The goal Joel has had since The Last of Us‘ premiere is realized in this week’s episode: He finds his long-lost brother, Tommy, hidden away in snowy Jackson, Wyo. Thing is? Tommy doesn’t need saving — but it’s becoming more and more apparent that Joel surely does.
Because the gruff thug who’s seemingly unafraid of everything is starting to realize that he’s very afraid of being the reason Ellie gets killed. Like, so afraid that it’s physically manifesting in his body. But at this late point in the journey… can he let her go?
Read on for the highlights of Episode 6, then make sure to check out what Gabriel Luna had to say about Tommy’s reappearance (and hugging Pedro Pascal).
WHAT’S GOING ON WITH JOEL? | After a brief, painful reminder of Henry’s suicide, we cut to three months later and a solitary cabin in a snowy field. A man (played by Graham Greene, Longmire) returns from hunting and walks inside, where his wife (Elaine Miles, Northern Exposure) is sitting in a chair. He puts down his bow and immediately hears a voice from the corner of the room: “And the gun, too.” It’s Joel, who’s a menacing presence… but not so menacing that Elaine didn’t make him and Ellie some soup when she realized they were hungry. Joel is hoping they have information on Tommy or his whereabouts, but all they can offer is advice to not travel past the river. “We never seen who’s out there, but we’ve seen the bodies they leave behind,” the wife says. “Some infected, some not. If your brother’s west of the river, he’s gone.”
Right after they leave, there’s a moment where Joel is NOT OK. He needs to lean against the fence as he normalizes, and the whole thing freaks out Ellie. “Are you dying?” she asks, panicked but still funny as she points out that his demise would mean “I’m f–ked.” He recovers and tells her it was just the sudden onslaught of cold air in his lungs — which is 100 percent untrue — and they continue on.
That night, they camp in a cave near what Ellie has jokingly started calling the “river of death.” Their previously frosty relationship continues to thaw: He gives her a sip from his flask when she asks, she posits a future in which they don’t part ways after the Fireflies. (For the record: He envisions himself possibly starting a sheep ranch — “Their quiet. They do what they’re told,” he says pointedly (ha!) — and she waxes rhapsodic about astronauts.)
Then, as we’ve seen happen before, Ellie’s fear surfaces, though she tries to play it off. “It’ll work, right?” she wonders aloud. “The vaccine?” She admits that she tried to use her blood on Sam because “I wanted to save him,” but to no avail. After a beat, Joel reassures her that if Marlene says the Fireflies doctors can make a cure from what Ellie has to offer, “they can do it.” This, of course, is pure conjecture. But it’s one of the first times that Joel glosses over a hard truth in order to make Ellie feel better and safer… the way dads are wont to do.
He tells her he’ll take both watches so she can rest, but the next morning, he realizes he fell asleep — and she guarded him all night. “What can I say man? I’m a natural,” she proudly announces. “Wake me up next time,” he grumbles.
WELCOME TO JACKSON | Their long walk continues — they discuss how she wants to learn to whistle and to hunt, she makes a bad joke when they pass a dam — but the pair’s progress is interrupted by a group of people on horseback who suddenly, threateningly surround them. Joel gets Ellie behind him, and they both put up their hands in surrender as Joel shouts that they’re just passing through. The leader has Ellie and Joel drop their weapons and separate so that a dog that can sniff out Cordyceps infection literally can stick its nose in their business. The pooch clears Joel but growls as it approaches Ellie, and Joel is about to implode from worry — you can actually SEE it playing out on his face — when the animal starts playfully licking Ellie’s face, causing her to giggle.
As Joel tries to calm down, he says he’s looking for his brother; a woman from the group rides forward and asks for a name. And pretty soon, they’re all — Joel and Ellie included — riding back to a gated settlement that houses what seems like a thriving, laid-back community known as Jackson. Wait… who’s that bearded guy working on a construction project in the middle of town? “Tommy!” Joel yells. The brothers Miller quickly approach each other, ending with a desperate hug that nearly undoes Joel. “The f–k you doing here?” Tommy says, but he’s clearly happy to see his sibling. “Came here to save you,” Joel replies as they laugh and embrace some more.
MAZEL TOV! | While Ellie and Joel inhale a meal, she peppers Tommy and the woman who questioned them — whose name is Maria (and who’s played by Rutina Wesley, True Blood) — about why they nearly killed them and why there are more than a few bodies littering the grounds outside the compound. Tommy dismisses it as “all bark” to keep them safe, even if that’s not how those outside the walls perceive them. “A bad reputation doesn’t mean you’re bad,” he adds, and Joel — author of I Do Bad Things Because These Are Bad Times — looks slightly taken aback. We soon learn that Tommy and Maria are married, news that both surprises and discomfits Joel.
Outside, Maria and Tommy show off their little piece of post-apocalyptic heaven. Jackson has a school, a multifaith house of worship, sewage and water systems and electricity, which they draw from the dam. The 300 residents share everything, including animals and greenhouses. “So, uh, communism,” Joel says judgingly. Maria easily agrees that they live in a commune, and yeah, they’re communists. Then she ferries Ellie away so the brothers can talk.
IT’S MILLER TIME | The Miller men go to the bar, which is empty, and catch up. Joel lets Tommy believe that Tess is still alive, saying she’s “fine” when asked. He lies that Ellie is the daughter of “some Firefly mucky-muck.” Tommy says the base they’re looking for is at the University of Eastern Colorado, but the trip between there and Jackson is incredibly dangerous. So Joel asks him to come along… and Tommy says nope.
Aware that the subtext is rapidly becoming the text, Joel leaps into what’s REALLY going on. “Those things I did, Tommy, those things you judge me for? I did those things to keep us alive,” he says, defensive. Tommy acknowledges that he took part in the violence in order to survive, as well — “we murdered people,” he says flat-out — but now thinks “there were other ways.” Add in the fact that Maria is a few months’ pregnant, and Tommy doesn’t want to put himself in a situation that might cause him to kill or be killed. Joel feels abandoned and lashes out: When Tommy says he feels like he’ll be a good dad, his older brother mutters a nasty, “I guess we’ll find out.” They argue. It gets ugly. “Just because life stopped for you doesn’t mean it has to stop for me,” Tommy says at one point. Eventually, Joel says he and Ellie will leave in the morning, and he takes off.
Right outside the bar, Joel thinks he sees Sarah — it’s obviously not her, just a girl who is reminiscent of her from behind — and he has another episode that has him grabbing his chest and leaning on a pole while he tries to breathe. (He eventually recovers, but… this cannot be a good thing.)
Tommy later finds Joel at the shoemaker’s workshop, and gifts him a pair of new boots as he apologizes for what he said. “I know you’re happy for me,” the younger Miller says. But Joel is already spinning at quite a clip, Tommy, so strap in for a ride on your brother’s emotional Tilt-A-Whirl. He confesses the truth about Ellie, as well as Tess’ true fate. “It was her dying wish,” he says. “What the hell was I supposed to do?”
As he talks, all of his Big Feelings about Ellie’s having to save him from the ambush kid in Kansas City come to the fore. “Five years ago, I would have destroyed him. But she had to shoot him to save me. Fourteen years old. Because I was too slow and too f–king deaf to hear him coming.” Joel is having a HARD TIME and, accordingly, Pedro Pascal is KILLING both IT and ME. He’s near tears as he admits that the fear has been coming up “out of nowhere, and my heart feels like it’s stopped.” Also: He’s having nightmares in which “I lost something. I’m failing in my sleep. That’s all I do. That’s all I’ve ever done is fail her again and again.”
And because of that, Joel is certain that he’s going to get Ellie killed. “I have to leave her,” he says, wrecked, asking Tommy to accompany the girl to the facility. “It’s the last thing I’ll ever ask.” Though conflicted, Tommy agrees.
‘I’M NOT HER, YOU KNOW’ | Meanwhile, after a shower, Maria cuts Ellie’s hair, and the women have an info exchange of their own. Maria was an assistant district attorney in Omaha, and her son, Kevin, was 3 when he died soon after Outbreak Day. Ellie sees a memorial in the house for Sarah and assumes that she as Maria’s kid, as well. But Maria corrects her that Sarah was Joel’s. “I guess that explains him a little,” Ellie says.
Maria is still snipping away when she gets to her point: Joel’s past makes him dangerous, and she’s worried about Ellie’s welfare. El, who’s already so loyal to Angry Dad, points out that Tommy did the same things, but Maria waves that off as Tommy just following his brother. “Be careful who you put your faith in,” she gently warns. “The only people who can betray us are the ones we trust.”
Afterward, while walking around town, Ellie overhears part of Joel and Tommy’s conversation in the shoe workshop. And when he finds her back at the house they’ll share for the evening, Joel quickly realizes what’s transpired. “I’m not her, you know,” Ellie says, letting him know that Maria told her about Sarah. “No,” he whispers quickly, “don’t say that word.” As they argue, she points out that he hasn’t cornered the market on loss, but he disagrees. “You have no idea what loss is,” he barks. So she counters that everyone she’s known as either died or left her — everyone except for him. And because she’ll be more scared with anyone other than him, she begs him to stay the path with her. But Joel is heartsick and looking for an exit, so he reverts to form, telling her that she is, indeed, not his daughter “and I sure as hell ain’t your dad. And come dawn, we’re going our separate ways.” When he storms out, she’s close to crying. And that night, as Joel thinks about decorating the Christmas tree with Sarah, he cries a little, too.
AN UNEXPECTED PIT STOP | Tommy and Ellie arrive at the stable the next morning to find Joel readying to steal a horse and leave. He’s thought about things, he announces, and he wants to give Ellie the choice of whom to — “Let’s go,” she says, indicating that she’ll continue with him, even if he thinks she’d be safer with Tommy. So he hugs Tommy, who gives Joel a gun and makes clear that they’re both welcome in Jackson, and Joel and Ellie leave.
Something has eased between the two of them, and the trip to Colorado is marked by a lightness they haven’t shared much. He teaches her to shoot the long gun. They talk about how he wanted to be a singer when he was a kid. Eventually, they arrive at the university, which is emblazoned with Firefly graffiti, and find it abandoned except for the test-lab monkeys that are now running free on the grounds.
Based on what they can glean from what’s left behind, Joel thinks the group might have decamped to Salt Lake City. But their planning is interrupted by the approach of four armed men walking with a purpose. Ellie and Joel are almost to their horse when one of the guys attacks; Joel breaks the man’s neck, but not before the man stabs him in the torso with the ragged end of a baseball bat. The injury is so sudden that Joel doesn’t even realize what’s going on until Ellie stares at him, stunned.
Together, they manage to get to the horse, with Ellie shooting at the remaining men in order to keep them away. Joel and Ellie put some distance between them and the school, but then Joel falls off the horse, too hurt to go on. “I don’t know where the f–k I’m going,” she cries. “I don’t know what I’m going to do.” The episode ends as she pleads with him to get up.
Now it’s your turn. What did you think of the episode? Sound off in the comments!