The Last of Us episode 2 recap: Gorgeously grotesque

Pedro Pascal as Joel in The Last of Us episode 2 on HBO
(Image credit: Liane Hentscher/HBO)

Welp. Okay, folks, that was The Last of Us episode 2. A much shorter affair than the last outing (read our The Last of Us episode 1 recap to catch up if you haven't), but still able to hit our heroes hard. 

This is one of the four episodes we saw in advance of writing our The Last of Us review, and it's ... well, this is the spoiler-free section of the article. So we'll just say that we were as amazed as we were impressed.

But don't scroll down before you watch The Last of Us episode 2 online (trust us, this HBO Max show is to be seen first, and not read beforehand). That's what happens when you've got one of the best HBO shows in a while.

The below contains a detailed recap of The Last of Us episode 2, so there are spoilers. Below this recap, you'll also find notes based on The Last of Us video games that the episode refers to.

An image indicating spoilers are ahead.

The Last of Us episode 2 recap: Starting where it all began

Remember when Joel, Tommy and Sarah heard about a disturbance in Jakarta (which only Sarah knew anything about) on the radio? Well, no string will go untied for now, as we cut back to the first infecteds in 2003 Jakarta. After the army finds Ibu Ratna (Christine Hakim), a professor of mycology (making her an expert in fungi) enjoying lunch, she's rushed away to identify ophiocordyceps samples she does not believe are from a human. 

Christine Hakim as a scientist in The Last of Us episode 2 on HBO

(Image credit: Liane Hentscher/HBO)

Sadly, she's wrong, as she's soon inspecting an infected (dead) human. After being shocked by the fungal material found when cutting the subject's leg, she witnesses tendrils emerge from its mouth. In an adjacent room, a member of the army tells her that this is one of many possibly infected, and the others are missing.

He then says she was brought in to help find a vaccine or medicine to stop it. To which she replies "There is no medicine, there is no vaccine." Asked what to do next? She takes a somber moment before saying "Bomb. Start bombing. Bomb this city, and everyone in it," before crying and asking to be driven home to spend these last moments with her family.

The Last of Us episode 2 recap: Back in 2023

Thankfully, we get a little moment of humor to begin this bit in the current timeline. Ellie (Bella Ramsey) wakes to see Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Tess (Anna Torv) watching her, with suspicion (and a loaded gun). 

As she looks at them as if to say "really?" — before saying "do I look like I'm infected?" before sassing them some more after she shows her still-not-spreading wound. Joel and Tess grill her about how she's gotten here, and she's eventually allowed to get a bio break.

Bella Ramsey as Ellie, kneeling, in The Last of Us episode 2 on HBO

(Image credit: Liane Hentscher/HBO)

After Joel and Tess debate what to do — he wants to ditch Ellie, she wants to see it out — we learn that Ellie's got food in her bag. Real chicken, in fact, which surprises her new shepherds. Unpleasantries are exchanged, Ellie explains the concept that she's supposedly the key to a cure — what Marlene told her privately — and Joel doesn't believe it.

Tess talks Joel into going through with it, and Ellie fakes an infection attack before asking for a gun of her own. She's denied. Walking outside, Ellie marvels at the vistas, which are some of the most impressive shots of the series so far. On the road, Tess marvels at how Ellie's been a survivor. The gang then goes inside of a flooded building where Ellie's unsure of how to proceed. Joel shows her they can wade through before the child does an odd and confusing comedy routine at the front desk.

(R to L) Pedro Pascal as Joel holds the face of Nico Parker as Sarah surrounded by entrails of a dead Infected in The Last of Us season 1 episode 1

(Image credit: Shane Harvey/HBO)

When debris blocks the group's path, Tess goes ahead to clear it — giving Ellie and Joel time to talk. Or, well, he compliments her knife and tries to talk to her. Ellie sorta-opens up to him, but then Joel becomes the closed-off one. Throughout this scene, though, you'll see the chemistry and banter the two have, even when they're not getting along. Once Tess is back, the trio walks onto the rooftop, and look out onto a giant mass of infected that are lying down (guess they're conserving energy). 

Ellie realizes they're 'connected,' before Tess explains that it's deeper than that. Damage fungi in one area, and nearby infected will be on you. Then, Joel says it's off to the museum, the only way to proceed without going through the throng of infected. Again, Ellie requests a gun and is denied (Her saying "I have a spare hand," and Joel replying "Congratulations" is probably my favorite moment so far in the episode). The gang finds a dead man who seemingly wasn't killed by an infected, and right after Joel demands silence from all ... things go very wrong quickly.

Pedro Pascal (as Joel) and Bella Ramsey (as Ellie) crawl around a museum in The Last of Us HBO series

(Image credit: HBO and Summer Game Show via YouTube)

A kind of infected known as 'clickers' due to the noises they make find and chase our heroes, and it all feels very reminiscent of velociraptors hunting humans in Jurassic Park. Joel shoots an infected down after it's all over him, and Tess brains another one with an ax. 

After the hostiles are taken down, Joel asks Tess if she's alright. She says she's twisted her ankle, but OK. Ellie's "well, I didn't shit my pants!" is more proof that this show is able to find humor in the darkness. Ellie also realizes she was bitten again, but notes "well, if it was gonna happen to one of us." There's a pregnant pause between Joel and Tess, before she says they should get out of there.

Ellie laughs off the scariness of walking across a plank of wood that separates rooftops while Joel helps with Tess' ankle. After he ponders Ellie's continued lack of infection, Tess snaps at him to just accept the good news for once. After he walks away, we see she's sad, and it's obvious what's gone unsaid.

Pedro Pascal as Joel, with Bella Ramsey as Ellie, in the foreground in The Last of Us.

(Image credit: HBO via YouTube)

Joel and Ellie share a nice moment on the rooftop before the group finds the rendezvous spot where they were supposed to exchange Ellie to the Fireflies to be abandoned, with traces of blood. Inside, they realize everyone's been taken out — one got bit and then it all went wrong. 

While Tess is trying to bring Ellie west, Joel's ready to leave and go home. Except Tess  says she's staying. That her "luck had to run out sooner or later." Joel realizes what's up, but can't say it. Ellie realizes it and says "she's infected," before Tess shows the fresh and spreading wound to Joel. They compare the bites, and Tess says Joel needs to take Ellie to Bill and Frank who will take care of her. That he can "set everything right." An infected croaks to life before Joel shoots it, and the system of infected feels those shots. Joel, realizing this, checks outside to see they're all coming. 

Still, The Last of Us manages to surprise with beauty with a gorgeous and grotesque shot of an infected trying to 'kiss' Tess and spread the fungal tendrils.

Tess soaks the entire room with gasoline, to make sure they don't follow Ellie and Joel, while he begins to get weepy without crying. Tess, saying words that will likely haunt us all, says "save who you can save," before Joel forces an angry Ellie to leave. Tess does her best to flick a flame out of her lighter, but it's not happening. The infected have penetrated the building, and it's not looking good.

Still, The Last of Us manages to surprise with beauty with a gorgeous and grotesque shot of an infected trying to 'kiss' Tess and spread the fungal tendrils. Outside, Joel and Ellie wait until the explosion from inside shows that Tess got it done. And three have become two, who walk away. 

And, as you probably expected, The Last of Us episode 2's ending broke everyone's heart.

The Last of Us episode 2 spoilers from the video games

Before you go, want to know who Bill and Frank are?

An image indicating spoilers are ahead.

  • In the original Last of Us games, Bill and Frank were partners and fellow survivors. Frank leaves Bill at some point, and then Bill 'decorated' the area around him with traps to protect him. He even worked with Joel and Tess. Frank committed suicide after realizing he'd become infected. 

Once you're done here, now that this (and future episodes) have aired, read our The Last of Us episode 4 recap and review to see what we thought of the next leg of the journey.

Henry T. Casey
Managing Editor (Entertainment, Streaming)

Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.