The Last of Us episode 5 ends with arguably the saddest scene in the show so far, and a new fan theory potentially makes it an order of magnitude more heart-wrenching.
I say episode 5, titled Endure and Survive, has "arguably" the saddest scene because one could certainly make the case for episode 3, Long, Long Time, but I found the former's ending to be more purely tragic, lacking the beauty and nuance coloring Bill and Frank's otherwise devastating love story. In either case, in discussing (opens in new tab) the latest episode's conclusion on Reddit, one user came up with a very plausible theory around a subtle detail you probably glossed right over.
*Spoilers for The Last of Us HBO episode 5 ahead. Turn back if you haven't seen the episode.*
As Redditor CrashRiot points out (opens in new tab), when Ellie wakes up the morning after learning that Sam had been bitten in the undead frenzy earlier in the episode, she finds him sitting down on the opposite side of the bed from where we last saw him, facing away from Ellie. She approaches him and is attacked, which leads Henry to make the split-second decision to end his little brother's life to save Ellie's.
The scene might've played out very differently had Sam turned into a monster over night and attacked Ellie while she was sleeping, and CrashRiot theorizes that Sam might have purposefully positioned himself to face away from Ellie to avoid this scenario becoming reality. Knowing he was hearing-impaired, it's possible that Sam turned away from Ellie before falling asleep so that he wouldn't notice Ellie's movements after he was infected, thereby protecting her from himself.
I've watched the breakdown from the creators after the episode and they make no mention of this being a possibility, but it certainly makes sense. Sam and Ellie had grown very fond of each other throughout the course of the episode, and despite Ellie doing her best to save Sam from becoming infected, Sam likely knew her efforts were futile and would want to do everything in his power to keep her safe. As if I needed any more reason to cry over this darn episode.
Speaking of The Last of Us episode 5, here are the biggest changes from the game.