“The Last of Us” Episode 102 & 103 Recap: Alone Together

Hello and welcome to this DUAL DOUBLE RECAP of The Last of Us. It’s DUAL because it’s written by the tag-team that brought you the review of the first episode, aka me (Valerie Anne) and Nic. And it’s DOUBLE because we missed last week so we’re covering episode 102: “Infected” and 103: “Long, Long Time.” In the future we’ll be hitting things one episode at a time but this one is a long one so BUCKLE UP and let’s dive into it. (And just as a warning, we do our best not to spoil things from the game, but there might be some light spoilers here and there because we have both played it and we can’t unknow what we know, unfortunately.)

Nic: Previously on The Last of Us, we met a man named Joel, his daughter Sarah, and his brother Tommy whose lives were turned upside down when a global pandemic that scientists warned about decades prior broke out and caused much of the population to become infected and begin biting each other, turning them into the walking dead (heh). Twenty years after Outbreak Day, and the death of his daughter, Joel and his partner Tess end up smuggling cargo in the form of a 14-year-old (seemingly immune) girl named Ellie, who needs to get to a camp run by a rebel group called the Fireflies.

Episode 102: “Infected”

THE BEFORETIMES

The Last of Us: The scientist says "There is no vaccine." And looks very concerned.

I don’t think I would have felt the impact of this part quite as deeply if I had seen this pre-pandemic.

Valerie: This week we open in Jakarta, September 24, 2003. Now, normally I would just put the year, but this date is actually important in a way I might not have realized if we weren’t covering two episodes at once.

Anyway, since they do know about a problem, but don’t know what that problem is, the government scoops up a scientist and asks her to inspect a body. The body has a bite mark in her leg that has cotton-looking fungus beneath it when the scientist cuts into it. And when the scientist looks in the body’s mouth, tendrils creep out and reach toward her, still alive despite its host having a gunshot wound to the head. The cordyceps being alive in the human body is wildly concerning to the scientist. The agent tells her it started in a flour and grain factory, though they’re not entirely sure who the very first infected was. They executed the workers they could find but they’re afraid it’s spreading. They’re hoping the scientist can help but she tells him gravely that there is no treatment, no cure, no vaccine. There’s nothing they can do. She suggests bombing the city to help quell the infection, and asks to be taken to her family, so they can be together. For the end.

Nic: I swear, these cold opens are scarier than anything I’ve seen in the game or on the show so far.

THE WALK/THE HOTEL

The Last of Us: Tess and Ellie stand and talk with a post-apocalyptic Boston in the background

“What part of the *everything about me* made you think I had a boyfriend, Tess?”

Nic: Back in 2023, Ellie slowly wakes up like any other 14 year old, with guns pointed in her face. Tess and Joel have been watching her all night just in case she starts to turn, but Ellie is just as lucid and snarky as ever; especially when she gloats about having a rare sandwich while Joel and Tess snack on their meager rations. Ellie explains that the Fireflies wanted to transport her because her immunity could be the key to finding a vaccine, but Joel’s seen this film before, and he didn’t like the ending; he thinks it’s a load of shite, is what I’m saying.

Valerie: This whole interaction was gold. Including “Will there be anything bad in there?” “Just you.” And “Fine I’ll just throw a sandwich at them.” Also the way Ellie mumbled to herself that she wasn’t supposed to tell anyone about her immunity but then she told the first people who asked. *chef’s kiss*

Nic: They head out to continue their journey, and Ellie is shocked by Boston’s eerie beauty, despite (or perhaps because of) massive craters left by the very type of bombing our scientist friend suggested during the cold open. Since they’ve got nothing but time on their trek to the capitol, Tess asks Ellie about how she got bit. There’s a mall in the QZ that is super duper off-limits, but one day, Ellie decided to check it out. She didn’t expect any infected to be there, but there was, and she got bit, and that was definitely that! And although Ellie’s mouth says that she was by herself, her eyeballs tell a very different (and heart wrenching) story.

There are so many moments where Bella really becomes Ellie, but their delivery of “um, no” when Tess asks if any boyfriends would be looking for her, is near the top of that list. “Nope! No boyfriends, Tess. Big ‘ole gaymo here!” Before Ellie can elaborate, they’re interrupted by sounds of infected in the distance.

Valerie: I love this walk-and-talk. And I love that Ellie is doing that thing where you’re nervous about something but don’t want to admit you’re nervous about something so instead you ask 900 questions about that thing. So cute.

Nic: The trio’s journey leads them through an abandoned hotel, where we learn that 1) Ellie doesn’t know how to swim and 2) that Piano Frog™ deserves a Grammy nomination for their work in this scene specifically. I love Ellie’s reaction to the hotel because it’s so delightfully childlike in its innocence. Of course she loves how gross it is and of course she would act out how she believes a hotel guest would treat an employee! But no sooner than she demands a suite, the appearance of a skeleton snaps her back to the reality of their situation.

They make their way upstairs (shout out to Tess for the creaky knee representation) and while Tess searches for a way through, Ellie attempts some small talk with Joel. He refuses to answer personal questions, but then Ellie gets serious and asks if it’s hard to kill infected knowing that they used to be people; sometimes it is.

Once they’re outside, we learn a bit more about how the cordyceps virus works. The tendrils form a sort of underground network that connects infected together; which means that you can step on a live tendril in one place, and a hoard of infected from a mile away could be on you in minutes.

THE MUSEUM/THE ROOF

The Last of Us: Joel and Tess sit on a roof while Ellie walks across a plank between buildings

This show is great for a lot of reasons but also it’s just so…PRETTY??

Valerie: When the trio gets to the museum, the door is covered in fungi, which does not look promising to Ellie. But Joel inspects it and they seem dry so they hope that it means everything is hunky dory.

Tess and Joel gear up and pull out flashlights and guns and Ellie pulls out her flashlight and points out that she is one piece of gear down, continuing what is now my favorite running joke of Ellie asking for a gun and being instantly denied. As they tiptoe through the museum, we get an up close and personal look about what this fungus can really look like when left to grow wild, covering the walls and floors, incorporating many bodies as hosts as it grows and spreads.

When they get upstairs, they encounter what we call Clickers, aka the split-head echolocators Ellie mentioned before. Ellie starts to get scared and Joel mouths to her that the Clickers can’t see, but they can hear. Fighting breaks out and it’s truly so stressful. It’s dark and those things make awful noises and the way they walk and move is so unsettling.

Nic: Gosh, Ellie was right about the blind infected with bat-like qualities…I sure hope she isn’t right about the overgrown infected that explode spores all over the place! But in all seriousness, everything about this scene was perfectly tense and game-like, right down to Joel’s panic over needing to reload his gun with a Clicker looming.

Valerie: What’s fun is I genuinely don’t even know if she’s right! It could be a nod to the game or a hint at what’s to come! There are just enough differences from the game to make me excited to know what’s coming and also terrified that I do not know.

Eventually Joel and Tess best the Clickers and Ellie realizes she got bitten on the same spot as last time, even though Joel’s eyes become saucers, she shrugs it off and says if one of them had to get bit, it’s probably best it was the immune one.

They head up to the roof and as Joel wraps Tess’s ankle, Ellie strolls across the board between the buildings like it’s a footbridge across a stream. Joel seems surprised she isn’t scared, but Ellie points out that Clickers are scary. Heights are just high. As soon as Ellie is out of earshot, Joel starts to express concern that maybe Ellie got lucky with the first bite, but maybe now that she’s bitten again…and Tess snaps at him to stop looking this gift girl in the mouth and just accept that maybe just this one they caught a break. Maybe this time they can actually have a little hope.

As Joel joins Ellie on the other roof he asks if the city is anything like she expected. She’s not sure what she expected really but in a line pulled right from the game she admits she, “Can’t deny that view.”

THE CAPITOL

The Last of Us: Ellie stands in front of a burning Capitol building

🎶”This is why…I don’t leave the house.”🎶

Nic: They finally approach the capitol, but something seems off because it’s more abandoned than they expected. Ellie finds a blood trail though, so they follow it inside and are greeted by what can only be described as a massacre. Joel surmises that one of them got bit, the sick and the well attacked each other, and they all lost.

While we can all agree that the situation is quite balls, Tess is running around more frantically than her companions, searching high and low for some kind of answer; something that will point them in the right direction. She eventually relents and notes that the very luck that Joel mentioned earlier was bound to run out; and that’s when Ellie realizes that Tess is infected. Joel asks to see the bite, but when Tess steps toward him, he instinctively steps back. It’s such a small movement, but so much is unsaid between the two of them in that moment.

Valerie: THAT HURT MY FEELINGS. Eh hem. Okay, carry on.

Nic: Tess pleads with Joel to take Ellie’s immunity seriously because in comparing their bites, Tess’s hour-old bite looks exponentially worse than Ellie’s three-week-old one. The one thing she asks of Joel is to take Ellie to Bill and Frank’s because they’ll know what to do with her. He just needs to keep Ellie alive.

Valerie: How dare they add another layer to Tess in the eleventh hour with that line about how she never asked Joel to feel the same way about her as she did about him. Such a simple line but so telling. And of course add a dash of Anna Torv and it’s just a knife twist.

Nic: Their emotional final moments together are interrupted by one of the infected waking, a harsh reminder of the importance of their mission. After Joel shoots him, the tendrils around the man begin to move, and that group of infected they tried to avoid starts to sprint their way (they’re unnervingly fast?!). They don’t have much time, so Tess starts to set up her trap; a blast intended to save her people while sacrificing herself. Joel and Tess share one last look before Joel grabs Ellie and gets the hell out of dodge.

The infected storm the building and one zeroes in on Tess, passing the living tendrils between them in one of the grossest sights I’ve ever seen in my life. The episode closes with the capitol building exploding as Joel and Ellie look on.

Next page: Episode 103, GAY LOVE AT THE END OF THE WORLD. 

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Valerie Anne

Just a TV-loving, Twitter-addicted nerd who loves reading, watching, and writing about stories. One part Kara Danvers, two parts Waverly Earp, a dash of Cosima and an extra helping of my own brand of weirdo.

Valerie has written 558 articles for us.

Nic

Nic is a Senior Product Manager at a major Publisher and lives in Astoria, NY. She is way too attached to queer fictional characters and maintains that buying books and reading books are two very different hobbies. When she's not consuming every form of fiction, you can find her dropping it low on the dance floor. You can find Nic on twitter and instagram.

Nic has written 78 articles for us.

14 Comments

  1. I was just privately screaming about this on our slack to Heather Hogan, so I will publicly scream about it instead: I LOVE THIS RECAP FORMAT AND THAT YOU BOTH ARE COVERING THIS SHOW FOR US!!!! This is so exciting, my brain feels like it will explode.

  2. I agree that a little nod towards Ellie understanding what kind of relationship Bill and Fank had would have been cool, the world wasn’t super accepting of gay people in 2003 and I doubt there had been a lot of social progress since, would have been interesting to see her reaction.

    My only disappointment for this episode was that we didn’t get Ellie finding a adult male gay magazine in the car like in the game, I was waiting for that.

    • Ditto with Ellie and the magazine. The interaction between her and Joel when she pulls it out and he’s like “OH NO SEX STUFF” and she deliberately tried to make him uncomfortable was comedy gold. But I think the tampon thing was a bit similar? Lol

  3. was i the only one left completely cold by the bill/frank plotline? i feel like i’m watching a different show from everybody else. maybe if the dialogue were less meh or the beats less predictable but… i mean, they’re literally enacting a tragic euthanasia story because one of them is disabled. that didn’t bother anybody else??? how do they go from “older means we’re still here :)” to a character deciding to end their life because he has to use a wheelchair and not see any problem with that????

    • I was wondering if I was the only one. I was pretty squicked by it for many reasons, that being one. I’m sick of watching things where people with conservative viewpoints are shown as heroic protagonists (I.e., the “don’t tread on me” flag). I thought the masc/femme rendering of the couple was boring. I was bothered by seeing yet another disabled person portrayed as better off dead, and choosing death over love. It’s hard to articulate but top to bottom, it did nothing for me/made me really uncomfortable (as a disabled person).

      I also read an article about how they completely changed that storyline from the game, which confirmed my feeling that it was melodramatic and cloying.

    • I get where you’re coming from as a person dealing with disability myself, but I think this reaction is a bit short sighted and unrealistic considering the apocalyptic setting.

      It’s clear that they have been managing Frank’s condition. They’ve somehow managed to find pills to help his symptoms, they found a wheelchair, Frank had turned to painting as a pastime, even if it’s ‘frivolous’ to prepper Bill who seems to have come around on the whole thing.

      So I don’t think this is a case of ‘disabled person better off dead’. They’ve adapted and Frank is still living, and frankly in an apocalyptic time where disabled people are at greater risk of getting infected if not torn apart by these zombies and left behind by able – bodied people who are primarily looking out for themselves and looking for every advantage and opportunity they can exploit, Frank would not have survived anywhere but in Bill’s compound with Bill taking care of him.

      Lastly, it seems that Frank might have ALS or some other degenerative neuromuscular disorder. There is no cure for this, and it isn’t clear how fast the progression has been. My father had a similar disorder, and though cancer was what ultimately took him, at the end he was unable to speak, let alone move. If he had lived longer, at some point he would no longer be able to breathe. I can definitely understand making plans to go out on your own terms before reaching a point where you don’t get to decide for yourself. And in the middle of an apocalypse where doctors and treatments are pretty much non existent? Death is coming for you in one way or another. I felt that Frank had a lot of agency here, and he had a partner who was willing to respect his wishes. He had continued living his life until he couldn’t do what he enjoyed anymore, struggling to paint.

      I’m sorry you found it cloying, but do you find all love /romance stories like that? Because I just saw it as a slice of life between a couple.

      In the game, it seems that the two had an argument and Frank left because of Bill’s inability to let go of his pepper mentality. And Frank also chooses his own death, but in this case he was infected. So, the overall outcome is the same.

    • He didn’t die because just because he became disabled, he choose to die because he had ALS or multiple sclerosis. He was chose to die before his disease progressed into what would have been a painful or drawn out death since there was no medical care available.

  4. Oooohhhh! My new favorite zombie apocalypse sub-topic:
    post-apocalyptic periods!

    So, would period blood attract zombies who find prey by smell? And what would period-havers do about it if it did? Would mentrual cups prevent it? What about emptying them?

    Would ppl use reusable pads, as you suggest? Because how would they clean them? Any water clean enough to rinse out a pad would be more valuable as drinking water. Maybe they would just carry a supply of rags and throw them out as they use them. But would zombies be attracted to the pile of used rags at a compound? Or track a group by following the trail of discarded used rags?

    And without running water, there are no more flush toilets, so would ppl who were born with vulvas all use pee devices so they could pee outside and standing up for faster, and therefore safer, urination?

    I know I would scope out all the camping stores to gear up and replace worn out gear.

    I always think of the scene in Walking Dead where the group of good guys is stalking through the woods in a clump with ppl facing out in all directions with weapons ready.

    I think that would be the reality a lot of the time. Ppl would just be nomadic and always ready and basically hiking/hunting at all times and in need of good socks and footwear.

    Sometimes I like to think about what technical clothing and gear I would wear and carry. Basically the same of backpacking but less weight and with weapons…

  5. I want to name that I have not played through either game, and understand this means I have a limited relationship with these characters as they extend beyond their current HBO iteration. I started watching HBO’s TLOU partially because I had heard excitement about this third ep, and partially bc autostraddle is covering it, and partially bc I am aware of its broader importance re queer narratives in video games.

    I so appreciate commenters A and Sola for already addressing the fraught implications of disability and suicide as they are presented in this episode, and issues such as “assisted suicide” this ep’s framing of disability / suicide calls forth.

    I personally feel varyingly disappointed and concerned by this episode. Again I want to say that I have no prior knowledge of Bill or Frank’s character, nor how their relationship or character arcs play out in the game. Still, it is important for me to mention/focus on the Bill/Frank arc as it is presented in this HBO episode, given its employment of disability/suicide in its particular way as I mention above. As previous commenters have mentioned, the Bill/Frank arc rapidly shifts from Frank naming “Older means we’re still here,” to Frank making an executive decision to take his own life.

    To me, this immediately brings to mind our real-world fraught reality medically-assisted dying, also known as medically-assisted suicide and many other names and euphemisms, as well as the violently abelist idea that it is better to or one should want to die/be dead than be disabled (notdeadyet . org/category/better-dead-than-disabled).

    Frank’s choice to die is presented to the audience abruptly, after scant shots of his use of a wheelchair and what seems to be deteriorating muscle/motor control. I do not personally feel that the audience was given enough information about the imminent quality of Frank’s mortality. We are not given information about Frank’s condition except the implication that it is worsening and that there is no cure. Frank’s choice to die, then, is made in an ambiguous context, and the audience is not given enough information to know if Frank is making his choice from a “rather die than be disabled” place.

    I wish there had at least been a line about Frank being “about to die” or some equivalent to remove the possibility that Frank could be making a choice with such ableist and deadly real-world equivalents. Leaving the direnes of Frank’s situation ambiguous seems careless at best, given the intensity of the “better dead than disabled” sentiment its ambiguity leaves it open to be associated with.

    For some context about ppl resisting the “better dead than disabled” sentiment and some existing counterarguments, Not Dead Yet is an organization I have linked to above opposing legalization of assisted suicide in its various forms. I am not part of the disabled community, so I am only aware of the complicated stances, information, and experiences surrounding death, suicide, disability, and ableism that converge in instances like that presented in this episode from an external perspective.

    An argument can be made that within the context of surviving a fungus zombie apocalypse for 20 years, this choice cannot be compared to our real-world equivalent. We are not, however, living in the world of TLOU. This episode has already made significant waves and will continue to draw an audience living in our current reality, in which ableism is interrelated with heterosexism, patriarchy, capitalism, etc. Whether the quality of Bill and Frank’s relationship as presented to us in this episode aside from this significant issue of ableism / “better dead” is worth celebrating or not, I wish autostraddle had caught and considered this episode’s messy/fraught portrayal of disability and its ableist implications (even if purely an accidental result of ambiguity, it still ought to be named and discussed imo).

  6. My straight 15 year old son cried in the Bill and Frank ep due to its depiction of a beautiful love. Broke this lesbo mother’s heart in all the right ways. It’s so fucking good to see queer love on mainstream tv.

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