This article features spoilers for episode six of The Last Of Us. You know the drill – don’t read on unless you’ve seen it.
We knew Joel and Tommy would meet again, but we weren’t expecting that ending!
Staying largely faithful to the Jackson portion of the game’s narrative, episode six wasn’t the major deviation from the source material that fans may have expected.
However, it did end with what seemed like the biggest tweak yet – surely the writers aren’t just going to let Joel (Pedro Pascal) die?
If you’ve played the games, you’ll know the answer is no: this is instead a major turning point for Joel and Ellie’s (Bella Ramsey) surrogate father-daughter relationship, something which already changes dramatically earlier on in the episode.
Taking place three months after last week’s harrowing climax, we’ve seen the pair grow into something like a nuclear family unit with no complaining from Joel, which makes many of this episode’s interactions all the more powerful.
However, the father-daughter relationship comes second here to the story of the two brothers, which as this week’s episode further proves, couldn’t be more different to how Joel and Tommy (Gabriel Luna) are depicted in the game.
Joel And Tommy
In the first episode of this season, we cut forward to 2023 shortly after the death of Joel’s daughter Sarah, meaning we never saw the fallout in his relationship with Tommy.
We’ve had teases of what happened between them during the intervening decades, most notably in episode four where Joel recaps a new version of events: they were travelling together with a group, until Tommy left to join the Fireflies.
Whereas this puts them on bad speaking terms in the game, the brothers remain close here – in episode one, Joel is alarmed to have not had a response to a three-week old message he sent to Tommy, who usually responds within a day.
His motivation for taking Ellie in the series is in large part spurred on by his need to track down a sibling he hasn’t heard from in some time – he’s already arranging to find a car battery and head off in search before he’s given his big smuggling mission.
Show creators Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin have highlighted that the casting of Pascal, an actor who exudes warmth much easier than his game counterpart, is one of the reasons why this narrative strand departs significantly from the source material.
After the death of Sarah in the game, we see Joel become a hunter, giving into nihilism as a means of surviving, repeatedly holding innocent people at gunpoint to last another day in the American wasteland.
This is hinted to have happened in the series timeline too, leading Tommy to go and join the Fireflies at some point around 2010 – however, the pair do remain in touch.
When Tommy left Joel in the games, he angrily told him that he “never wanted to see [his] goddamned face again!”
However, this all changed when Joel and Ellie arrived in Jackson County, with Tommy immediately embracing his brother and introducing them to his new wife, Maria.
Again, the specific circumstances may differ in this adaptation, but this is very similar to the episode we’ve just watched.
In the game, this chapter proves to be a pivotal moment in Joel’s development as a character. His initial intention upon meeting his brother is to leave Ellie in his care, believing that Tommy’s connections to the Fireflies (having previously been a member) will make it easier for him to get Ellie safely to her destination.
This doesn’t happen, as the pair come to blows again after Tommy realises Joel hasn’t grown as a person since they last met – however, their confrontation is interrupted by armed bandits.
With their town under siege, Ellie is thrown into harm’s way, and it’s through Joel helping to save her that Tommy sees that his brother has changed.
Joel eventually decides to leave, Tommy promises that he’s welcome to stay in the town anytime, and that’s that.
Because of the warmer relationship between Joel and Tommy here, certain aspects of the narrative had to be switched up to motivate Pascal’s protagonist into needing his brother’s help. Step in, unspecified illness!
Yes, for the most part of this episode, we see the weight of the mission take its toll on our hero, which is our first real reminder that he’s 56 years old.
Joel keeps stopping to pause for breath, and at one point, informs Tommy that he’s getting “weaker” – in this iteration, he wants to complete his smuggling mission, but fears that he’s too physically impaired to be able to.
In an interview with Polygon, Druckmann and Mazin highlight that changes to Joel’s physicality are necessary when making the jump to live action.
In a game, his CGI counterpart can easily evade being harmed from brutal attacks, as he can be reloaded every single time you fail a mission.
However here, you need to show the frailty that comes with having done such a life-threatening job for 20 years in the post-outbreak US.
It helps make this Joel a much warmer character, even if he still does have his trademark cynicism – also ensuring that this week’s gut punch ending hits all the harder.
A Stab In The Dark
Arriving at the University Of East Colorado after leaving Jackson, the pair find that the Fireflies have departed the scene, with Joel getting attacked by the new group who have turned up in their place.
This largely plays out in the same way as it does in the game – only there, Joel is pushed from a height and left for dead instead.
This puts Ellie to her ultimate test, as she’s tasked with getting Joel to safety and nursing him back to health, something which leads her into contact with the less-than-trustworthy group who have taken up camp here.
We’ll avoid getting too much into who this is just yet, so for now, all we’ll say is get ready to see a familiar face from the games in a completely new light…