The Last of Us episode 7 review: Easter Eggs, songs and recap for Ellie’s heartbreaking backstory in Left Behind

We recap and review the emotional and heartbreaking The Last of Us episode 7, exploring the music, Easter eggs and shock ending.

By Alex Fletcher Published: 28 February 2023 - 12.35pm
Bella Ramsey and Storm Reid in The Last of Us episode 7 as Ellie and Riley

Okay, we get it now. The Last of Us is going to give us joy, happiness and melt our hearts… and then rip them right out. Every. Single. Week.

We sobbed over Bill and Frank, we blew snot bubbles after Henry and Sam and we can now add Ellie and Riley’s episode 7 love story to the list of gut-punch moments that left us blubbering on the sofa.

Picking up after last week’s stabbing of Joel, Left Behind begins with Ellie facing a near-impossible decision about what to do with her wounded friend. Joel forces her to leave and take her chances without him, but as Ellie leaves the room, the show takes us back to a time before Ellie knew Joel and before she was bitten.

The young teen is being trained by FEDRA and the only ray of light in her life is her rebellious best friend and roommate Riley. The episode, based on The Last of US DLC (Downloadable Content), follows Ellie and Riley on a night out as Riley prepares to exit FEDRA for a new life with the Fireflies.

The love story between Ellie and Riley is beautifully told over the hour-long episode, capturing the fears, insecurities and hopes of two teenagers slowly discovering that their feelings are mutual.

And then, it rips our hearts out.

The Last of Us key art

We know from the clues Ellie had dropped in conversation with Joel that there couldn’t be a happy ending with Riley, but the show does an incredible job of still making the eventual infected attack feel shocking and take the wind out of you.

The little glimmer of hope in episode 7 comes from the final words we hear from Riley, after the duo get bitten.

“We don’t quit. Whether it's two minutes or two days. We don’t give up. I don’t want to give that up.”

It’s Riley’s words which inspire and live on in Ellie as she scrambles for a needle and heads back to stitch up Joel’s wounds. She doesn’t know if her DIY surgery will really work, but she’s willing to take whatever little extra time it gives them.

A-Ha, The Cure, Etta James, Pearl Jam – All the music and songs in The Last of Us episode 7

Bella Ramsey in The Last of Us episode 7 as Ellie

This flashback episode was filled with great musical moments. In the FEDRA compound, Ellie has a Walkman and we hear her listening to grunge legends Pearl Jam and their track All or None.

The computer game's creator Neil Druckmann told the Last of Us podcast: “When you grow up you have a handful of songs that are a escape when things are going hard or like when you’re down on yourself. For me, Pearl Jam, All or None was one of those songs.

“This song specifically, there’s a certain mood, a tone, a feel, capturing where Ellie’s at right now.

“She’s alone, she’s not where she wants to be… This song captures that mood. And it also captures Ellie’s personality – it’s all or nothing.”

Other beautiful musical moments in the episode include an adapted version of The Cure’s Just Like Heaven on the carousel, A-Ha’s Take On Me during a montage sequel in the shopping mall, and Etta James’s I Got You Babe, when Ellie and Riley dance in the Halloween shop and share their first kiss.

Alongside previous episode needle drops - Depeche Mode’s Never Let Me Down Again and Long, Long Time - The Last of Us is building up an epic and emotionally charged Spotify playlist.

Who played Riley in The Last of Us?

Storm Reid as Riley in episode 7 of The Last of Us

Storm Reid, star of Euphoria, When They See Us and A Wrinkle in Time, starred in episode 7 as Ellie’s love interest and best friend Riley.

Riley and Ellie’s storyline helps explain why Ellie won’t abandon Joel in a hopeless moment and helps dig a little deeper into Ellie’s character by lifting the curtain on her life before she was bitten and before Joel and the Fireflies.

Storm and Bella Ramsey are sensational at capturing the mix of awkwardness and excitement between two teenagers who love each other but just don’t know how to express it.

The Victoria’s Secret scene in the mall is one of those brilliant moments in The Last of Us, where it transports you out of the apocalyptic scenario and briefly frames the show as just two teenage girls feeling awkward about their feelings.

The put-downs and insecurities of two young girls brings a sense of realism and relatability that only adds weight to the heartache later in the episode.

Where were The Last of Us mall scenes filmed?

Storm Reid and Bella Ramsey as Riley and Ellie in The Last of Us

Showrunners Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann revealed on The Last of Us podcast that they got incredibly lucky with the mall scenes because they found one in Calgary, Canada, that was scheduled for demolition.

“And they said, you can do what you want,” said Mazin. “The only problem was that the mall was a little sad and it only really had one floor with a little escalator at the end.”

That means the magical moment where Ellie is staring out into the mall as the lights are switched on had to be shot on a soundstage and created with visual effects. Adding a second floor to every scene was a daunting prospect for the creative team, but Mazin said that the ‘love for the game’ among the crew kept driving them and inspiring them to make these scenes and sequences happen.

The significance of the Mortal Kombat II arcade scene

Storm Reid and Bella Ramsey as Riley and Ellie in The Last of Us

FINISH HIM! Viewers of a certain age will have got a definite nostalgia rush as Riley and Ellie button bash their way through a couple of rounds of Mortal Kombat II.

In the original game of The Last of Us, Neil Druckmann couldn’t use an official title, so created a game called The Turning.

Druckmann and Mazin replaced it with Mortal Kombat - an infamous title which caused a huge stir on release because of is gory violence - because they felt like it was a great opportunity to do something that wasn’t possible in the game.

The duo described the beat-em-up as “the best” arcade game and Mazin said he became particularly obsessed and granular with capturing the sound of the quarter being dropped in the machine (“The way it would feel in your stomach”).

The meta use of a computer game in a show based on a computer game is cute, but it also neatly ties up with the scene from episode 3 where Ellie find a broken Mortal Kombat II machine with Joel. That scene and her words about an old friend she used to play it with get a whole new level of meaning after this scene.

What changes were there from the game?

A lot of this episode was heavily lifted from the game, including chunks of dialogue. However, one major difference was the number of infected that Riley and Ellie have to face down in the mall.

In a computer game, you’re going to need more than one monster to battle to make it interesting. But in a TV show, a big fight sequence isn’t necessary, and the time was better spent layering up the characters and building up our attachment to the young romance.

Talking about the show’s ability to keep breaking our hearts and in particular Riley’s death, Craig Mazin said: “As much as we can, we like to give our characters the things they want the most - and punish them for getting them.

“And we want them to be challenged by their darkest fears. One of the fears in this world is you’re never safe enough to have fun, you’re never safe enough to fall in love or have a first kiss.”

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