The Last of Us episode 6 recap and review: Abandonment issues

Bella Ramsey as Ellie in The Last of Us episode 6.
(Image credit: Liane Hentscher/HBO)

You can think of The Last of Us episode 6 as a "cutscene episode," and not having a single inch of that statement denigrate Craig Mazin and Neil Bruckmann's latest episode. This mostly action-free edition of the series continues the program's hot streak, and confirms that TLOU is one of the best HBO Max shows in a while.

While not exactly as stellar an episode of episode 3 or episode 5, tonight's edition was highly important, especially for establishing Bella Ramsey's Ellie further. 

One of the last four episodes of the season (don't worry, The Last of Us season 2 is official), this is also one of the episodes that I didn't get to see in advance of writing my The Last of Us review.

The below contains a detailed recap of The Last of Us episode 6, so there are spoilers. 

An image indicating spoilers are ahead.

The Last of Us episode 6 recap and review: A polite home invasion

After a brief flashback to Joel (Pedro Pascal) asking for Henry (Lamar Johnson)'s gun before Henry shot himself, we cut to three months later, in the winter at a snowy vista. A man walks home with a few animals he's hunted and killed tied up, to find his wife a hostage of Joel. 

This scene is far funnier than you'd expect, and not just because of Ellie (who disobeys orders to come out of hiding) being clever. The older couple bicker fantastically, and Joel demands info about where they are on the map, saying the husband better give the same intel his wife did. It turns out the couple weren't hiding there because of the infected, they've always been off the grid. 

The unnamed man warns Ellie and Joel of who they'll encounter if they go west, and then the wife either reveals how little they know or plays dumb perfectly, with two words: "firefly people." Ellie and Joel want to go west, but the couple tells them to go east, only death lies east. Tommy, they say, is gone if he's west of them.

Outside, Ellie tells Joel to not believe them, but he says they've been here long enough to know — right as he has some sort of cardiac incident. He blames the cold air. Ellie reminds Joel that he's all she has, before she jokes about "the river of death." 

After they pass the river, they make camp, where Joel is repairing his shoe while Ellie looks up at the waves of green lights best known as aurora borealis. But Joel whistles for her to come down, saying she'll break her neck. The dad inside Joel can't help it. Then again, he does relent to her request for a nip of his booze, which she grimaces through.

Then, we finally start talking about the endgame. Ellie hypothesizes about a cure, and asks Joel what he wants to do when it's all over. Joel speaks about being a sheep rancher, but seemingly only to say sheep are great because they're quiet and obedient — you know, unlike Ellie. As for what she wants to do, Ellie speaks to her education years, her love of Sally Ride ("best astronaut name ever") and then ponders the likelihood of the vaccine working. This is just to give her the chance to talk about how she drew blood to try to save Sam. Joel says to believe in it, that Marlene wouldn't have gone to these lengths if it wasn't likely.

Bella Ramsey as Ellie at a campfire in The Last of Us episode 6.

(Image credit: Liane Hentscher/HBO)

In the morning, Joel wakes up to find Ellie on guard, but he reprimands her for falling asleep. Ellie took the second watch without telling Joel, but he wants her to be more responsible even when he falls asleep. She talks about doing everything his way.  He says, again, "wake me up next time," and her little "yes sir" is perfectly patronizing and respectful.

Moving west, Joel and Ellie get near a truss bridge, and Joel fires his rifle to try and draw people out. Ellie displays her inability to whistle before asking about how to hunt, and the pair bicker again, with a discussion about the verbiage of gutting an animal. 

Rutina Wesley as a masked rider in The Last of Us episode 6

(Image credit: Liane Hentscher/HBO)

At a dam, Ellie says "Damn!" before asking about how dams generate electricity. She then wonders if this new river they've walked to is the actual "river of death." And that's when horseback riders surround them, and demand Joel drop his gun. The riders demand Ellie take five steps back, and an infected-sniffing hound gives Joel the murmurs of a negative test.

When the dog goes to Ellie, and growls a bit, Joel nearly passes out due to anxiety. It's yet another moment flashing back to Joel's daughter Sarah getting killed in the encounter with the soldier in episode 1. But before you know it, the dog is just playing with Ellie, licking her. Joel says he's looking for his brother, and that's when one of the riders, a Black woman asks his name. He says it's Joel. And so the whole convoy goes to their community.

Joel and Tommy, back together

(L to R) Gabriel Luna as Tommy and Pedro Pascal as Joel in The Last of Us episode 6

(Image credit: Liane Hentscher/HBO)

The looks on Ellie and Joel's faces when they roll into Jackson, which is more like a traditional city than anything we've seen since episode 1. Joel shouts "Tommy!" as he sees his brother (Gabriel Luna) at work, from afar. The two embrace, and Joel says he's there to save Tommy, which makes them bother half. And in that same moment, Ellie wears a look of concern, that she thinks she's unwanted now that Joel's found his family.

At a dining hall Joel and Ellie wolf down a meal, as Ellie ponders having never had a proper meal. Ellie yells at a child looking at her from a distance, and we learn that the kids here don't have weapons. Joel asks for a moment of family time, and Tommy reveals he and Maria (Rutina Wesley), the Black woman who asked for Joel's name, are married. Ellie gets Joel to congratulate them, but he does that as awkwardly as anything. 

(L to R) Pedro Pascal as Joel and Bella Ramsey as Ellie eating a meal in The Last of Us episode 6.

(Image credit: Liane Hentscher/HBO)

On a tour of the town, Ellie spots a sheep flock and gleefully points it out to Joel. Maria explains how the city is operated in shifts with collective ownership, to which Joel says they're communists. Maria revels in their lack of a caste system, saying "Yes, it's Communism, because it's a commune. We're communists!" before talking about how there's a home in town ready for them. Ellie and Joel have a minor tense moment, where Ellie says they've had some miserable lodging, but a defensive Joel says they've been fine.   

At a bar, Tommy pours Joel and himself some booze on the rocks.Joel says Tommy's barely aged, unlike him. Tommy thanks him for giving a damn about him, before he asks about Tess. Joel lies and says she's fine before lying about Ellie's importance, though admitting he's doing this for pay. Joel then asks for the Fireflies location from Tommy, and it seems like the University of Eastern Colorado is their next stop. Joel wants Tommy to join them, that his sniper's aim is valuable, but Tommy says he lives by their rules. Here, we get a whole lot of conversation about the killing Joel and Tommy did to survive. But the biggest reason he's unwilling to help Joel is because he's going to be a father. Maria's a few months along. And he's scared to death of that. 

(L to R) Pedro Pascal as Joel and Gabriel Luna as Tommy in The Last of Us episode 6

(Image credit: Liane Hentscher/HBO)

Joel pours more booze, before Tommy cuts him deep by saying "Just because life stopped for you doesn't mean it has to stop for me." Joel looks him in the eyes. And says he and Ellie only need some supplies, and that they'll be gone in the morning.  leaves.

Standing in the street, against a street pole, Joel practically has another medical moment clutching his chest. He then sees a woman and a child, and both have big frizzy hair like Sarah. 

Rutina Wesley as Maria in The Last of Us episode 6

(Image credit: Liane Hentscher/HBO)

Ellie's showered. Finds an "I'm across the street" note, alongside a menstrual cup, which does nothing for her, aside from amusing her. She just says "Gross." Ellie enters the house across the street, and asks aloud for Maria — to no response. She takes off her hood, and finds a fireplace — but not before seeing a chalkboard memorial for two people: Kevin and Sarah.

Maria enters, and she has a winter coat for Ellie, which she says she traded stuff to get. Ellie jokes at how purple it is, and Maria politely corrects her on the name of the shade. Between this and the strawberries from episode 3, The Last of Us is showing how the barter system is the new norm.

Be careful who you trust, is the overall message.

Maria offers a haircut, Ellie's resistant, but accepts when Maria says "'just the ends." Maria turns out to have been an assistant district attorney, and the conversation moves to the loss of children, per the memorial in the living room. Maria then gives Ellie a fraction of detail about Sarah, whom Maria assumed Ellie knew about — Ellie's look of shock upon learning about Sarah is matched by her saying that it "explains him a little." 

Maria's trying to see how much Ellie knows about Joel, and the two send verbal jabs back and forth, as Ellie basically says she knows Joel killed people and that maybe she's smarter than Tommy and won't blindly follow Joel. Maria respects Ellie, says she would have been a hell of a lawyer, and gives her credit for not telling her much. Be careful who you trust, is the overall message.

Pedro Pascal as Joel in The Last of Us episode 6.

(Image credit: Liane Hentscher/HBO)

With Maria having gotten a good sense of Ellie's fortitude, it's off to the movies. Yes, Jackson has a movie theater. Sure, it's just rows of actual chairs, with a projector, but it keeps the kids busy. 

Tommy finds Joel in a workshop trying to fix his boot. To try and mend the fences, he's brought a new pair, and says  "Figure I'd save you the trouble," before a statement that he doesn't believe what he said. The latter sounds insincere. He does suggest that he knows Joel is happy about the engagement and pregnancy news, but that things are different for Joel.

And through this monologue, which Pedro Pascal should be including in his nominations reel, we see Ellie walks around at night, alone. And scared. And you'll remember what Ellie told Sam, that she's afraid of ending up alone.

Joel asks about the difficulty of the path to the University where the Fireflies are supposed to be and talks about his concerns about dying on this trip. And that's when Joel explains Ellie's immunity — how she's not turned in the months they've been together. 

This news practically shatters Tommy's composure, as he sits down, on the verge of tears. And then Joel tells Tommy about everything. About Marlene hiring them. About Tess getting bit. And through this monologue, which Pedro Pascal should be including in his nominations reel, we see Ellie walks around at night, alone. And scared. And you'll remember what Ellie told Sam, that she's afraid of ending up alone.

The Last of Us' trauma-topping

Joel admits he needed Ellie to save him in Kansas City, in a monologue that's profound, and talking about fear and weakness. Joel explains his reaction when Ellie was getting sniffed by the dog, that he was so afraid and that when the fear comes out of nowhere, his "heart feels like it stopped." And he explains he's been having nightmares that are tied to loss, and failing — which make him want Tommy to take Ellie. He believes he's going to get her killed. He thinks he has to leave her. Thinks that Tommy can make a better world, and make up for the things they did. Tommy says he'll "take her out at dawn," before directing Joel to the building he's to rest in. 

Back at "home," Joel looks for Ellie, and he finds her reading a child's diary, which amuses her about yesteryear's adolescent concerns. Upset over what she overheard listening to Joel and Tommy, and angry about being ditched, Ellie's telling Joel to leave already. Joel tries to cover it up, claiming he's doing it for her own good and safety. Upset, Ellie talks about defending Joel to Maria, and asks "what are you so afraid of? I'm not her, you know. Maria told me about Sarah." Joel, not ready for this conversation, declares "No," before whispering "don't say another word."

Pedro Pascal as Joel in The Last of Us

(Image credit: Liane Hentscher/HBO)

Ellie, trying to meet him half-way, says "I'm sorry about your daughter Joel, I've lost people too," though Joel one-ups her, telling her she doesn't understand loss.

Angry, Ellie pushes Joel while saying "Everybody I have cared for, has either died or left me. Everybody, f**king except for you." And then Ellie, who has done everything she can to project confidence to Joel, admits that Joel leaving will only make her more scared. It's an awards show nomination performance. Joel says they're not family, and that they're parting in the morning.  

Alone in his room, Joel's memories of life with Sarah play out in his head, as he remembers hanging Christmas ornaments with her. He turns the lights out, and we jump-cut to the next morning. Ellie's dressed and ready to leave, and after a knock on her door, we see Tommy come in and the two get ready to leave.

Wandering around the abandoned campus, Joel explains college life before he admits that being a sheep rancher wasn't his goal. Joel wanted to be a singer when he was a kid — which has Ellie laughing.

But look who it is in the stables. Joel's failed at stealing a horse that Tommy would have given him, and now it's 30 minutes later. He thinks Ellie deserves a choice in all this. Instantly, she picks Joel, and shoves her bag into him. Tommy gives them directions, they hug goodbye and Tommy says there will be a place for them there. Joel asks for Tommy's rifle, since Maria took his. Tommy complies, and after an "Adios big brother," Joel and Ellie are on their way.

And here we get another of the show's well-earned heartwarming moments, this time with a makeshift riflery school — where Ellie's flinching. Joel isn't giving her an inch and says he made the targets too big. Ellie blames the rifle, and then the two bicker, with Ellie giving another great one-liner about how seductively Joel's treating the gun. But with one shot, where he punctures under the curve of the 'h' in 'A**hole,' he proves the gun isn't the problem. On the road, Joel explains how he was a contractor. He even has to explain American football's rules. 

Having reached the interstate in five days, Joel and Ellie remember that Tommy had been warning them. Ellie's joking through it, Joel is more concerned. Then, they reach University of Eastern Colorado, the home of the Big Horns. Ellie needs rams explained to her, and so we get another reminder of Joel's dream of being a rancher. Wandering around the abandoned campus, Joel explains college life before he admits that being a sheep rancher wasn't his goal. Joel wanted to be a singer when he was a kid — which has Ellie laughing. He doesn't want to sing for Ellie but since she's saving the world, he says he'll do that later. Then, after passing some monkeys (it's the first time Ellie's seen one), they spot a Fireflies logo on a biomedical science building sign.

Sorry Joel and Ellie, your Fireflies are in another state

This university is so empty that it feels like a ghost town, quite in contrast to the wild west town that was Jackson. Inside, the biomedical science building seems abandoned, especially since they find a packing list. Noises from upstairs send the pair exploring, but they only find more monkeys. It's a neat little jumpscare, and Joel finds a map that suggests St. Mary's in Salt Lake City is their next destination.

After hearing some noises, Joel sees dangerous men outside. He and Ellie run out the back, and before they can escape on horseback, an attacker runs at Joel — only to be killed by Joel snapping his neck. Joel's not getting out of this easily, as he's been stabbed with the broken shard of a baseball bat swung at him by that scavenger. Gruesomely, Joel pulls out the shard, and as Ellie sees more men coming, she gets him onto the horse, and they get going. 

After getting to safety, a nearly lifeless Joel falls off the horse. Ellie, teary-eyed, says she can't do this without him. that she doesn't know where she's going. Her last words of the episode, "Joel, … please," will haunt us until next week.

Outlook: The Last of Us did it again

One of the strongest recurring realizations you'll have while watching The Last of Us is that this show's strongest parts are free of the zombie-like infecteds that terrify Joel and Ellie and everyone else. 

And while Henry and Sam have been left back in Kansas City, their memory remains, as Bella Ramsey got more emotional about her fears of being left behind. 

With three more episodes left, and The Last of Us episode 7 most likely focusing on Ellie's friend Riley (Storm Reid), it's time to start preparing yourselves for life between seasons of The Last of Us. Good thing Succession season 4 is HBO's next Sunday night show.

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.