The Last of Us Recap: Killer City

The Last of Us

Endure and Survive
Season 1 Episode 5
Editor’s Rating 4 stars

The Last of Us

Endure and Survive
Season 1 Episode 5
Editor’s Rating 4 stars
Photo: Liane Hentscher/HBO

If you’re reading this immediately after finishing “Endure and Survive,” the fifth episode of The Last Of Us’ first season, it’s okay to take a moment before reading further. That was a rough one. We got a glimpse of Sam (Keivonn Woodard) last week, but we really got to know him and his brother, Henry (Lamar Johnson), over the course of this episode, which follows them from the early days of the uprising that drove FEDRA out of Kansas City through their end in a motel somewhere outside of city limits (if it’s even possible to talk about Kansas City as a place with city limits after that infected attack).

Sam was an endearing kid who inspired an instant, sisterly devotion from Ellie. Well played by Johnson, Henry is a character with a complicated past who made some hard choices to save someone he loved. His life echoed elements of Joel’s own past and maybe his future. And though, for a moment, it looked as if Henry and Sam might join our central characters to form a companionable quartet, it wasn’t to be. Remember: The credits end with silhouettes of Joel and Ellie for a reason.

“Endure and Survive” begins and ends in two distinct varieties of chaos. It opens with scenes from the aftermath of the KC insurgency’s FEDRA toppling, which finds ecstatic citizens chanting “Freedom!” and “Fuck you, FEDRA!” as they fill the streets. Some streets, anyway — not far away, members of the insurgency beat the remaining FEDRA survivors and their collaborators, hanging some, dragging the bodies of others through the street. The loudspeaker declares that those who surrender will receive a fair trial, but all evidence points to the contrary. And, besides, Henry knows he’ll never be forgiven for what he’s done.

Nor, it turns out, will anyone else Kathleen deems a traitor to the insurgency cause. Melanie Lynskey’s terrifying in the role, particularly during the soft-spoken, mocking monologue she delivers to her prisoners in the condescending tone of a teacher speaking to misbehaving pupils. She knows she’s going to kill them all. (“When you’re done, burn the bodies. It’s faster,” she’ll later tell Perry, her second in command, played by Jeffrey Pierce.) But they don’t need to know that, at least until they give up Henry (and, in the process, Edelstein, the doctor whose ultimate fate we saw in last week’s episode).

Henry and Sam won’t be easy to find. It’s a big city, and a door-to-door hunt takes a lot of manpower. Edelstein has found a kind of safe house for them in an apartment building’s attic space. But they can’t last there for long with maybe 11 days of food. But, in the meantime, Henry can do his best to offer Sam — whose deafness surely makes the situation even scarier for him — reassurance and encourage the artistically inclined kid to pass the time by drawing.

Flash-forward to ten days later: their space is filled with decorations of Sam and Henry as superheroes, but their situation remains just as desperate as ever. More desperate, really: Edelstein hasn’t returned since leaving the previous day, and Kathleen’s search party seems to be narrowing in on their location. So when Henry witnesses Joel successfully fighting it out, he decides it’s time to move and adopt a new plan: sneak up on Joel and Ellie in their sleep and convince (or coerce) them into a partnership.

Henry hasn’t really thought through the middle part of the plan, resulting in a standoff made all the tenser by the “weird fucking tone” Joel uses to reply to Henry. “That’s just the way he sounds! He has an asshole voice,” Ellie frantically says in an attempt to neutralize the situation. And the situation does calm down. Henry reveals himself as “the most wanted man in Kansas City” (or “Killer City,” as he calls it later), making him a natural ally, and they share a meal. In Joel’s mind, it should end there, “You ate. We didn’t kill each other. Let’s call it a win-win and move on.” But Henry knows a way out, and that makes him valuable.

He’s so valuable, in fact, that Joel has to get over his reluctance to work with a collaborator. “I don’t work with rats,” he says, but Henry knows he has the leverage here, rat or not. He knows the private tunnels running beneath the city offer a way out and that, even though everyone else is terrified of them, they’re clear of the infected (or so he’s been told). Also Sam makes Ellie laugh, and that counts for something.

Down they head into tunnels Henry’s mostly sure will be safe. And, perhaps surprisingly, they are. It seemed as if the episode were setting up a terrifying tunnel fight, but instead they find what remains of an underground settlement’s day-care center. It’s as cheery as such a place can be (as long as they don’t think too hard about why it’s now abandoned), and it contains some issues of the comic book they both love, the one whose hero pledges to “endure and survive.”

As Ellie and Sam play, Joel softens toward Henry, understanding that he did whatever he did for his brother’s survival. Then Henry tells him exactly what he did: He betrayed the leader of the resistance, a man he greatly admired and would “follow anywhere.” Or almost anywhere. But when Sam got sick, he felt the only way to save his brother was to turn his hero over to FEDRA. This is why he’s the most hated man in Kansas City. That and the fact that the man he betrayed was Kathleen’s brother.

“I am the bad guy because I did a bad guy thing,” Henry tells Joel, and the line speaks directly to the complicated morality at the heart of the episode and the series. Yes, it was an awful act of betrayal, and any action that helped FEDRA meant furthering its oppression. But could Henry live with letting Sam die, even if it was for the greater good? That the episode then cuts to Kathleen in her childhood bedroom, a place where her brother pledged to protect her no matter what, further complicates the issue. Would Henry’s loss be greater than hers?

Another complication: Kathleen’s brother wanted her to forgive. She chose not to and, in choosing not to, accomplished what her brother could not. “Your brother was a great man. We all loved him,” Perry tells her. “But he didn’t change anything. You did.” That’s why he, and the others, support her and would seemingly follow her to the end of the earth. And, in the end, they sort of do.

Emerging from the tunnels, Joel, Ellie, Henry, and Sam stroll the streets of suburban KC with a sense of victory. Ellie even proposes a continued partnership and roasts Joel for his gruffness before he can object. Then a shot rings out, bringing their celebration to a close. It’s a lone, aged sniper, and though Joel’s able to get a drop on him, the encounter doesn’t end as he’d hoped. He asks the gunman to turn over his weapon and hang out for an hour so he doesn’t have to kill him. But Joel quickly realizes he does have to kill him since he’s not giving up. Then, fortunately for Joel’s friends, Joel takes the sniper’s place ahead of Kathleen’s onslaught.

Then, mayhem. First Kathleen’s forces arrive, driving one of the superpowered trucks equipped with a cow catcher to move cars out of the way that Joel told Ellie about in the last episode. Seeing the insurgents using FEDRA tools and FEDRA tactics drives home the fact that the liberators of Kansas City have become virtually indistinguishable from what they hated. They probably sleep at night thinking that, once they take care of the interlopers and informers, they can introduce a more humane, just government. Maybe they would have, as unlikely as that seems. We’ll never know for sure because the problem Kathleen attempted to ignore in her search for revenge becomes a problem she can’t ignore any longer when the infected rise up from their underground home and begin attacking everyone in sight.

But first Kathleen and Henry have a conversation. She understands he did what he did to save Sam, but, in her words, “Kids die, Henry. They die all the time. Do you think the whole world revolves around him? That he’s worth everything? This is what happens when you fuck with fate.” It’s not an argument that’s easy to dismiss or the words of a mindless villain. As vindictive and cruel as she is, Kathleen has a point. She just doesn’t have long to make it. “It ends the way it ends,” she says. And then all hell breaks loose in the form of a scary, chaotic fight scene from which Ellie, Sam, and Henry barely escape (but Kathleen does not).

Sam, in particular, would have died on the battlefield if not for Ellie. But, as their pursuers fall victim to the infected one by one, they’re able to escape to the safety of a motel on the outskirts of town. Joel proposes to Henry they continue their team-up while Sam and Ellie share a sweet moment reading comics that turns into a conversation via Sam’s Magic Slate. But their talk takes a turn when Ellie’s confession that she’s always scared, even if she doesn’t show it, gives away to a disturbing question from Sam: “If you turn into a monster, is it still you inside?” He’s been bitten, and though Ellie tries to heal him with her blood, it’s no use. By morning, he’s turned into one of the infected, and Ellie is saved from his attack only because Henry shoots his brother. Then, shocked by what he’s done — and perhaps recognizing that all he’d done to protect Sam has been for nought — Henry takes his own life.

It’s the most shocking moment in an episode that features a man having his head torn from his body (R.I.P. Perry). And it’s shocking for its suddenness and violence but also because everything that precedes it suggests Henry and Sam were going to make it or at least survive until the next episode. Instead, they end up in shallow graves a few feet from an overgrown parking lot, a spot marked only by one last Magic Slate message from Ellie: “I’m sorry.”

Infectious Bites

• This was an excellent episode but also a tough one to watch. Kids die all the time, sure, but they’re usually not sweet kids on television shows whom we’ve spent the past hour watching escape from one form of peril after another only to succumb to a bite from an infected rando. All that death and betrayal was for nothing. But it’s also hard to imagine Henry making any other choices. In his mind, he had to save his brother, even if it meant fucking with fate. He had no good choices, so he went with the one that meant keeping the person he loved most alive.

• In the end, it’s a narrow focus that undoes Kathleen, too. She has the drive and anger to push the insurgency over the top, but those skills and the skills needed to run a successful government aren’t the same. Rather than setting up a system to sustain the insurgency’s promises of freedom and equality, she uses her power to continue a vendetta, in the process perpetuating the totalitarianism of FEDRA under a different name. The Last of Us keeps offering different visions of ways of living in a postapocalyptic wasteland. Kansas City goes beyond failing the test. It’s essentially wiped out of existence by the episode’s end.

• Pierce played Tommy in the game version of The Last of Us.

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The Last of Us Recap: Killer City