[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for The Last of Us, Season 1 Episode 6, “Kin.”]
One of the best aspects of The Last of Us is how grounded the series is in the realities of life for its characters. After last week’s installment, no one could ever accuse this show of skimping on fungal-zombie-related action, but the specifics of daily survival are given equal weight, especially as the characters of Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) grow closer on their journey to potentially find a cure for the plague that broke the world.
So, in celebration of this approach, let’s break down some of the best details from the newest episode, which picks up after the tragic conclusion of Joel and Ellie’s time in Kansas City. A lot of ground is covered literally, as the pair arrive in Wyoming before then traveling down to Colorado, but there’s also some significant storytelling as well, as Joel and Ellie discover a new safe haven before continuing on their quest. As we see so often in this show, the little things add up to something big.
01. Ellie Really Notices Joel’s Age
Over the past few episodes, Joel has been caught slipping twice: First by the ambush in Kansas City and then when Henry and Sam got the drop on them. In “Kin,” Ellie picks up even more signs that Joel is losing his edge.
Early in the episode, Ellie worries when Joel has heart palpitations, and while it appears she isn’t as concerned when he falls asleep while on second watch, there appears to be a tacit agreement she might have to pick up more slack. This all comes to a head when Joel gets stabbed and falls off the horse while they’re getting away from the attackers.
02. A Town With Christmas and Bacon
The Last of Us hasn’t pulled its punches when it comes to the brutality of life after Cordyceps — and there’s only more darkness to come, most likely. But the relief of Joel and Ellie not just finding Tommy (Gabriel Luna), but discovering a beacon of civilization after weeks of scrambling, cannot be understated, and director Jasmila Žbanić does a stellar job of capturing the specifics of life in Jackson, with its working lights, a movie theater, and ice for your drinks.
03. The Diva Cup
We’ve previously seen Ellie contend with the struggle that is finding feminine hygiene projects during the post-apocalypse — in Episode 3, she spent a decent portion of screen time hunting down tampons. So the gift from Maria (Rutina Wesley) here is one that she may not immediately appreciate, but while there are plenty of present-day women who don’t love this particular method for handling that time of the month, there’s no doubt that the reusable nature of the device makes it a godsend in a time when CVS is not open 24 hours.
One historical note: Variations of the menstrual cup have been in use for a long time, going back to the 18th century, but the Diva Cup website proudly proclaims that the company “brought the DivaCup to the mass market in 2003.” So yes, technically the company was in business before the world fell apart in the Last of Us timeline, but was it mass-producing enough devices by that point? Eh, we don’t need to nitpick this particular detail.
04. Movie Night
Screening at the local theater is the Oscar-nominated 1977 romantic comedy The Goodbye Girl, starring Richard Dreyfus, Marsha Mason, and Quinn Cummings — Dreyfus won the award for Best Actor for his role as a struggling actor who moves in with a single mom and her precocious daughter. Beyond the theme of found families, it’s hard to be sure why this particular film was picked for inclusion in the episode; it probably doesn’t hurt that WarnerMedia (which of course also owns HBO) owns the rights, but the film isn’t currently streaming on HBO Max. Maybe it’ll get added to the TCM hub come March.
05. Target Practice
Nearly going their separate ways actually strengthened Joel and Ellie’s bond, as demonstrated by their first proper shooting lessons. After Ellie blames the rifle itself for not being able to hit the target, Joel takes over and explains how to line up the perfect shot. “Squeeze the trigger like you love it,” he says, “Gentle, steady, nice, and slow.”
Following his own advice, Joel hits the target dead center and leaves a clean hole in the word “asshole,” likely written there by everyone’s favorite potty mouth. In the perfect response, Ellie calls him a “dick.”
06. The Rules of Football
During their long journey to the university, Joel answers Ellie’s questions about what life was like before Outbreak Day. At some point, they arrive at good ol’ American football, and she’s easily able to grasp the concept of teams on offense getting four downs to move 10 yards.
Ellie smartly points out that the game is “just moving in one direction,” to which Joel replies, “Basically, but violent.” CTE wasn’t even on the radar when Outbreak Day took place in 2003, so it makes sense he wouldn’t be concerned about the player injuries.
07. “Everybody Loved Contractors”
In explaining the ways of the before times to Ellie, Joel might have been stretching the truth a little bit, when it comes to the public perception of his prior profession. But hey, the world ended, so if you want to keep telling yourself how cool and beloved contractors were, Joel, no one’s going to stop you.
08. From Sheep Farming to Singer
As Joel and Ellie grow closer over the course of this episode, watching them bond in particular over what life might be like in better times is particularly touching. Initially, Joel sticks to his gruff dream of sheep farming — practical and quiet. But after Joel realizes he’s gotten too close to Ellie to let her go off with Tommy, it opens up a new level of connection between them, and as they make their way to the potential Firefly headquarters, we get to see him actually be honest with her about his actual aspirations.
Whether or not Joel’s got the talent to make it as a singer is a whole other question (though, the lack of competition probably would work to his advantage), but it’s a sweet moment that makes the end of the episode all the more tough. Nothing cuts closer to the bone than the promise of hope. (Except, of course, for an actual knife to the gut.)
09. End Credits Song
The Last of Us soundtrack has a soft spot for acoustic covers of pop songs, and this week’s end credits is no exception: It’s Depeche Mode’s “Never Let Me Down Again,” performed by Jessica Mazin (series co-creator Craig Mazin‘s daughter, as HBO confirmed to Consequence).
Of course, “Never Let Me Down Again” was previously featured in Episode 1 of the series. At that point, it was being broadcast as a warning from Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett) — foreshadowing Joel and Ellie’s eventual discovery that both men had passed away. Its reprise here has a new significance, given Joel’s injury and the danger he and Ellie are in at the end of Episode 6.
New episodes of The Last of Us air Sundays on HBO.