Editor's note: this post contains spoilers for Season 1, Episode 7 of HBO's The Last of Us, "Left Behind."
Once again, The Last of Us has shown us how to do a truly great gay episode of television.
In the latest episode, Ellie (Bella Ramsey) is trying to save Joel’s (Pedro Pascal) life after he was stabbed, and we’re treated to flashbacks showing her life before she got bit and went off on her journey.
The flashbacks begin when Ellie starts to act out at the FEDRA school she was attending, and it seems to happen whenever other students mention a specific friend she used to have. Then later, when we see her back in her dorm, there’s an empty bed across from her. That friend who left turns out to be Riley (Storm Reid), a character fans of the video game will know well!
The episode shows the two sneaking out at night, as Riley has joined the Fireflies after running away and wants to show Ellie “the best night of her life.” Riley takes her to the mall, which Ellie warns is swarming with infected and was sealed off. “If it’s sealed off, then why isn’t it sealed off,” Riley asks with a mischievous grin.
For the first time in their lives, these two teen girls have a mall to hang out in. “Tonight I’m going to show you the Four Wonders of the Mall,” Riley says. “You planned stuff?” Ellie asks with a smile.
As Riley leads her through the mall, holding her hand, the two share some alcohol, check out a Victoria’s Secret, ride together on a carousel, and exchange furtive glances. (You know, as two young lesbians do.)
They also stop by a photo booth, something Ellie’s never seen before, and luckily, Riley has five dollars saved just so she can do this specific thing with Ellie. Riley spent an entire hour the day before, breaking open the change machine so that she and Ellie would be able to play their favorite game, Mortal Kombat II.
But of course, this is The Last of Us, and nice things can’t last, and an infected hears the two of them as they’re shouting and cheering in the arcade. When Riley plugs Ellie’s Walkman into a Halloween store’s sound system, the girls dance and eventually kiss. Unfortunately, the music also draws the infected to them.
Both girls end up getting bit, and as we know, only Ellie survives. It gives us a much deeper insight into Ellie's trauma and grief, making us realize how real it was when she said everyone who she’s ever cared about has died or left her.
However, despite both gay-focused episodes of this show ending with gay characters dying, it’s not the same kind of Bury Your Gays trope that you see in shows like Game of Thrones. In this show, we do know that gay people can live happy lives and find love. Even if some of them end up facing tragedy.
It’s great to see Ellie interacting with another girl her age. So far, we haven’t gotten to see much of that. And, it’s even better to see that her interactions with that girl are gay.
We already knew Joel’s backstory, as we got it in the first episode. However, before this episode, we barely knew anything about Ellie’s background, including what her life was like before she was bitten and became the lone hope for finding a cure for the fungus.
In the game, there’s a DLC where you can play as Ellie as she bonds with Riley. In The Last of Us: Left Behind, Ellie remembers a time when she was hanging out with her friend Riley in an abandoned mall. Like in the episode, the DLC shows us Ellie’s first kiss and the moment she was bitten.
Previously, the third episode explored a gay love story between two men named Bill and Frank, played by Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett. The episode was immediately praised as one of the best episodes of TV (not just gay TV) in years, with special praise being given to the writing and both actors’ performances.
Now, with this episode focusing on Ellie’s queerness, The Last of Us shows that it wasn’t a fluke. This show knows how to tell a gay story!