The Last of Us episode 5 recap and review: Possibly the best episode yet

Pedro Pascal as Joel in HBO's The Last of Us
(Image credit: Liane Hentscher/HBO)

Now that The Last of Us episode 5 has finished painting and passing us notes, it's time to just marvel at what Craig Mazin and Neil Bruckmann are doing here. Five episodes in, and the HBO series just delivered yet another episode-of-the-year contender.

Up there with The Last of Us episode 3, this episode managed to move the plot forward deep into Kansas City, and provide a fantastic setpiece, a surprise and some very sad moments that fans of the games knew to expect.

This is the first episode I didn't get to see in advance of writing my The Last of Us review, and that's part of the surprise. Just don't scroll down before you watch The Last of Us episode 5 online. I'm not being overly dramatic when I say TLOU is proving itself as one of the best HBO Max shows in a while.

The below contains a detailed recap of The Last of Us episode 5, so there are spoilers. 

An image indicating spoilers are ahead.

The Last of Us episode 5 recap and review: The informers and renegades of Kansas City

We kick off with shots of celebration in Kansas City, as fireworks burst in the skies and shouts and chants of freedom ring out from a delirious mob. Folks are drinking brown liquor in the streets, and shouts of "F**K YOU, FEDRA!" ring out. Sadly, everything gets dark quickly, as people (likely FEDRA agents and those who supported them) are being murdered and hung in the streets. A body with many knives sticking out of it is dragged past.

Sam (Keivonn Woodard), who we last saw holding Ellie (Bella Ramsey) and Joel (Pedro Pascal) at gunpoint, is hiding in the shadows with his older brother Henry (Lamar Johnson). Henry signs to Sam, confirming all of the reports that the latter is deaf. The two are close to their destination.

(L to R) Jeffrey Pierce as Perry and Melanie Lynskey as Kathleen in The Last of Us episode 5

(Image credit: Liane Hentscher/HBO)

Meanwhile, Kathleen (Melanie Lynskey) and Perry (Jeffrey Pierce) argue in front of a group of FEDRA informants who supposedly betrayed their family and friends. Kathleen is demanding information about Henry's location. One breaks, and says that Henry's with Edelstein (John Getz) — who Kathleen didn't believe was a FEDRA collaborator. He's the doctor who Kathleen killed in the previous episode, so this has to have taken place before episode 4.

Kathleen, unlike Perry, is in a rush to track them all down. She also tells Perry to incinerate all of the FEDRA sympathizers. Meanwhile, Henry and Sam connect with Edelstein in a beat-up attic. The doctor encourages Henry to calm Sam down, telling him the boy is scared because Henry is scared. After projecting confidence, and admitting to Sam that their current hideout is "ugly," and gives Sam a bag of crayons to make art to give the place some beauty. 

(L to R) Lamar Johnson as Henry and Keivonn Woodard as Sam in The Last of Us episode 5

(Image credit: Liane Hentscher/HBO)

In the morning, Sam's hungry and painting using an actual paint can. Henry then breaks the news that Edelstein isn't coming back, Sam asks if he's dead. Henry cannot confirm, but admits that's what he thinks. Henry tells Sam to close his eyes, which allows Henry to paint the eye-mask on the kid's face, matching the heroes on the art on the walls. But since there are no mirrors, Henry has to show his work using the reflection of a knife. Sam's happiness may be completely heartwarming, but the means for getting this reaction is utterly bleak. 

This is where Henry sees all of the chaos in the Laundromat where Joel and Ellie crashed, and it gives him an idea. Cut to night time, and Henry and Sam are stepping over the broken glass that Joel had set up. Henry signs to Sam that there's a problem — Sam can tell he's caused a noisy mistake, and Henry entrusts him with a gun.

Keivonn Woodard as Sam in The Last of Us episode 5

(Image credit: Liane Hentscher/HBO)

The Last of Us episode 5 reunites us with Joel and Ellie

Henry and Sam, with the worst way to introduce themselves to Joel and Ellie, are not convinced that Joel won't turn on them the second they put their guns down. Ellie tries to convince them that Joel doesn't speak in a manner that engenders trust, saying "That's just the way he sounds. He has an a**hole voice."

While Sam and Ellie, finally finding someone closer to their own ages, quickly bond, Joel needs Ellie's nudging to formally introduce himself. Henry welcomes them to "Killa City," and admits that he's a FEDRA collaborator — which almost sends Joel running away. Henry tells Joel that they can help each other. Henry and Sam know how to get out of the city, and he knows that Joel can protect them. When Henry explains that holding a gun to Joel was the closest he's ever come to violence, Joel can read the honesty in his voice. An agreement is made. 

(L to R) Pedro Pascal as Joel and Lamar Johnson as Henry in The Last of Us episode 5

(Image credit: Liane Hentscher/HBO)

Henry draws up the plan for escape, they'll use local tunnels to make it to the residential neighborhoods on the west side. And he explains that while there are infected, they'll be safe, as they're not on the surface. FEDRA drove them underground. On the march, Henry's quite confident that everything will work out, and Joel keeps having to remind everyone to be quiet.

In one of the best little touches of the episode, Henry makes a comment about Joel being Ellie's father — and the two talk over each other to correct him as fast as possible. Underground, they come across a painted door that looks like a castle. Sam wants to go through immediately, but Joel says "no" and goes first. Inside, they find the remains of a kindergarten or some school for the young. Joel explains that groups of people who went underground after outbreak day, and stayed there.

(L to R) Lamar Johnson as Henry and Keivonn Woodard as Sam in The Last of Us episode 5

(Image credit: Liane Hentscher/HBO)

Sam finds an issue of the Savage Starlight comic series, which it turns out Ellie loves. The two have collected different issues of the series. They bond over the motto of the comic, "To the edge of the universe and back. Endure and survive." Ellie and Henry suggest sticking around, which Joel is indifferent about. Then, while Ellie and Sam play soccer Joel and Henry start to talk about headier matters.

After Joel says he feels bad for about the two being on the run, for because the elder brother was an informant, Henry admits he lied, there was more to it. That he betrayed a great man, because Sam has leukemia, and FEDRA had the only drug that would work — and they wanted Henry to screw over this great man. And that great man was the leader of the resistance movement in KC. Kathleen's brother. 

(L to R) Bella Ramsey as Ellie and Pedro Pascal as Joel in The Last of Us episode 5

(Image credit: Liane Hentscher/HBO)

Henry says he can tell that Joel was a father, which sparks Joel's flight instincts.

The Last of Us episode 5 plots a collision course

Perry finds Kathleen in the room she grew up in, as her mother told Perry where to find her. Kathleen explains how Michael, her brother, helped her through the chaotic times, saying their home was an impenetrable box. And as she tears up over his memory, we get a reminder that she's not 100% evil. She's angry and grieving. And even though Michael told her to forgive, she's not going to follow that advice. Perry isn't keen to either, as Michael "didn't change anything." And Kathleen did.

Out of the sewers and above ground, the gang made it to the residential neighborhood. And even though Joel's preaching silence, Henry's exuberant enough to catch the eye of someone none of them can see, who has a sniper rifle. 

The visual of Henry, a Black man with his hands up in the air knowing he's probably going to get shot, is chilling.

We see that the shots are coming from the top floor of a house, as Henry and Sam try and run for it. They can't get free of the gunfire, though, and run back to Joel and Ellie. Joel asks Ellie if she trusts him. She nods, and he somehow makes it all the way to the house. This bit of stealth is probably the most video-game-like scene in the episode. There, he finds an elderly male sniper, and kills him. The guy, it turns out, was named Anthony, and Kathleen's on the other end of a walking talkie, screaming for Anthony. Joel yells and it's too late: Kathleen and Perry's crew is coming, and the menacing truck with 'RUN' spraypainted on it is headed right at Ellie, Henry and Sam.

Thankfully, Joel manages to eventually get a shot off that takes out the driver — and not a moment too soon as Ellie had fallen down. The truck catches fire and blows up, and thankfully Henry's there to grab Ellie and bring her to safety.

And that's where we get a wild west standoff, as Kathleen shouts "Dead end!" before asking Henry to step out and save them some time. Henry offers to give himself up if the kids can go. Kathleen says no, explains that she knows why Henry gave Michael up to FEDRA and, in a moment that erodes her humanity, she suggests that Sam was just supposed to die. That kids die all the time.

And, in the moment many (yours truly included) have been waiting for, the grotesque bloater emerges from the hole. It's big, it's bad and it rips Perry's head clear off.

Henry tells Ellie to take Sam and run, as he steps up and out, with his hands up. The visual of Henry, a Black man with his hands up in the air knowing he's probably going to get shot, is chilling. But right as Kathleen is about to shoot him, the 'RUN' truck tips over into a house, creating a sinkhole. And because people know the infected were drawn underground, this draws everyone's attention away as a giant horde of infected horde pop out. One almost gets Ellie, Joel shoots it off her, so she can hide in a car. 

And, in the moment many (yours truly included) have been waiting for, the grotesque bloater emerges from the hole. It's big, it's bad and it rips Perry's head clear off. Then, in an even-more unsettling moment, an infected child crawls into the car Ellie's taken refuge in, chasing her out. Then, thanks to cover fire from Joel, Ellie manages to help Henry and Sam break free of infected who were clawing at them as they hid under a car.

All so they can escape to find Kathleen staring them all down with a gun. This could have gone very bad, but an infected jumps out of the off-screen area and mauls her. RIP Kathleen, you had real issues. 

The Last of Us episode 5 delivers its latest gut-punch combo

The crew has found a hotel to lodge up in, where Joel explains to Henry that they're kids, they'll adapt. It's harder on them because the hard part is having people relying on you. Henry laughs about "Endure and survive," the motto of the comic that Sam and Ellie love, as "that shit's redundant." Finally, it seems like Joel is ready to let others into their lives. He offers to bring Henry and Sam to Wyoming with them, and Henry says he'll tell them in the morning.

Which is where many people know this won't happen. Some probably expected Joel to take Ellie in the dead of night. If only. After Henry tells the kids to go to sleep, Ellie gets Sam to stay up, as she performs their comics to him. Sam gets his static pad (which he's used to speak to Ellie, who doesn't sign) and, asks Ellie if she's ever scared. She replies "do i not look scared?" Sam writes "never." Ellie admits she's scared, and that she's scared "all the time." And after Ellie jokes that she's only afraid of scorpions, she delivers the show's latest heartbreaking moment, admitting "I'm scared of ending up alone." 

By this point, if you're not tearing up a little, you need to check to make sure you're not an infected.

And that's not enough emotional torture. Ellie asks what Sam's scared of. He asks "if you turn into a monster is it still you inside?" before showing a wound on his leg. He's infected. Ellie acts fast, saying her blood is medicine, and cuts herself so she can bleed onto him. Sam asks her to stay awake with him. Ellie promises to, but we then see her wake up. And while we first see Sam 'facing' the window with his back to Ellie, he whips around and attacks her — he's turned. 

Ellie flees to the living room, where — in an instant — Henry makes the call to shoot Sam. Panicked, Henry asks "What did I do? What did I do?" Joel tries to get the gun from Henry, but he's not fast enough, and Henry kills himself. By this point, if you're not tearing up a little, you need to check to make sure you're not an infected.

After Joel finishes their gravesite, Ellie leaves Sam's static pad on the grave, with the all-caps message of "I'M SORRY." Joel takes a long moment silent brooding grief before Ellie tells him it's time to go. 

Outlook: The Last of Us did it again

For the fourth time in five episodes, The Last of Us has introduced characters that we fell in love with only to have them die in tragic fashion. In my heart, I can hear Breaking Bad's Jesse Pinkman saying they "can't keep getting away with this!" Except The Last of Us is also delivering amazing TV while they do it.

When I suggest this episode is possibly better than episode 3, Bill and Frank's episode, I don't make that claim slightly. But to have Joel and Ellie with Henry and Sam throughout the hour made it all the more compelling. I'm not ready to say this is a superior hour of TV, but it's great enough that I'm not sure.

The call to make Sam deaf (Keivonn Woodard himself is also deaf) doesn't hamper the episode at all, thanks to Woodard's expressive face and how much emotion was delivered through his little message pad. It's the kind of change from the video game that makes me trust Mazin and Druckmann more than ever.

I want to say I can't wait to see The Last of Us episode 6, but that's not entirely true. I need time to recover from that one.

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.