The Last Of Us Episode 6 Review: The Harshness of Winter
Please be aware of spoilers in this The Last of Us Episode 6 review.
After five straight weeks of emotional battering, we are back for some more. The Last of Us episode 6, titled "Kin" takes Joel and Ellie further west, and into the deadly Winter months. Episode six covers quite a bit of ground, both geographically and emotionally. Let's dive in and discuss it.
Kin opens like many of the previous episodes, with a short aside. This intro is more directly related to the plot than others, as we begin with an elderly couple living in a cabin in the wilderness. The man arrives home from hunting to find Joel and Ellie in his home, brandishing their guns. His wife is sitting in a chair, seemingly at the order of Joel, but unharmed and mostly unafraid.
Joel asks the man to show them where they are on a map, and for directions to where they are headed. The man warns them off of going west, where a lot of people have gone and not come back. The whole scene has a lighthearted streak to it, a sense that although Joel and Ellie are using intimidation to get what they want from these elderly people, they probably would not hurt them.
That said, they do still point guns at them, and as they leave, Ellie steals one of the rabbits the old man had brought home. Joel tells her not to take it but doesn't protest further when she keeps it. Joel and Ellie might be the "heroes" of the story, and they might be mostly good people with good intentions, but this scene shows just how easily they can cross a line when it benefits them to do so.
Twenty Years Of Grief
Joel and Ellie continue their journey, determined to cross the River of Death that the elderly couple warned them about. At this point, the pair have been travelling together for months, and we see how their relationship has developed. They discuss things like the world before the outbreak, Joel's dream of being a singer, and Ellie's obsession with astronauts.
We also see that Joel is struggling. Both his mental and physical health are deteriorating, as you might expect of a man in his fifties and living in this world. Two decades of trauma that Joel has kept under a lid are starting to seep out. Travelling with a young girl the same age as the daughter he lost is clearly getting to Joel, and forcing him to face the emotions he has buried.
Despite his struggles, Joel does a lot of bonding with Ellie in this episode. A highlight of both the show and the game is the relationship between the two main characters, and I would argue it is better portrayed here. Without the need for action and gameplay, there is more room for Joel and Ellie to just talk.
As the pair make their way to a dam to cross the river, they are held up by people on horseback, who use a dog to check them for infection. They thankfully pass the test, but when the dog approaches Ellie, and Joel fears it will attack her, he freezes. It appears that Joel has been really struggling with panic attacks and now he is having one at the worst possible time.
A Future Home
Luckily, the people who find them are from Jackson. Here we deviate from the original story, and instead of everything happening in and around the dam, Maria takes Joel and Ellie to the town. Jackson features prominently in Part Two, but is only talked about and seen from a distance in the first game.
A lot of the scenes that come up next- Joel and Tommy arguing about their past, discussing who should take Ellie, or Joel finding Ellie in a teenage girl's room, work better in Jackson, rather than at a hydroelectric dam, and some house conveniently nearby to a hydroelectric dam. It all hits home a bit more when you can see, even if you haven't played The Last of Us Part Two, that there is a home and future for Joel and Ellie in Jackson.
Here we see Joel reach the end of his tether. His panic attacks are getting worse, and seeing a young woman who resembles his daughter Sarah in the street does not help. This time, when Joel speaks to Tommy, he doesn't just suggest that he brings Ellie to the Fireflies, he practically begs him to. Joel is broken at this point, and Pedro Pascal does an incredible job of portraying that.
Two Tales of Joel
This is a difference between game Joel and show Joel that I like. In the game, Joel has a stoicism that almost never breaks. The same emotional weight is on his shoulders, but he rarely lets it show. I don't think it is a fault of that rendition that Joel doesn't show more emotion, as much as it is a feature. Joel has a barrier that he almost never lets down, and that is how he is able to do the awful things that he does.
In the show, Joel's barrier is breaking down. He is slipping up and he knows it. He is still the same Joel, the same man who has done awful things, but those things are starting to catch up to him. This Joel may walk the same path, but the way he does it is deviating in an interesting way.
The episode ends after Joel and Ellie reconcile, and head off to the university in Colorado. They find the Firefly lab abandoned, save for a few roaming monkeys. Before they can make their next move, a group of bandits show up.
Joel and Ellie make their escape, but in a scuffle with one, Joel is stabbed. They managed to leave on their horse, but Joel passes out from his wound. The credits roll on a terrified Ellie, hunched over an unresponsive Joel, in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of winter.
A dramatic and frightening ending for sure, and a worrying omen of what is to come for fans familiar with the story. Regardless, this episode was wonderful. The focus was on Joel and Ellie, and cementing their relationship. That is and has always been the greatest strength of The Last of Us. The show has at times left them on the back burner, so it was reassuring to see them come back to the forefront.