The Last of Us episode 4 recap and review: Jokes, threats and mean Kathleen

Bella Ramsey as Ellie in The Last of Us on HBO
(Image credit: Liane Hentscher/HBO)

Just when gamers might think they know what The Last of Us episode 4 was going to do, the script flipped to Kansas City. The new episode, following the phenomenal third episode, was both a back-to-basics edition, and the introduction of a new villain.

So while this isn't the emotional powerhouse that The Last of Us episode 3 was, this episode reminded yours truly of one of the best TV shows of 2022 — Andor. I'll explain why below.

This is one of the four episodes I saw in advance of writing my The Last of Us review, and it's ... well, this is the spoiler-free section of the article. But don't scroll down before you watch The Last of Us episode 4 online. We're not joking when we say it's one of the best HBO Max shows in a while.

The below contains a detailed recap of The Last of Us episode 4, so there are spoilers. 

An image indicating spoilers are ahead.

The Last of Us episode 4 recap and review: Joel and Ellie back on the road

The latest leg of Joel and Ellie's road trip through the chaos and toward destiny starts off with a bathroom break. Or at least that's what Ellie probably wants Joel to think, as she pretends to fire the handgun she took from Bill and Frank's house into a mirror. Satisfied with herself, but still a bit unsure, Ellie remains secretive. 

We then follow her outside where Joel's siphoning gas out of a car, and explaining how the gas they have is no good because it's degrading down to water. Ellie's inquisitiveness about life in the before-times comes up when she asks about where Joel would go. He admits "nowhere," before she calls him on being unable to explain the science behind a siphon.

These scenes, mixing the excellent banter of Joel and Ellie with the Americana of Williams and the degraded landscapes, seem to exist to bring us back into the bigger picture after last week's personal story.

And this is where The Last of Us' humorous bone reemerges, as Ellie's got a pun book she's going to torture Joel with. She also refuses to stop after Joel displays a disinterest in that specific vintage of jokes. The two get on the road, and Ellie finds a Hank Williams cassette tape in the car, and hands it to Joel. He says it's from before his time (it is), puts it on the car stereo ("Alone and Forsaken" plays) and she laughs his claim off.

Then, Ellie finds a gay pornography magazine, and pretends to be shocked while Joel tries to be a dad for the first time in a while — and tells her to put it down. Soon enough, Ellie reveals she's been playing dumb and knows what's going on, before saying "bye-bye dudes," and chucking it out the window.

These scenes, mixing the excellent banter of Joel and Ellie with the Americana of Williams and the degraded landscapes, seem to exist to bring us back into the bigger picture after last week's personal story. As Joel and Ellie drive past tons of discarded military vehicles, Bella Ramsey shows a weary look that belies bad experiences, while we don't even see Joel's reaction. 

The Last of Us Episode 4 enters the darkness

As it gets dark out, Joel pulls the truck over and into a forest, so they can get some shuteye in peace. Before that, they bond over an appreciation of Chef Boyardee, and Joel tells Ellie that they can't warm themselves over a fire because of the likely-terrible people who will find them and have thoughts worse than murder. 

While Joel is trying to sleep, Ellie shouts to get his attention, before hitting him with a punny question — that he already knows the answer to. And that moment, with Joel meeting Ellie on a common level of bad jokes — is yet another good moment worth a smile or chuckle, and one that has you worried about how The Last of Us will break our hearts next. 

Pedro Pascal as Joel in The Last of Us on HBO

(Image credit: Liane Hentscher/HBO)

In the morning, Ellie reveals a distaste for Joel's kind of coffee, and the two get on the road, with Ellie providing directions. Talk turns to Joel's brother Tommy (Gabriel Luna), and how to pronounce Cheyenne. Ellie, intent on learning about Joel, annoys him enough to get Tommy's life story out of him. Turns out Tommy got Joel to join a group of travelers with him, where they met Tess. Then, Tommy met Marlene, and joined up (again) with the Fireflies. He's since left them. 

Joel tells Ellie she's just cargo, and not family. But everyone watching at home can already tell he's lying. Speaking of, Ellie passes out, revealing she was lying about being tired, before the pair drive into the traffic of deserted vehicles. They're in Kansas City, and Joel's gonna brute-force his way through, by driving around. 

We're not outside of Kansas City anymore

And in the city, we're in full-on humans hunting humans mode, one of the most traditional aspects of zombie show/movie storytelling. The Last of Us differentiates itself by having half of its squad be experienced (Joel) and the other half (Ellie) never having been in a car before yesterday. Attacks hit from all angles, including a road spikes trap. Our heroes crash into a laundromat I swear I've raided in the game, and are under fire. 

A gunshot rings out, and Brian's not talking. Ellie then helps Joel into that room, in the latest moment that reminds me of the game — clearing paths in front of a door.

Joel gives Ellie orders to hide, while he takes the baddies on with a rifle. But once the smoke is clear, a door pops open and another attacker surprises Joel, yelling "you're gonna f**king pay for what you did." So you may wonder if Joel's encountered them before. As the guy is choking Joel out, Ellie sneaks up and shoots him with that gun she (thankfully) stole. He begs to be let go, screams about his legs not working, offers trade and says his name is Brian. 

Joel looks at Ellie, she gives him the gun, and Brian desperately offers his own knife. Pleading, Brian says "You can have it, it's a good knife." And when Joel tells Ellie to get behind a wall, Brian freaks out more. A gunshot rings out, and Brian's not talking. Ellie then helps Joel into that room, in the latest moment that reminds me of the game — clearing paths in front of a door. 

The Last of Us' Kathleen is an understandable threat

Joel and Ellie escape as Brian's people are looking for him, and we cut to Kathleen (Melanie Lynskey) interrogating an old man about missing persons — specifically, a Henry. They're in a FEDRA cell, and she demands to know the truth, before talking about how her brother was beaten to death. Kathleen, if you don't know, is a brand-new character.

And she calls the old man out on being OK with people dying before now, and only wanting it to end now. He claims he had to do what he did because he was threatened, so Kathleen puts a gun to his head. He reveals that he was the doctor who delivered her, and kept secrets about her brother. But Henry snitched about her brother, and she's upset about that.

(Image credit: Liane Hentscher/HBO)

Throughout this scene, I had flashbacks to Andor. There, we saw relatable characters — Dedra Meero and Syril Karn — in villainous roles. Then, Kathleen walks through a group of people to find Brian's dead body, she asks Perry (Jeffrey Pierce, the voice of Tommy in the games) about what happened. He thinks outsiders, having found Joel and Ellie's truck. Kathleen's concerned about this Henry person calling Joel and Ellie in. 

Kathleen walks off, angry, and shoots someone (probably the doctor) dead, before demanding that her men kill the interlopers. Trucks spray painted with "WE THE PEOPLE" and "RUN" roll out, and their soldiers break down every door they can. 

(L to R) Bella Ramsey (as Ellie) and Pedro Pascal (as Joel) are hiding inside a newspapered up bar in HBO's The Last of Us episode 4

(Image credit: Liane Hentscher/HBO)

Ellie and Joel are hiding out in an abandoned bar, and Joel knows they're not going to be safe for long. She asks if he's OK, he says he is. He asks the same, and she says she's OK. Joel says Ellie shouldn't have had to shoot him, tries to offer her some kind of help, but fails to finish his sentence. And that's when Ellie dabs her eyes and admits to having shot someone before. Then, Joel finally gives Ellie the handgun training she's so desperately wanted.

For at least the second time in this episode, they've bonded. And Joel gives her the gun back, demanding that she keep it in her pack and not her pants, lest she shoot her behind off by accident. Disobedient as ever, Ellie tucks the gun in her jacket pocket. Cautiously, they leave, but not before Joel says "We'll get through this." He's talking about Kansas City, but one knows there's a greater meaning for survivors. 

Perry (Jeffrey Pierce) in HBO's The Last of Us episode 4

(Image credit: Liane Hentscher/HBO)

Kathleen and Perry are searching for the interlopers, and come across a hiding space littered by cans and decorated with a child's drawings. She speaks of Henry and Sam as the people who were here. It all looks and sounds like Sam is Henry's kid. 

Perry seems less certain than Kathleen about hunting them, but something new and scary lurks in the floors of a storage room. Kathleen drops an F-bomb, the broken floor moves, and the two run out. Perry asks what they will tell the others, and Kathleen says this will have to wait, and that the building needs to be sealed off. 

(L to R) Pedro Pascal (as Joel) and Bella Ramsey (as Ellie) walk by a car in HBO's The Last of Us episode 4

(Image credit: Liane Hentscher/HBO)

Joel and Ellie, still on the run, get into a 45-floor building, and as they go upstairs, Joel admits that he, Tess and Tommy acted like the people who were hunting them. She asks if he's killed innocent people, and gets a silence that screams louder than a "yes" could. Then, the two find a room to hide out in, where Joel spreads glass across the floor. Ellie needs an explanation about this trap that will let them know someone's nearby. He then asks about the bad thing she's done, she doesn't want to talk about it. Then, Ellie delivers a fantastic pun that's a bathroom joke I don't want to make here. Joel, humanizing himself a little, laughs.

And the two eventually fall asleep, only to awaken … while being held up by a kid with a gun. So much for Joel's hearing. He's got an eye-mask drawn on his face that's reminiscent of the drawings at Henry and Sam's hideout, so I'm guessing he's Sam.

Outlook: The Last of Us episode 4 is another winner

Melanie Lynskey as Kathleen in HBO's The Last of Us episode 4

(Image credit: Liane Hentscher/HBO)

In short, The Last of Us episode 4 is bringing people more of what they expected when they heard the heralded video game would be coming to TV. But by adding Kathleen, a brand-new character, Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann are continuing to find more depth to the series.

We cannot wait to see what happens in The Last of Us episode 5.

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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.