HBO’s The Last of Us: Episode 5 Review

*This Review Contains Full Spoilers*

The Last of Us’ latest episode formally introduces a new pairing and some more monstrous entities, both human and infected, that culminates in the most thrilling and captivating episode yet.

At the end of last week’s episode, viewers were introduced to Henry (Lamar Johnson) and his brother Sam (Keivonn Montreal Woodard), whose story is told through the first act or so. We get a glimpse into the night that Kathleen (Melanie Lynskey) and her resistance overtook FEDRA, and it’s honestly a nightmare. Kathleen and her forces showed FEDRA and those compliant with them no mercy as they eliminated them in inhumane ways. From large factions of them being publicly executed to one them being hung in the street, it’s absolute anarchy. Yet, there is a reason behind it since FEDRA had been particularly monstrous to the Kansas City residents, torturing and raping them for years without consequence. So this anger that’s fueling the resistance has really been created by FEDRA and now they’re paying the price through the monsters they’ve created.

Where Henry and Sam fit into all this is a choice that Henry made that resulted in the death of Kathleen’s brother, who originally led the resistance. After finding out that Sam was diagnosed with Leukemia, Henry decided to sell Kathleen’s brother to FEDRA to receive medicine for Sam. It’s what’s made him a top name on Kathleen’s kill list and why him and Sam are on the run when they meet Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey). The opening third or so that’s focused on Henry and Sam’s moves through Kansas City really help add more depth to their story and personal relationship as brothers. The change to Sam be deaf in order to fit Woodard, who is actually deaf, makes their dynamic stand out greatly from the first game and adds an important layer to why Henry wants to protect Sam.

Henry’s desire to protect his younger brother is his biggest driving force and the true heart of his character. Sure, him selling out Kathleen’s brother would instantly make him labeled as a rat in this world, but his intentions and actions reflect what humanity has been left to become. Self-interests of survival overtake anything else and good intentions can have drastic consequences. Even Henry acknowledges that his actions make him the “bad guy” in this situation, but his story really highlights the complex nature of The Last of Us. Truthfully, there aren’t many “good guys” or “bad guys” left in this world, just people trying to survive. So, Henry’s actions are less-so a reflection of his character, but rather the world they’re in.

This new story for Henry and Sam is another excellent way this adaptation is finding ways to expand on its characters and the world. Through this new depiction of Henry and Sam, we not only get more time to develop their relationship and the impact that Joel and Ellie have on them, but also a daunting new antagonist in Kathleen. Johnson and Woodard are both excellent in their performances and really add some nuanced heart to their sibling relationship. It’s hard not to find yourself smiling in the same way that Henry does when Sam is playing with Ellie because Johnson’s love as Henry feels so real. And Woodard is incredibly strong as Sam. Even without words, Woodard conveys Sam’s feelings perfectly and there’s a great interaction between Sam and Ellie about their fears that Woodard totally thrives in.

Ramsey also shows a different side to Ellie here that reminds you how young she really is. Although Sam is younger than Ellie, she has the same kind of youthful spirit as him and displays a great sense of energy that changes your perspective on her. Ellie has shown that she can be tough and hardened like Joel, but here, there’s still a sense of hope within her that Ramsey sells incredibly well. Plus, it can’t be understated that her voice for Ellie is flawless and that moment of Ellie disclosing that she fears being alone in this world genuinely hits hard.

Lynskey’s performance leaves a huge mark as well as she makes Kathleen a subtly vicious force. She never yells or screams at those she opposes. Rather, her directness and relatively calm demeanor is what makes her scary as she’s able to kill with genuine indifference. She’s so broken by her brother being gone that she simply seeks revenge and will do anything to attain it. For a new character for the franchise, Kathleen is given some great moments to flesh out her character and showcase a perspective that’s too far gone to be saved. All she wants is Henry’s blood on her hands and she isn’t even willing to spare Sam or Ellie at this point. Her followers are no different from her and it’s what makes this resistance a haunting faction in this world.

The episode’s final third is really where things get interesting though as the series’ greatest horrors and tragedies are unleashed. There are plenty of great thrills with Joel circling around to a sniper that has the group pinned down on a residential street and Kathleen and her forces catching up with the group. With the story being in new territory, even fans are left wondering how things will play out. That is until the ground starts to collapse a bit and that hint of a crater that Kathleen ignored becomes clear. Earlier, Henry mentions that FEDRA drove a lot of the infected underground and now with all the activity that’s been happening, they burst out of the ground to go on a rampage.

It’s absolutely horrifying to see the infected bust out of the ground with immense speed and the way they consume Kathleen’s forces is wild. They quickly become outnumbered, and the scene turns into a total bloodbath with how everyone is getting swiftly killed by the infected. Even worse is that a Bloater, one of the more challenging infected types from the game, rises and brutally dispatches Kathleen’s right-hand man Perry (Jeffrey Pierce) by ripping his head off. It’s a hulking monstrosity that’s just as destructive as it is in the games and is brought to life perfectly. Kathleen isn’t able to get away from this massacre unscathed either as she’s taken down by an infected child right as she’s about to kill Henry. So, even though, two monstrous human factions had control of Kansas City, it’s the infected who rule it now.

Sadly, even though the next scene of Henry, Joel, Sam, and Ellie sitting at a hotel would make things seem hopeful, one reveal changes everything. Sam shows Ellie that he’s been bitten and while she tries to put some of her blood on his wound to possibly stop the infection, it doesn’t work. By the next morning, Sam is fully infected and attacking Ellie leading Henry to have to kill Sam. The fact that Henry mentions that he’s never had to kill anyone before Sam makes this moment even more tragic and that realization causes him to take his own life. Even for fans of the game who knew this fate was coming for Henry and Sam, this result is just as tragic because the episode does such a great job creating an emotional narrative for these two. Like Bill and Frank, Henry and Sam are another instance of something good not lasting long in this world and Joel and Ellie now leave for the West with a heavier heart.

The impact of Henry and Sam in this series is just as emotional and tragic as it is in the game, possibly even more, and it’s a big reason that episode five is the series’ best yet. It features plenty of great emotion and perspective on humanity and survival in this world and has an incredibly tense and horrific finale full of horror and heartache no viewer will forget.

Watch the Trailer Here:

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