The Last of Us episode 6 review: "Features one of the show's best and most affecting moments"

Pedro Pascal as Joel in The Last of Us
(Image: © HBO)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

A trip to Jackson opens up old wounds for Joel in an hour that sees Pedro Pascal once again rise to the occasion and the show do right by one of the game's most memorable scenes

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As odd as it is to point out, The Last of Us – up until now – hasn't really focused on Joel. The first episode introduced Pedro Pascal's survivor, sure, but gave a large amount of its time over to his daughter, Sarah. The second episode centered on Tess, the third Bill and Frank. The pair of chapters in Kansas City shone the spotlight on Kathleen, then Sam and Henry. So when Joel finally got his moment in the sun, you knew it was going to be good. And so it proves with 'Kin', a more laidback episode that digs deep into what makes Joel tick – and what makes The Last of Us such a great TV show.

As winter hits, Joel and Ellie first awkwardly stick up an elderly couple in their shack before being confronted by several people on horses – complete with a dog that sniffs out infected in a moment as tense as any before it.

The hunt for Tommy comes to an abrupt end as they are brought to Jackson, a quaint settlement in Wyoming where people watch movies, celebrate Christmas, and have electricity thanks to the nearby dam. The respite is a welcome one for Joel, Ellie, and the show itself. After weeks of death and destruction, the more languid pacing of the episode is a sharp relief, a collective intake of breath that – however temporary – allows them to live out their happily ever after.

It's here, too, where they find Tommy. Joel's reunion with his brother, now married and expecting a child with Maria (Rutina Wesley), is a touching one – but it's their later interactions when they're alone that's wisely set aside and given room to breathe to tease out more of Joel's predicament.

The pair of scenes Tommy and Joel share together form the heart of the episode. Joel, who is also shown to suffer from panic attacks in this episode, is a man who is broken and afraid. He remains guarded, even with his brother – he lies about Tess, for instance – but that façade eventually crumbles as he admits his fears.

The Last of Us game was never a power fantasy but, here, the show finally addresses the full weight of Joel's trauma: he is a man who had something and lost it all. Now, he is someone who has something to care for again – and is utterly terrified he'll get them killed.

It makes his decision to ask Tommy to take Ellie to the Fireflies more believable, even if Ellie – who overhears – feels like he's passing the buck.

Brothers in arms

Pedro Pascal as Joel and Gabriel Luna as Tommy in The Last of Us

(Image credit: HBO)

"You have no idea what loss is," Joel snaps at Ellie when the two meet after. It's a cruel line, especially given her finding out about Sarah just minutes prior. While their argument is a little too neatly resolved given the emotions that come pouring out, it ranks highly as one of the show's best (and deeply affecting) moments so far.

Ramsey and Pascal are on top form, each leaving it all out on the screen with the required gravitas necessary for the show to simultaneously widen the cracks between the pair while bringing them closer together. Fans of the games have waited with bated breath for this moment – and it delivered. It's also a fantastic proof of concept for Ramsey as Ellie taking center stage in future seasons.

But it's not all doom and gloom. This week, The Last of Us also finds its funny bone. Whether it's the old couple mixing up the Fireflies with supposed mutant firefly people, Ellie’s constant needling of Joel's dream of herding sheep, or Maria saying they're literally communists, these moments of levity raise a smile in a world that has long needed a dose of cheer and hearty laughter. With the road ahead likely fraught with danger, these are little gems that deserve to be treasured.

"Then what?" Ellie asks Joel earlier in the episode about what comes next after their time together. Ellie, all wide-eyed optimism, wants to go to the moon, Joel, ever the pragmatic realist, wants to retire to a farm. In truth, by the episode's end, they've both witnessed their happy ending in Jackson. But Joel's constant desire to move forward proves his undoing. The show tries to point it out, too – through (of all things) his boots.

The wrecked shoes are first taped up by Joel in ramshackle fashion in the wilderness, then he struggles to use the cobblers' tools to fix them in Jackson. It's only Tommy gifting him a new pair of boots that solves the problem. The lesson? Trust others. Yet, Joel is a closed shop. At one point, he says "the only people who can betray us are the ones we trust." If he keeps moving forward, he can't be betrayed. It's a worldview that, in this episode, risks everything.

As Joel relents and joins up with Ellie instead of Tommy, they reach the University of East Colorado. The escaped lab monkeys, though, prove to be the least of their worries.

Soon, they encounter raiders and Joel is stabbed in a skirmish. As Joel collapses in the snow, Ellie – once again, no matter Joel's protestations – feels loss. The episode's crushing closing moment is amplified by the cover of Depeche Mode's 'Never Let Me Down Again'. First used in the premiere, the '80s hit talks of a "best friend." Before the duo left the QZ, Ellie was merely cargo. Now, they're something more. 

The Last of Us streams Sundays on HBO and HBO Max and Mondays in the UK on Sky Atlantic and NOW TV. For more from the HBO series, check out our guide to the major Last of Us episode 5 changes from the games and a terrifying look at the Cordyceps fungus. Discover when the next episode is dropping with our Last of Us release schedule

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Bradley Russell

I'm the Senior Entertainment Writer here at GamesRadar+, focusing on news, features, and interviews with some of the biggest names in film and TV. On-site, you'll find me marveling at Marvel and providing analysis and room temperature takes on the newest films, Star Wars and, of course, anime. Outside of GR, I love getting lost in a good 100-hour JRPG, Warzone, and kicking back on the (virtual) field with Football Manager. My work has also been featured in OPM, FourFourTwo, and Game Revolution.