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Remember those zombies with a calm gait from Episode 2 of “The Last of Us” … yeah, they’ve sped up since.
The last two episodes of the hit HBO series garnered mixed reviews, with a litany of critiques addressing the slowed-down pace after a thrilling two-episode debut.
Well, congratulations to those who stuck around. Episode 5 is easily the best of Season 1 so far.
If you missed the perfect blend of character moments, tension and action from the explosive debut of the show, Ep. 5 delivered on all angles.
Episode 5: ‘Endure and Survive’
Since this episode is the closest thing to a 10 this season, we’ll get the negatives out of the way.
- Kathleen’s annoying arc finally ends after two episodes, taking some value out of all the set-up dedicated to her character from Episode 4.
- The Bloater looks heavy on the CGI, considering the manned suit cost HBO roughly $500,000.
At the end of Episode 4, audiences were introduced to Sam and Henry: two runaways from Kathleen’s bloodthirsty group with a massive bounty on their heads.
We were first informed of their significance to Kathleen, the passive-aggressive antagonist we all grew to hate, through slight mentions that one of them was responsible for her brother’s death.
At the start of Episode 5, we see the gruesome punishment that comes when Kathleen’s raiders capture a treasonous member / FEDRA associate.
From public hangings to getting dragged alive across streets, Episode 5 sets an early urgency with making sure Kathleen and her goons don’t find these new characters (Sam and Henry) to punish them for their sins.
Fortunately for the two brothers, they come across Joel and Ellie, whom they ask for protection to escape the dangers of Kansas City.
New Characters Add New Highs For The Series
What this episode does that Episodes 3 and 4 might have lacked with audiences is giving the new characters an emotional impact with regard to their survival.
Throughout Episode 5, you want them to live and stay alive.
New characters’ introductions worked for most of us in Episode 3 when Bill and Frank were introduced.
But in Episode 4, Kathleen and her renegade group’s intro felt like a misstep as the show tried to present them as a formidable group, comparable to the undead or FEDRA’s suggested hazards.
Sam, the 13-year-old boy who happens to be deaf, and his old brother / guardian Henry were easy to latch onto because they represented a different iteration of Joel and Ellie’s dynamic.
Henry is willing to go through hell and back to protect Sam. Meanwhile, the young and naive Sam is still at an age where superheroes are real, and every step in this post-apocalyptic geography doesn’t appear to him like it could be his last.
For many, it was the first time that we rooted for characters, outside of the primary duo, to survive their terrible circumstances.
The Walking Dread
The episode starts by jumping back in time to when the Kansas City raiders first ambushed Joel and Ellie.
Henry looks on from a hidden vantage point as Joel takes out the raiders. Then he realizes that his best odds of surviving are with Joel and Ellie, which still aren’t high in this world.
Kathleen fills more airtime making cheeky threats at strangers and apostates without someone in her group calling her out for being unreasonably petty, and the two survivor groups plot a way to get out of KC and en route to Wyoming to meet up with Joel’s brother Tommy.
Ellie and Sam spend most of the episode behaving like children, which is refreshing considering how unforgiving TLOU’s world has been to the human survivors, regardless of their age.
Rather than a hardened Ellie, we watch her pull back and geek out over comic books while Sam shares his Crayola drawings in genuinely adorable moments.
Meanwhile, Joel and Henry strategize their escape plan and discuss the difficult decisions they’ve had to make to survive as long as they have.
Incredible Third Act Rips Heads And Hearts Out
It all culminates in a nighttime ambush scene that is hands-down the best action we’ve seen all season.
Joel, Ellie, Sam and Henry are pinned down by a far-away sniper in a ramshackle home. As Henry and the kids stay back, Joel maneuvers his way to the house and takes out the cross-eyed shot.
A nearby radio warns Joel of an incoming attack from Kathleen and her small army. Moments later, Henry, Ellie and Sam are forced to give themselves up to the vengeful leader as they swarm in with guns and armored trucks.
All hope appears lost until a nearby sinkhole set off by an explosion releases a World War Z-like swell of Runners, Stalkers, Clickers and the big bad Bloater.
Despite the heavy CG, the Bloater’s attacks are jaw-droopingly brutal. A simple swipe sends one of Kathleen’s goons face-first into the ground to a bloody demise, and her main partner, Perry, gets his head torn off like a Lego as Kathleen runs after the kids and Henry.
She finally gets killed off after a child Clicker pounces on her from behind in a poetic death, moments after Kathleen states that “kids just die” in this world.
The army of the undead allows the main survivors to escape and take shelter in a motel overnight.
In their room, Sam and Ellie get into philosophies by discussing the remaining humanity inside an undead host before the young man reveals a bite on his leg. It’s a solid “holy sh*t” moment for audiences as they brace for the season’s darkest moment thus far.
Sam And Henry Leave With A Memorable Exit
Ellie wakes up to find Sam sitting on the edge of his bed, only to turn around and reveal that he has “turned.”
Joel and Henry discover Ellie trying to fend off a ravenous Sam. Henry then shoots Sam in the head before killing himself out of guilt for having killed the person he swore to protect.
It was a gutting moment considering how well the show set up their relationship and made you feel for their survival. And as we’ve said all along, don’t get hopeful in this dour world bent on killing every person with good intentions.
Follow Alejandro Avila on Twitter: @AlejandroAveela
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