Welcome back to our tag team recap of The Last of Us! This week Valerie Anne and I (Nic) are covering the jam-packed episode six, titled “Kin”, in which our favorite smol teen lesbian succeeds yet again in making us feel every single feel that exists. We’ve got a lot to cover, so let’s get started!
Valerie: Previously on The Last of Us, Ellie and Joel had a hell of a time in Kansas City, meeting up with fugitives Henry and Sam and eventually facing a woman named Kathleen and her army of rebels. Their final face-off got interrupted by a horrible horde of infected, including a Bloater and a tiny gymnast child clicker. Henry and Sam were going to join Ellie and Joel but Sam got bitten and even though Ellie tried to heal him by pressing her blood into his bite, he turned. Neither Sam nor Henry survived the morning, so Ellie and Joel headed west, alone together again.
THREE MONTHS LATER
Nic: In what is an incredibly cruel start to the episode, we see the final moments from the previous one yet again. But then it’s three months later and a whole lot snowier when we see a man approaching a secluded cabin whilst carrying the spoils from a hunt. That man is not Joel, however, he’s an older gentleman who lives out here with his wife; his wife who’s been entertaining some company while he was out hunting. Joel pops out from the shadows and asks the man to put down his gun. He’s annoyed with the woman for making Joel soup and treating him like a guest, but she explains he didn’t hurt her and also he’s got a girl with him.
Valerie: Me as a hostage. “Want some soup? It’s cold out!”
Nic: Ellie takes her cue and comes downstairs, telling Joel to calm down because this couple is so old that they couldn’t possibly be a threat to them. All Joel wants to know is where exactly they are and if they’ve seen Tommy. They haven’t seen or heard of the younger Miller brother, and they explain that they’re not hiding here; they’ve been in this house since way before Outbreak Day and their seclusion happened to serve them well when everything went to shit. I won’t lie, I’m kind of obsessed with this couple.
When Joel asks them the best way to get west, the man tells him to go east because nothing good is out beyond the “River of Death.wp_postsAnd as they explain the rumors about what’s out there, and the bodies they’ve found, Joel actually looks scared. When he and Ellie leave the cabin, she steals one of their rabbits since Joel refuses to teach her how to hunt. And while he’s inclined to believe the couple on account of them having more experience out here than they do, Ellie’s the one who tries to convince Joel that they can handle themselves and it’ll all be fine. What’s not fine though, is Joel’s heart?! He gets a faraway look on his face and uses the fence to hold himself up as we hear echoes of Ellie asking if he’s okay. Because you know, if he dies, then ya girl is fucked.
RIVER OF DEATH
Valerie: Ellie and Joel take off, the former significantly more confident than the latter. They walk all day and eventually reach a river and decide to camp out in a cave. Joel says they can hunt more rabbits and Ellie excitedly asks if he’ll teach her but he shuts her down. As they sit around the fire before bed, Ellie asks for some booze “to warm up” and Joel somehow relents, probably because he knows what will happen: she takes a sip and immediately declares it gross.
They have a cute little fireside chat about what they would do if they could do anything, if the cure works and they can follow their bliss. Joel says he would have a farmhouse, maybe a sheep ranch. When he turns the question back to Ellie, she just looks up. She loves Sally Ride (which Joel guesses…which I’m choosing to believe is a sign he knows she’s gay.)
Nic: Oh I’m right there with you on that one. I also love watching these two open up to each other little by little. Every time one of them shares, they seem almost relieved when the other doesn’t immediately revolt.
Valerie: After talking about how cool Sally Ride is for a minute, Ellie gets quiet and asks if Joel thinks the cure will really work. She confesses to how she tried to heal Sam, but he reassures her, saying it’s more complicated than that and that he trusts Marlene’s instincts on this one. He tells her to go to bed and she asks if he wants her to take first or second watch but he says he’ll do both. Then he tells her to dream of sheep ranches on the moon, which is such a classic dad thing to say and it made my heart so full.
Nic: Joel’s gentle reaction about it being more complicated rather than immediately chastising her got me all misty-eyed!
Valerie: The next morning, Joel snaps awake, realizing he fell asleep while on watch. Ellie quips that he still mumbles in his sleep, and recites all the things she learned from him about keeping watch. He nods in quiet approval but then tells her to just wake him up next time, which she agrees to with her words if not her tone.
Once they’re packed up, they head out again, trudging through the snowy landscape. They walk across a bridge, seeing no death near this river, just a white abyss. Ellie tries to teach herself how to whistle while they walk, and then asks again to learn how to hunt. For a while I was brushing off these questions as just an eager kid, and if there’s one thing I know about kids is that they love to ask questions. But after watching this episode it occurred to me, she doesn’t want to learn how to keep watch or shoot or hunt just because it sounds fun to a 14 year old, though I’m sure it does. Her biggest fear is that she’ll end up alone. Right now she’s reliant on other people to survive. She can’t do this alone. But she wants to be able to. Just in case.
Eventually they get to a dam that I seem to remember working very hard to turn back on in the game, but it seems to be running smoothly now. When Ellie sees it she says, “Dam(n),” and I immediately thought of Nic.
Nic: The way I WHEEZED!
Valerie: Ellie confirms with Joel that dams made electricity, but he tells her not to ask him how, because he couldn’t explain it. (Same. Dams, windmills, solar panels. Might as well be sorcery.) She says he could just make something up and she would have believed him.
They approach a second river, and Ellie points out that maybe THIS is the River of Death they were warned about. And sure enough, as they look at the map to try to reorient themselves, a group of people on horses descend upon them. Joel immediately pulls Ellie close and drops his gun when he’s told to. He tries to explain their situation, whispering to Ellie that it’ll be okay, and encouraging her to do as the strangers ask.
They let a dog loose and say he’ll rip apart anyone he smells the infection on, and Ellie looks scared, not knowing if she’ll fail this test like she fails on FEDRA equipment. Joel watches as the dog growls and approaches Ellie, and Joel’s ears start to ring as another panic attack threatens to rise, but suddenly he realizes he’s not hearing Ellie screaming, just giggling as she pets the goodest boy.
Joel says that he’s looking for his brother, and a woman pulls her horse forward and asks his name. When he says his name is Joel, she looks like perhaps she anticipated that answer.
Nic: They all ride into a settlement built around a town; Jackson, Wyoming. And it’s like going back in time in a way. The streets are filled with people of all ages, there are shops, lights, construction vehicles; it’s almost like Outbreak Day never happened. Ellie’s never seen anything like it and the awe is all over her face. Almost immediately after entering town, Joel spots a familiar figure supervising some construction and he calls out for his brother. They both look like they’ve seen a ghost, but they jog toward each other and embrace, and it’s so sweet and shut up no I’m not crying. As they reunite, Ellie gets a strange look on her face. (ALSO CAN WE TALK ABOUT RUTINA WESLEY AS MARIA BECAUSE MY GODDESS!)
Valerie: A) Joel SMILING and LAUGHING? I was emotional. B) I squealed a little when I realized it was Rutina Wesley, then squealed even more when I realized she was Maria.
Nic: Tommy and Maria take Joel and Ellie to some combination of a restaurant/community center/bar where the latter two scarf down a meal in a way only two people who’ve spent months on the road can. In a very cute moment, Joel reminds Ellie to mind her manners, and then she immediately yells at a girl who’s staring at her with interest. (I have a head canon on who this girl could be, but I won’t drop it here because SPOILERS for Part II of the game. But if you’ve played both, you can probably guess.) Maria explains that the kids in Jackson are just curious because they’re not used to foul-mouthed gun-toting teens. Weird, I guess.
When Ellie goes off about their people almost killing them, Tommy defends Maria and the rest of the group, because they were just trying to keep the community safe from outsiders who attempt to try them. Those bodies that the couple warned them about? People who have tried them. They’re well aware of the rumors, but Tommy says that having a bad reputation doesn’t necessarily make them bad. Joel thanks Maria for her hospitality and asks if they can have some private family time, but Tommy reveals that actually, Joel has a sister-in-law! Ellie immediately congratulates them, but Joel hesitates before following suit.
Valerie: I thought it was very cute the way Ellie told Joel to “say congrats” in the same tone he used to tell her to mind her manners. Buddies!
Nic: As they tour the town, Maria gives some super informative exposition about how Jackson came to be what it is today in just 7 short years. They built around an existing gated community, and because everything is so much more spread out, it’s been pretty easy to stave off groups of infected that have wandered over from cities. One of the ways they’ve been able to keep their location a secret is by staying off the radio, and whewwww the look that Joel gives Tommy when he hears that information? You just know he’s gonna hear about it later. Thanks to power from the dam, everything in Jackson actually works.
Even their essentially communist system of government works! They have a democratically-elected council, all of their resources are shared, and everyone pitches in. They get to the stables and meet an adorable horse named Shimmer that I definitely won’t fall in love with. Nope. While Maria takes Ellie to one of the empty houses across the street, the brothers head to the bar (?!) to catch up.
Joel can barely believe that he’s posted up at a real bar with real ice and real whiskey. Tommy asks about Tess, and Joel says that she’s fine, but he can’t look his brother in the eye as he lies to him. He uses Tess’ assumption about Ellie being some Firefly big wig’s to explain why he’s traveling with a random teenager, and when Tommy explains where the Fireflies were last stationed, Joel automatically assumes that his brother is going to join them on their journey. When Tommy declines, Joel immediately blames Maria, but Tommy isn’t having it; the crew in Jackson saved him when he left the Fireflies and if he has to follow their rules in order to make a life for himself, then so be it.
Joel takes this rejection hella personally and reminds Tommy that all of those awful things they did? He did them so they could survive. But what Tommy’s learned is that while that’s true, there were ways other than killing; they just weren’t good at any of them. And besides, Tommy’s about to be a father so he’s got to be more careful. It’s sweet, the way Tommy talks about being a good dad despite being scared to death. And in that moment, Joel is reminded of Sarah and the fact that he didn’t get to continue being a good dad to her. It stifles his excitement for his brother, and Tommy’s hurt causes him to tell Joel that everything doesn’t have to stop just because it did for him. It’s a low blow, and Joel leaves after saying he and Ellie will be gone in the morning. He doesn’t get very far before he appears to have another anxiety attack.
Valerie: I’m sure seeing someone with hair like Sarah’s in the crowd did nothing to help the death grip around his heart.
Next Page: SURPRISE! RUTINA WESLEY!