The Last of Us S1E6 Recap: “Kin” — The Goodbye Girl

Tommy and Joel reunite in Wyoming
Photograph by Liane Hentscher/HBO

The following recap contains spoilers for The Last of Us S1E6, “Kin” (written by Craig Mazin and directed by Jasmila Žbanić)

The first five episodes of The Last of Us have earned almost universal acclaim for the portrayal of a dystopian, fallen world with equal parts heart, hope, despair, and mystery. Episode 3 and Episode 5 were immediately tossed onto the pile of “just where do these rank in the history of great television?” while all of the first five received critical and commercial praise. But despite all of that, perhaps The Last of Us’s biggest accomplishment has been its ability to succeed where so, so many others before it failed: the successful adaptation of a popular video game into a beloved work of art on screen. Episode 6, “Kin,” is just another masterclass on how Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann have managed to make that all work.

Following the tragic deaths of Henry and Sam at the end of Episode 5, the show needs to fill some of the in-between time before the next dramatic turn of events. This is a problem video game creators don’t have because gamers won’t stick around for long periods without the next challenge, adventure, or enemy to overcome. What this allows Mazin and Druckmann to do on the show is cook up some fantastic character development that lets the audience breathe between the horror of Henry and Sam and what is still to come.

Ellie and Joel camp out and talk about their futures
Photograph by Liane Hentscher/HBO

In the span of just a few minutes at the beginning of this hour, we are treated to Sam and Ellie’s meeting with Wyoming natives Marlon and Florence (who Ellie thinks are “like a thousand” years old) as they try to sort out their location. We get a conversation about Joel’s dream of owning a sheep farm when the world gets back to normal (“because they’re quiet and do what they’re told”) and Ellie’s dream of becoming an astronaut like her hero “Sally F*ckin’ Ride.” And we experience Ellie’s confusion about why you “dress” an animal you kill instead of “undress” them while she learns how to whistle at the same time.

None of these moments of character exposition are present in the game, but it allows those who are familiar with the gameplay as well as those who aren’t the chance to dive deep into Joel and Ellie’s minds and learn what makes them who they are; what keeps them going every day. Television viewers, especially with almost 10 hours of the show to fill, need these moments to ground the world we are watching.

But perhaps the most consequential bit of creative license Mazin and Druckmann take with this episode happens after Joel and Ellie finally do reach Tommy’s settlement and they have their emotional reunion. Joel—like in the game—confides in Tommy that Ellie is immune and he has to get her to a group of Fireflies that can begin studying what about her physiology allows her to not become infected. In the game, right after this admission the camp where Tommy and his wife Maria (played by Rutina Wesley) live falls under attack.

Joel tries to convince Tommy to take Ellie to the Fireflies
Photograph by Liane Hentscher/HBO

In “Kin,” however, Mazin and Druckmann take one throwaway line from Joel being worried and turn it into one of the most emotional monologues of the season thus far. While the rest of the town watches The Goodbye Girl (a movie about a young girl who is reluctantly forced to live with a strange man) instead of being attacked, Joel, fearful of growing old and ineffective, tries to convince Tommy he should take Ellie to the Fireflies. Tommy is younger, he is more familiar with the area, and he isn’t afraid. We know that Joel isn’t afraid of the infected or afraid of raiders or hunters. He is afraid of his inability to protect. As he briefly flashes back to a memory of his daughter, Sarah, we know that Joel is petrified of failing again. In their long journey together, Joel has had moments where he didn’t act but should have. He didn’t intervene when he could have. Joel is afraid of failing someone again.

Joel expressing these thoughts, combined with what we know about his loss at the beginning of the series, helps us to see his evolution from the man who threw the corpses of dead children into a fire pit to someone who will do anything to prevent something from happening to Ellie. Even if that means letting someone else more capable protect her on the next stage of the journey.

Once Tommy reluctantly agrees to take Ellie, just as he does in the game, the task of telling Ellie what will happen next falls on Joel. And it’s this moment in the show compared to how it happens in the game that further proves just how masterful Mazin and Druckmann are at handling the video game source material.

Compared to this scene in the game, the two showrunners didn’t change anything. Not one. Single. Thing.

Everything in this scene, from Ellie’s clothes to her thoughts on a girl’s 2003 diary she found to her reaction to Joel’s news about the new plan is beat-for-beat the same as the original scene in the game. This was a scene that many gameplayers were both looking forward to and dreading having to experience again. This is the scene where Ellie admits she knows about Sarah. This is the scene where they both realize how much they have lost. And this is the scene where Ellie tearfully admits that there is no world where she should be safer with someone else because of how terrified she would be without Joel. Joel is the only person in her life that hasn’t left her, and she is not about to let him quit now.

Joel and Ellie learn more about the settlement in Wyoming
Photograph by Liane Hentscher/HBO

This is a scene, in a lot of ways, that is the foundation that holds up who each of these people are in the game, and Mazin and Druckmann knew that deviating from something so essential would be a disservice to those who have been with these characters for 10 years, as well as those who have just recently discovered who they are.

By the time Joel and Ellie have this conversation, we are almost 50 minutes into a 58-minute episode. The majority of our time in Episode 6 is listening in on Joel and Ellie’s traveling conversations, Joel reuniting with his brother, and Joel and Ellie learning more about Tommy and Maria’s town and the “Communism” they have built. When Joel decides he will take Ellie to the University of Eastern Colorado to seek out the science branch of the Fireflies, we realize we’ve spent almost the whole episode in some form of exposition. There was some showing. There was some telling. But it all served the greater purpose of defining who these characters are and what their journey is for.

Joel walks over to tell Ellie he won't be going to Colorado
Photograph by Liane Hentscher/HBO

In the original 2013 game, Joel and Ellie are at the University of Eastern Colorado for about 50 full minutes. They encounter more human enemies, monkeys, and another bloater! In Episode 6, they are there for about seven minutes. Just enough time for the pair to learn the Fireflies have packed up and left for Salt Lake City, to explain to Ellie why young adults would leave home to go there to take classes (“it was mostly about the parties”), and have a quick skirmish with another group they run into. The fight leaves Joel seriously injured and leaves us as the audience with an ominous cliffhanger.

The timeline of the university, the cause of the injury, and the enemies they fought are all different in this episode than what we find in the gameplay. But juxtaposed against the amount of time and character development we got to see throughout the rest of the episode, it once again feels like the right call.

I should say, it feels like another right call. Just the next in a long line of decisions Mazin and Druckmann made that are quickly securing The Last of Us as the best video game adaptation ever created.

Written by Ryan Kirksey

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