the University of Eastern Colorado, where the Fireflies are supposedly holed up, and the journey was easier than expected. As they navigate the campus, he tells her he wanted to be a singer when he was young. He even promises to sing for her someday. 

Unfortunately, no Fireflies are in sight. Aside from some abandoned medical equipment, the only thing they find on campus is a horde of lab monkeys. There's also a map that indicates the Fireflies may have gone to a different hospital in Salt Lake City. Moments later, they hear raiders outside. They try to escape but a raider catches them, attacking them with a baseball bat that shatters against a tree. Joel is able to overpower the raider and break his neck, but not before being stabbed with the jagged, broken handle of the bat. 

Ellie helps him get on their horse and they gallop away from the raiders. Joel's in bad shape, though, gore spilling from his wound as he falls from the horse, unconscious, in an abandoned rail yard. Ellie fruitlessly tries to shake him awake.

With painful memories of her failed attempt to save Sam hovering like a ghost in her mind, all she can do is cry. "I can't do this without you," she whimpers with only the emptiness of the rail yard and the cold sprawl beyond it to hear her.

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The Last of Us Pedro Pascal
The Last of Us (TV series)

Based on the award-winning video games, set in a world where humanity has been decimated by a fungal plague, HBO is bringing the story of survivors Joel and Ellie to life.

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