Having watched The Last of Us episode 7 a little earlier than most, I'm already ready to discuss the five wonders of the local Boston mall near the QZ area where Ellie met Joel.
This episode, which is a very-welcome flashback (don't call it a "bottle episode," it took place in more than one room) is the episode that fans of the game have been waiting for — and dreading — since the news of Storm Reid's casting as Riley was announced. And this episode was the latest reminder that The Last of Us is one of the best HBO Max shows ever.
I'll even go so far as to say it exists in the upper-tier, alongside episode 3 and episode 5. It's a slightly different edition of course, but we'll get into that once Ellie tells us what a frustrated cannibal does.
The below contains a detailed recap of The Last of Us episode 7, so there are spoilers.
The Last of Us episode 7 recap and review: Ellie's biggest test yet
We open in winter, with a slight trail of blood on the ground to a house with broken windows. Inside, we see a blood soaked garage, and a horse that shakes off snow. Ellie (Bella Ramsey), panicked, is treating Joel's wounds and dropping f-bombs, and shouting "shut the f**k up!" as Joel demands she leave. He pushes her away, tells her to go to Tommy. In response, she puts his jacket over him, and he's almost comatose. Ellie's frustrated and walks up stairs, and tentatively puts her hand on a doorknob. She opens the door to … a flashback.
Ellie's in FEDRA's version of gym class, jogging around listening to a Walkman, as Pearl Jam's "All or None" plays. Ellie's bullied by Bethany (Ruby Lybbert) for not picking up the pace, and this girl claims Ellie's friend isn't there to protect her anymore.
Back in the offices of Capt. Kwong (Terry Chen), this FEDRA middle-manager asks Ellie to explain herself. Ellie says "Bethany started it," before Kwong states that Bethany was left needing stitches.
Kwong then explains explains she has two paths ahead, one as a grunt and one as an officer, if she follows the rules. Being an officer means she can tell grunts like Bethany to shove it. Kwong cares because he sees a leader in Ellie. She picks the high road, and asks for her walkman back.
At her room, Ellie's reading Savage Starlight, we see her pun book on the bedside table, and we hear that it's time for lights out. This time, unlike with Sam, Ellie obeys a lights-out order. As the camera pans across Ellie's room, we see A-Ha, Ella James cassettes and a Mortal Kombat II poster on the wall. Then, a stranger jumps in through the window and puts their hand over Ellie's mouth. Fortunately, it's Riley (Storm Reid), who thought her entrance would be loved by Ellie, who in fact curses through it.
Ellie thought Riley was dead, says she should stab her and talks about how annoyed she is that Riley didn't give her any warning or details. Riley explains that she's joined the Fireflies, which freaks Ellie out. Riley offers her a few hours of the best night of her life, and Ellie rejects it cause she has to wake up early for drills to learn how to kill Fireflies. Before we leave, we see that Ellie's not comfortable changing around Riley, which Riley points out. Before they leave for Riley's a secret destination, the two share some phenomenal banter.
On the streets, Riley tries to explain to Ellie that she needs to learn how to pick and choose her fights — and they exit through a window. After observing rusty water-drenched mailboxes, they go up seven flights and find a fresh dead man, who left behind old world booze and pills. On the roof, Ellie and Riley take sips of this old booze, with Ellie trying to look cool while drinking it.
Riley reminds Ellie that that wasn't the first dead body she's ever seen because of her parents, and Ellie asks to hold Riley's gun — which of course is against Firefly rules. After a good mocking of being an honorable Firefly, Riley hands her the sidearm. Ellie wonders why Riley became a Firefly, and suggests that she's doing it because of some guy Riley's dating.
Riley explains that a 40-something Firefly woman (likely Marlene) found her and basically asked her to enlist, which she did. The two then run across a series of rooftops before they argue about the FEDRA/Firefly divide, before Riley says they're at their destination. Ellie's in disbelief, as they've arrived at the mall, which had been shuttered and shut down.
Except that recent changes to the power grid, thanks FEDRA, brought the mall back online. Ellie jokes aloud that this would be a great place for Riley to kill her, and goes off on her own — Riley's orders. While trying to fix her flashlight, Riley turns on the lights in the mall, and the look on Bella Ramsey's face is the kind of thing where you wonder if she's breathing fresh air for the first time ever.
Riley's gonna show Ellie the four wonders of the mall, and Ellie's shocked to think that Riley planned things. As A-Ha's "Take On Me" plays, Ellie describes an escalator as electric stair before Riley explains the real name. Ellie loves this escalator — thinks it's one of the wonders. Turns out there are five wonders now.
Perusing the mall, Riley wonders about the popularity of lingerie at a Victoria's Secret — before saying she tried to imagine what Ellie would look like in a particular outfit, eliciting a "shut up" out of Ellie. As Riley goes away, Ellie checks her hair in the reflection.
Riley tells Ellie to close her eyes, and give her her hand, and walks her into a carousel at the mall, and turns on the motor so the whole thing rotates and music plays. They share the booze, with Ellie trying to look cool and drinking much more.
Riley loses herself in the lights, and Ellie looks at her longingly. The two both look glum, before they talk about Riley's decisions to be a Firefly. Kwong, it turns out, gave Riley grunt duty. Ellie understands, and Riley says she's the one thing she missed from the FEDRA days.
Three more wonders to see, and the first is a photo booth that needs a fiver. Fortunately, Riley had one saved for Ellie — though the two had no poses planned. Ellie keeps the photos, which we hope we'll see again. Riley then brings Ellie to an arcade, the fourth wonder of the mall, which she warns may break her brain. And Raja's Arcade looks to have done just that, as Ellie calls it "The most beautiful thing I've ever seen."
Ellie's worried they have no coins to play games, but Riley pops open the change machine and explains that she worked on it for hours the previous day. Clearly, Riley's love language is acts of service.
Playing Mortal Kombat II, Riley easily beats Ellie in their first round of Mortal Kombat II, and uses Milena's "Fatality" move that Ellie described to Joel earlier. It's not her first time playing the game, as Ellie remarks that Riley didn't save everything for her.
Outside the arcade, though, in a toy store, an infected awakens from the noises and sounds, as Ellie finally wins (as Baraka, taking on Milena). Ellie and Riley almost have that romantic moment they've been building towards together, but Riley says their next and final wonder awaits. Ellie tries to leave, but Riley uses the promise of a gift to bring her to Wonder 5, which is better than a water gun. This is a reference to the the actual water gun fight from the game, which you can see here:
In the food court, at Macho Nacho, Riley walks Ellie to the back and gives her the joke book No Pun Intended Volume 2. The two read jokes aloud to each other — and we all feel older as neither know what screenshots are.
Then, Ellie finds bombs that Riley's made, and asks if she was planning on using these on FEDRA people. Riley insists she'd never use them on Ellie, and we soon learn she's been assigned to the Atlanta QZ, and Marlene won't let her bring Ellie with her. This is Riley's last night in Boston.
Ellie asks why she brought her here. Riley said she wanted to see Ellie. Ellie asks "and?" Riley says "And … I wanted to say goodbye." Ellie tries to leave, but can't, and runs back once she hears what she thinks is Riley screaming, but that was just the fifth wonder, a shrieking tombstone fright in a Halloween supplies store.
Riley self-deprecates a little, and gives Ellie the book to keep. Ellie basically recaps all of Riley's actions to her, asking if she knows what she's doing. Riley explains the power of belonging to a family, and that they chose her. That she matters to them. Ellie says that Riley mattered to her first, and that she wants to punch her so badly. But Ellie finally accepts her decision, tells Riley she's her best friend and that she'll miss her.
Riley tosses Ellie a wolfman mask, before plugging Ellie's Walkman into the PA and donning an evil clown mask on. Etta James' "I Got You Babe" plays as they dance on the cabinet. Ellie removes her mask, but you can tell her mood's changed to a more somber tone before she does that.
Riley asks "what?" before Ellie pleads "don't go," and Riley says "okay" right before Ellie kisses her and apologizes immediately after. Riley asks "for what?" and the two laugh. Here, again, The Last of Us delivers a moment of amazing beauty in its dystopian hellscape.
The Last of Us episode 7 jumps back and forth
In the tail end of the episode, the scene shifts back and forth between these moments in Ellie's life. You could try and draw a comparison, but the situations are far different.
And after that amazing and brief kiss, Riley and Ellie hear infected coming, and run. But Riley's knocked down in the chase, only to be saved by Ellie stabbing an infected in the head with her prized switchblade. Ellie's almost celebratory, but Riley sees the bite-marks — Ellie's first bite-marks. Riley's also been bitten, on her hand.
We then jump back to the house where Joel shivers under the jacket, and Ellie runs upstairs to scavenge for medicine.
Back at the mall, Ellie rages against the glass cabinets. Riley says they could take the easy way out with a handgun. But she doesn't like that option. Option 2? Just keep going. Option 3? Well, after Riley says sorry over and over again, she and Ellie cry against each other.
And now we're back in the house. Ellie's found a needle and thread and runs downstairs to save Joel. She holds his hand, and their fingers curl around each others. Grossed out by it all, Ellie stitches joel up, while Joel looks away, grimacing. Almost proving Capt. Kwong right, Ellie's showing she's a leader, in a way.
The Last of Us episode 7 review: Checking our reflection
As I said last week, The Last of Us continues to prove that the best stories to be told exist outside of the moments where zombies attack. And these scenes where Ellie and Riley's nascent queer romance gets its first sparks — from the little moments where Ellie's trying to figure out if Riley has a boyfriend to Riley talking about how much she's done for Ellie — are some of its most subtly powerful.
And, just like Bill and Frank, and Sam and Henry, Riley is now canonized in the hall of characters that Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann introduced and killed off in a single episode — leaving us all the mote emotional for it.
With only two more episodes left, it's time to start preparing yourselves for the wait for The Last of Us season two. Maybe this is a good time to play The Last of Us Part I and The Last of Us Part II.
Oh, and the countdown is ticking away to Succession season 4, the final season of HBO's other best series.