The ‘Left Behind’ fills in the Ellie and Riley story in ‘The Last of Us’

The Last of Us: A Tale of Love and Tenderness in a Dark Universe Adapted from a Novel About the White Lotus Murray Bartlett

The second and third episodes of the series felt more like publicity stunts than anything else, but the third episode lays claim to be one of the best hours of television in 20 years.

Folding a stand-alone story into the larger canvas of this dystopian, zombie-ravaged world, the show unearths a tale of love and tenderness amid the chaos and violence, while making inordinately good use of Linda Ronstadt’s haunting ballad “Long, Long Time” just to punctuate things.

Feeling almost like an episode of an anthology series – think “Tales of the Last of Us” – the centerpiece revolved around Bill (Nick Offerman), a surly doomsday prepper, who reluctantly takes in the weary traveler Frank (“The White Lotus’” Murray Bartlett, who somehow seems to be everywhere at once these days).

Frank kisses Bill after sharing a meal, and they stay together for the rest of their lives. That culminates with Frank getting ill, choosing to take his own life after one last sumptuous dinner, and Bill deciding to join him in bidding this cruel world goodbye.

I am satisfied. And you were my purpose,” Bill tells Frank, who responds by saying, “I do not support this. … But from an objective point of view, it’s incredibly romantic.”


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That it was, and the strains of Ronstadt’s voice should trigger renewed interest in her 1970 hit faster than you can say “Running Up That Hill,” the Kate Bush hit from 1985 that received an unexpected resurgence thanks to “Stranger Things.” (HBO, like CNN, is a unit of Warner Bros. Discovery.)

Joel and Ellie are on to face new dangers, and the story will continue with the no-brainer announcement that HBO has renewed it for a second season. Either on its own or in that broader context, a series-defining episode like this one is worth savoring for now, and maybe, for a long, long time.

The fifth episode, titled “Endure and Survive,” was broadcast Feb 10 on HBO Max and will air Feb 12 on the cable network.

Apocalyptic drama inevitably means that a lot of people die, good as well as bad. As a matter of fact, when watching the news, a small-scale tragedy can be more devastating than a mass-casualty event, especially if it involves an innocent.

Ellie bonded with the younger one, the eight-year-old Sam (Keivonn Woodard), laughed with him, found a few moments to behave like kids with him. Sam and his brother, Henry, were forced to hide because of the decorations they had made. It was a sweet moment in a world of chaos.

You like these people and root for them because of the flashback. After turning him into something inhuman, they killed Sam suddenly.

Before someone references a game in the series, it’s helpful to remind them that games are different than TV shows. Killing a child in a drama is always dicey since those moments affect the audience in a unique and frightening way.

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The episode speaks to the fearlessness of the storytelling by producers Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann, presenting a stark demonstration – if one was still needed at this point – that the stakes in the show’s world are as stark as they come.

The most obvious parallel would be a similar sequence in the second season of “The Walking Dead,” another zombie drama, when a missing little girl, Sophia, came shuffling out of the barn having transformed into a glassy-eyed monster.

That sequence felt shocking at the time, and reinforced that the show’s dramatic ambitions went beyond mere horror. Many fans realized this wasn’t a typical series after seeing this scene. This one wasn’t afraid to push things to the max and make the viewers uncomfortable and feel the pain of loss along with the characters.”

Nothing good can last for long, and thezombie intruded upon their moment, wounding both of them. The encounter will lead to Riley getting a chance to die, as well as the realization that she is immune to zombie plague, as it will also lead to a return toJoel’s situation.

The emotional wallop the show has delivered helps explain its popularity and social-media footprint – inspiring even the skeptical to tune in – and why the term “zombie drama,” while accurate, is too reductive. If the third episode’s appeal was due to its romantic themes, the latest came around to unimaginable loss, and made viewers acutely feel it.

We again interrupt your regularly scheduled zombie drama with a touching love story, this time in the form of an extended flashback during a different phase of life.

The meat of the hour, however, flashed back to Ellie as the bad-attitude recipient of military training, who is dragged by her AWOL friend, Riley (“Euphoria’s” Storm Reid), to an abandoned mall, which turned out to be not quite as abandoned as advertised.

The trip is ostensibly Riley’s way of saying goodbye, as she has decided to join the resistance group the Fireflies. However, as the hour wears on, it becomes clear that it’s not just a first date, but a relationship that will last for many years to come. Riley exposing the wide-eyed girl to a host of wonderful things takes their relationship to a whole new level. Along the way, the show even identified the source of Ellie’s book of stupid jokes.

Although “Left Behind” added a bit to the ongoing Joel-Ellie dynamic, with her refusal to abandon him, its exploration of love and loss in this grim world evoked both the third episode, with its Linda Ronstadt-scored detour involving Frank and Bill; and the fifth, to the extent that during a zombie apocalypse, even the good die young.

This is how it ends for everyone sooner or later. Riley says, by way of accepting her cruel fate. (As a footnote both actors are actually 19 even though they’re playing younger, which likely made their scenes together more impactful.)

For a moment, though, the series offered a respite from that while depicting the dizzying effects of young love, underscoring how “The Last of Us” keeps defying expectations, and why so many viewers can’t get off this merry-go-round.

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