Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for Episode 6 of The Last of Us.
Episode 5 of The Last of Us, “Endure and Survive,” concluded with one of the most tragic sequences in the series so far, as Henry (Lamar Johnson) shoots himself in front of Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) after shooting his little brother Sam (Kevionn Woodard), who had turned infected and tried to attack Ellie.
While some time has passed between Episode 5 and Episode 6, “Kin,” we see that this moment still weighs heavily on the minds of Ellie — as well as Joel, who still worries about bringing Ellie to the Fireflies, and in this episode, worries that he’s not the right protector for the potential savior of the world. “Kin,” however, becomes an episode about the bonds that we don’t choose, as Joel reunites with the brother he’s been trying to find for months, and the ones we do choose, as Joel and Ellie get closer than ever.
Middle of Nowhere
“Kin” begins with a flashback to the horrific end of the last episode, and after this reminder, we jump to three months later, where a man (Graham Greene) returns to his cabin in the snow after hunting, and finds his wife (Elaine Miles), held at gunpoint by Joel. The man puts his gun down, and when he asks his wife why he didn’t shoot him, she says, “because the gun was all the way over there,” and that he didn’t hurt anybody. Hell, she even made him soup. Joel says he’s looking for his brother, and the man immediately says he hasn’t seen him. The woman also reveals that Joel has a girl with him, as we see that Ellie was hiding on the second floor. Joel tells her not to come down, but of course, she does anyway (that “what I say goes” rule is really working out for Joel). Ellie, with gun in hand, comes down, and the couple laughs at the “little psycho.” Joel asks the man to show on the map where they are.
The man’s answer disappoints Joel. The man says he hasn’t heard of Tommy, and the woman clearly hasn’t heard of the Fireflies either. When Joel asks for advice on going west, the man says, “yeah, go east,” and to never go past the river ever, because past the river is death. The man says they never see who is past the river, but they see the bodies—some infected, some not—and if Tommy is west of the river, he’s gone. This revelation seems to shake Joel, scared that this couple who has been here a long time might know what they’re talking about. As they leave the couple’s property, Joel stops and clutches his chest, the panic seemingly getting to him. When he regains composure, Ellie reminds Joel that all they need to find Tommy and the Fireflies is to cross the River of Death.
As it’s getting dark, the pair decide to cross in the morning, camping out for the night, where they dine on a rabbit stolen from the couple, while Joel duct tapes his shoe together, and shares a drink from his flask with Ellie. Then Ellie asks what happens if they find the Fireflies, and they make a cure thanks to her: what then? What do they do next? When Joel flinches at the idea of them still being together after that, Joel says he would probably get an old farmhouse and some land and start a sheep ranch.
Joel asks Ellie what she’ll do, and she looks at the moon. Growing up in the quarantine zone, where she was trapped by the ocean on one side and walls on the other, there was nowhere else to look but up. Ellie says she’s read everything she could about space, and that her favorite astronaut is Sally Ride—which Joel managed to guess. But then Ellie gets quiet and asks Joel if the vaccine will work, and she admits that she tried to save Sam by rubbing her blood into his bite wound. But Joel reassures Ellie, saying that if Marlene told them the Fireflies could make a cure, they can do it. Joel says he’ll take the first and second watch, so Ellie can get some sleep. The next morning, we see that Joel has fallen asleep, but Ellie wakes up early and has decided to take second watch. Despite Joel’s protesting and his insistence that he’s responsible for her, Ellie shows that she can protect herself, that he’s taught her what she needs to know, and she says she’s a natural. Even though she’s done a good job, Joel insists that the next time he falls asleep like that, Ellie should wake him up.
Tommy and Maria
Joel and Ellie cross a bridge over the river with no problem, and Ellie shows that she’s trying to learn how to whistle, and tells Joel he should teach her how to hunt. They come across a dam and another river, to which Ellie states, “what if this is the river of death?” Soon after, a group of masked and armed people surrounds them on horseback. The group separates Joel and Ellie, and they bring out a dog, who they say can smell infected. Once the dog is let loose, the dog checks out Joel, who is clear, but then the dog growls at Ellie. The dog gets closer to Ellie, and it’s unclear whether he can tell she’s technically infected, but then he starts licking her and playing. Joel tells the group he’s looking for his brother, and a woman asks what his name is.
The group brings Joel and Ellie to a compound, and once inside, we see Jackson — a thriving community, complete with shops, a giant Christmas tree, kids playing, and a reminder that maybe life can still be lived normally after the outbreak. It isn’t long until Joel sees his brother Tommy (Gabriel Luna) and calls out to him, almost as if he can’t believe he finally found him. Tommy comes over and hugs Joel, both overjoyed to see each other again. When Tommy asks what Joel is doing there, Joel replies that he is there to save him.
Inside a cabin/dining hall, Joel and Ellie cram down food while Tommy and Maria (Rutina Wesley)—the woman who asked Joel’s name—watch. Ellie sees a girl watching her from a distance, and Ellie yells at her, but Maria says the kids aren’t used to seeing people that look and talk like Ellie. Tommy says Ellie and Maria got off on the wrong foot, and Ellie says that Maria’s people were going to kill them. Tommy says that they have to be careful who they let in this place, and when Ellie mentions the dead bodies, Maria says “those are the people who tried us.” Tommy follows by saying that a bad reputation doesn’t necessarily make you bad, and Maria says “not always, at least,” while she stares down Joel. Joel then mentions that while he appreciates the hospitality, he’d like a moment with just family. However, Tommy says that Maria is family, as Tommy and Maria are married.
Welcome to Jackson
Tommy and Maria take Joel and Ellie on a tour of Jackson, and Maria says just a handful of people settled here about seven years ago. There are raiders and infected nearby occasionally, but the people of Jackson have learned to stay quiet and off people’s radar, and one way they’ve done that is by staying off the radio. At the mention of this, Tommy looks at Joel, almost like an apology for not remaining in contact. Jackson has everything: a school, electricity, laundry, heat, sewers—and for Joel, they even have sheep. While we get a glimpse at Jackson in the first The Last of Us game, the Jackson we see in this episode is very much the Jackson of The Last of Us Part II, an impressive community that has all the comforts that one could hope for in this world, and a place that anyone would be glad to call home.
Maria mentions that in Jackson, they all share everything and that no one person is in charge. Joel says, “so, communism?” and when Tommy brushes that off and says it isn’t like that, Maria mentions it’s exactly like that…it’s a commune. Maria shows the group their horses at the stable and introduces Ellie to a foal named Shimmer. Maria says Joel and Ellie can stay in the house across from them, and Tommy says “you could do worse.” Ellie responds, “trust me, we have been,” and Joel, hurt by the comment, says “we’ve been doing fine.” With this, Joel and Tommy go off on their own, leaving Maria and Ellie together.
“Just Because Life Stopped For You Doesn’t Mean It Has to Stop For Me.”
Tommy takes Joel to a bar, and Tommy toasts Joel, saying, “thanks for still giving a shit about me.” Tommy asks Joel how Tess is doing, and Joel lies that she’s doing fine. When Tommy asks about Ellie, Joel says she’s the daughter of someone high up in the Fireflies, and that her family is somewhere out here. Tommy questions if he’s doing this out of the goodness of his heart, and Joel says that there is a payment. Joel asks if Tommy knows where the Fireflies are, and Tommy says they’ve got a base at the University of Eastern Colorado, which is a week’s ride south—but the path there is not an easy trip. But Joel says it’ll be an easy trip with Tommy joining in, and Tommy replies that he can’t go. Joel asks if his wife won’t let him and if she’s the reason he quit messaging him on the radio. Tommy states that after he ditched the Fireflies, Maria and her group found him, took him in, and all he had to do was follow their rules. Tommy says they have to be careful so that the wrong people don’t find them, and Joel counters, asking if he’s the wrong type of people. Joel says the things he did back them were to protect them and keep them alive, and Tommy says that they both did those things, and they weren’t things—they murdered people. Tommy doesn’t judge Joel for what they had to do to survive, but he knows that there were other ways, they just weren’t good at them.
When Joel complains about his journey to find Tommy, Tommy says that he’s going to become a father. Tommy says he has to be more careful, and that he’s scared to death, but he feels like he’d be a good dad. The news of Tommy’s child seems to hit Joel hard, another reminder of what he lost, as Joel pours more alcohol for himself, he says “I guess we’ll find out.” Tommy almost can’t believe his brother’s callous nature, and Tommy replies, “just because life stopped for you doesn’t mean it has to stop for me.” Joel takes this in and says that they’ll grab some supplies and be out of their hair in the morning, and leaves Tommy alone in the bar. Outside, Joel grabs his chest again, and he sees a girl that looks like his daughter Sarah from behind, who hugs a child by a large Christmas tree. Joel begins to walk towards her, but then as she turns around, she sees that it isn’t her.
“Be Careful Who You Put Your Faith In…”
Back to Ellie, we see she has taken a shower, and Maria has left her fresh clothes, a DivaCup (to which Ellie says “Oh! Gross”), and a note saying that she’s across the street. Ellie goes to Maria’s house and sees a blackboard on a mantle that states the names, date of birth, and date of death of Kevin and Sarah, with two candles in front—a memorial for the children that have been lost. After seeing this, Maria comes in, gives Ellie a jacket, and then proceeds to give Ellie a haircut. As she does this, the two talk and Maria tells Ellie she was an attorney before all this, and Maria says she liked cutting hair, adding that it must be a mom thing. Maria mentions the memorial, and Ellie says apologizes for the loss of the kids. But Maria says only Kevin was her kid, and that Sarah was Joel’s daughter. Ellie’s shock shows she didn’t know about Sarah, and she says it explains Joel a little.
Maria says she won’t ask Ellie what she and Joel are doing together, but she has her concerns. Ellie states she knows Joel used to kill people, but now he doesn’t kill the innocent ones anymore and then retorts that Tommy used to do it too, asking if Maria is worried about him too. Maria mentions that Tommy was following Joel, the way Ellie is following him now. Ellie says maybe she’s smarter than Tommy. Maria says it’s good that Ellie has things she won’t tell her, and that Ellie should “be careful who you put your faith in; the only people who can betray us are the ones we trust.”
“The Last Thing I’ll Ever Ask…”
After this one-on-one, Maria takes Ellie to the movies, where they’re showing The Goodbye Girl, and Ellie notices that Maria and Tommy have a conversation, and the two go their own ways. We then cut to Joel trying to fix his shoes in a nearby shop. Tommy comes in, bringing Joel a new pair of boots. Tommy apologizes for what he said, and that he knows it must be hard for Joel. But Joel gets down to business, asking if the trip to the college is a suicide mission. Tommy says no, it’s hard, but nothing Joel can’t handle, and all the people Tommy knows that have gone that way have come back. When Tommy asks what this is about, Joel admits that Ellie is immune. Quieted by this revelation, Tommy sits down and asks Joel to tell him the story starting with the beginning.
As we hear Joel tell the story of what he and Ellie have been through so far, we see Ellie walking the empty main street of Jackson by herself. Back to Joel and Tommy, we see that Ellie having to shoot the kid back in Kansas City still weighs heavy on Joel, that he was too slow and too deaf, and that he should be the one protecting the 14-year-old, not the other way around. Joel also says how he watched Henry kill Sam to protect her, while Joel just watched. Even when the dog sniffed Ellie earlier that day, Joel couldn’t move in the situation, stuck in fear. Joel asks Tommy if he still thinks he can handle the trip, despite all this. Even though sometimes he feels like his heart is going to stop. Joel tearfully says he has dreams every night, and while he can’t remember them, every day, he wakes up feeling like he’s lost something. Joel feels like he’s even failing in his sleep, and that’s all he’s ever done.
Tommy asks if he wants him to take Ellie, and Joel says he knows he’s going to get her killed. Joel thinks he has to leave her to save her and mentions that isn’t that why Tommy left Joel, to make up for the things they did? Well here is Tommy’s chance to bring his child into a better world. Tommy accepts this and nods, and Joel says Tommy can’t tell anyone, not even Maria. Joel knows if anyone sees the bites they’ll kill her, and Joel swears as he cries this is the last thing he’ll ever ask. Tommy says that he’ll take Ellie out at dawn. The brothers head out for the night, as Joel heads to where he’s staying, while Tommy heads back to the movie, where Maria can tell something has changed.
“You Have No Idea What Loss Is.”
As Joel gets to the house, he sees Ellie’s light still on, and he heads up to see her. He finds Ellie reading a journal that was left behind, surprised that people pre-outbreak only had to worry about boys and what to wear. But Ellie is cold towards Joel, asking why he’s still there and saying “if you’re going to ditch me, ditch me.” Ellie says she heard Joel say how he has to leave and Tommy has to take her. Ellie mentions that she even stood up for Joel today. Joel says he made this decision for her own good, saying she’ll be better off with Tommy. Ellie stands up and asks if Joel gives a shit about her, to which Joel says of course he does, and Ellie asks what he’s so afraid of. Ellie then cuts Joel to his heart, saying, “I’m not her, you know.” When Ellie says Maria told her about Sarah, Joel cuts her off, saying, “no, don’t say another word.”
Ellie apologizes for Joel losing his daughter, but Ellie says she’s lost people too. Joel says “you have no idea what loss is,” and Ellie, knowing Joel doesn’t have a monopoly on pain, says, “everybody I have cared for has either died or left me—everyone fucking except for you,” as she pushes Joel. She continues, “so don’t tell me that I’d be safer with somebody else, because the truth is, I would just be more scared.” Joel replies, “you’re right, you’re not my daughter, and I sure as hell ain’t your dad,” before saying that they’re going their separate ways. After this moment, Joel thinks back to decorating the Christmas tree with Sarah, remembering the daughter he lost after choosing the abandon the closest thing he’s had to a daughter since.
The next morning, Ellie has her stuff ready to go as she waits in her room. She hears a knock on the door, and Tommy walks in. She takes a second, recognizes that this is her new traveling companion, and leaves with him. When they get to the stable, Joel is there prepping a horse. Ellie asks if he came to say goodbye, and he says no, I came to steal one of these horses and go. Then Joel says to Ellie that she deserves a choice. Before Joel can finish his argument as to why Ellie should go with Tommy, Ellie says “let’s go” to Joel, already making her choice. Joel agrees. Outside the stable, Joel hugs Tommy goodbye, and Tommy tells the pair that there’s a place for them there. Joel responds that he’s counting on it. Joel asks to borrow Tommy’s sniper rifle, to which Tommy complies, and Joel and Ellie head on their way to the college.
I’m Taking a Ride With My Best Friend
Down the road, Joel teaches Ellie how to use the sniper rifle, as the two joke with each other, which acts almost as Joel accepting his new role in Ellie’s life. As they ride together on the horse, Ellie asks if Jackson is how things used to be. Joel says there used to be two types of people: those who wanted to own everything, and those who didn’t want anyone to own anything at all. Joel says he was neither, he just did his own thing as a contractor, and Joel tells her that everyone loved contractors.
Further down the road, we learn that it has taken them five days to get to the college from Jackson. Over that period, it seems that most of the barriers between these two have lifted, as both have accepted who they are in each other’s lives. The college looks abandoned as the two discuss what college was like back in the day. Joel then returns to their previous conversation, saying that if he can do anything after this, well, he always wanted to be a singer. Ellie wants to hear Joel sing, and he refuses. But Ellie says if she’s going to save the world, the least he can do is sing for her. Smiling at her, he agrees. As they work their way through the campus, they see a group of monkeys that must’ve escaped from a lab, and as they get to a street sign, the biomedical sciences building is marked with a Firefly logo—their first sign in a while that they’re on the right track.
Yet there’s no one around, and even though it seems quiet, Joel tells Ellie it’s time for the gun. As they enter the building, it quickly becomes clear that the Fireflies abandoned this location, as medical supplies are strewn all over the place. They find a packing list for supplies, and soon after, the duo hears a noise on the second floor. When they go to investigate, they find another pair of monkeys still in the building, who swiftly run away. As they continue to look for signs of the Fireflies, Joel finds a map that shows several sets of pins heading towards Salt Lake City, with a label that says “St. Marys.”
But then, Joel and Ellie hear voices. Looking out the window, they see four men armed with weapons, and they quickly exit out the back entrance. As they run way back to their horse, Joel is attacked by one of the men, and Joel snaps the man’s neck. Once it looks like they’re safe, we see that Joel was stabbed in the gut, and he pulls the weapon out—this is exactly what Joel was worried about. As the other three men run in their direction, Ellie gets Joel on the horse, and they flee, with Ellie attempting to shoot the men as they go.
Safe down the road, Joel isn’t doing good and falls off the horse. Ellie runs to him and sees he’s losing a lot of blood. She begs him to get up, and she cries, saying she doesn’t know what to do without him. She doesn’t know what she’s going to do or where to go. As she begs please for Joel to get up at the snow-covered, with Joel not moving at all, we pan out. An acoustic version of Depeche Mode’s “Never Let Me Down Again” plays, as it did at the end of the first episode, where we learned that music from the 1980s is used as a symbol of danger.