The Last of Us – Episode 4 Recap – ‘Please Hold to My Hand’

The Last of Us Episode 4 sets high stakes for the story of Henry and Sam, while exploring Joel and Ellie's growing relationship.
The Last of Us HBO Episode 4 recap

The HBO adaptation of The Last of Us swings from one heart-wrenching interpretation of one of the game’s many side stories, to setting up the dramatic stakes for a second one, in episode 4.

Following the episode featuring Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett), ‘Please Hold My Hand’ begins to set up the story of Henry (Lamar Johnson) and Sam (Keivonn Woodard), two brothers trying to make it out of Kansas City. Much greater stakes are planted, and there’s even a brand new faction for Joel and Ellie to deal with. The infected are no longer the most dangerous threats out there. 

But aside from that, this episode also lets us spend a lot of time with Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsay), as the two begin to forge their relationship through shared experiences both entertaining and traumatic. For those familiar with the source material, a lot of scenes that you’ll remember are recreated in this episode, but there is also plenty of new character work too. Oh, and plenty of puns.

or further analysis and reading on the HBO adaptation of The Last of Us, you can check out the following articles: 

Episode recaps and analysis: 

Behind-the-scenes podcast recaps:

The Last of Us is now streaming on HBO Max in the US, and Binge in Australia.

The Last of Us – Episode 4 – ‘Please Hold My Hand’

This episode was written by Craig Mazin, and directed by Jeremy Webb (Downton Abbey, The Umbrella Academy).

The episode opens with Ellie (Bella Ramsey) fiddling and playing around with Frank’s pistol, which she obtained at the end of Episode 3 ‘Long, Long Time’ without Joel’s knowledge. She unloads it, practices pulling the trigger in front of a mirror, Taxi Driver-style, and even sniffs it. She’s fascinated by it, and seems to feel good about herself.

The Last of Us – Episode 4 Recap – ‘Please Hold My Hand’
Image: HBO / Binge

She exits, revealing that she and Joel (Pedro Pascal) have taken a break at an abandoned gas station, with Joel taking a moment to siphon fuel from a car – petrol breaks down over time, so they need to gather and use a lot of it, on account of it being weak. Ellie asks Joel about how the siphon works, and takes joy in catching him trying to explain something he has no real comprehension of.

Joel chastises Ellie for wandering around, and in response, she pulls out her secret weapon: a book of bad jokes called ‘No Pun Intended’, which finally introduces one of the best narrative elements of The Last of Us video game. Joel is not at all amused. In fact, he’s absolutely mortified.

As they continue on their journey in Bill’s truck, another couple of memorable scene from the game plays out, word for word. Ellie also finds an erotic magazine in the back seat, and jokes about the pages being sticky, which again, mortifies Joel. She’s joking, of course, and throws it out of the window – ‘bye bye dudes!’ Ellie also finds a Hank Williams tape, and Joel puts it on, with ‘Alone and Forsaken’ ominously scoring the montage of their journey through the abandoned and desolate landscapes of post-apocalyptic America.

As the sky turns grey, Joel gets off the freeway and drives the car deep into the woods, where the two make camp. They’ve very well-equipped, and heat up a delicious-looking meal of tinned beans and pasta on a butane camp stove. They bond briefly over how good Chef Boyardee Beef Ravioli is – something which is bound to see a spike in sales, given how well Linda Ronstadt fared last episode.

Ellie suggests lighting a fire, where Joel introduces the idea that there’s a greater danger than infected out in the middle of the country – people who will do far worse things than rob you.

As they turn in for the night, Ellie asks if she can ask Joel a serious question… and pulls out another joke from No Pun Intended on him. To her joyous surprise, he responds with the correct punchline, and turns to go to sleep, smiling. Ellie’s aggressively friendly persistence is finally paying off. 

But before they can completely drift off, Ellie does have a serious question – she wants to be reassured that no-one can find them out there. Joel plainly states ‘No-one’s going to find us,’ to which Ellie simply responds, ‘Okay.’ As Ellie sleeps, Joel gets up and maintains watch, armed with the rifle. 

Image: HBO / Binge

Ellie wakes up to the sound and sight of percolating coffee, which comes as quite the surprise. In the video game version of The Last of Us, Joel spends a lot of time lamenting how much he misses coffee, so its existence here feels like a nice luxury. Ellie is not impressed, however.

As Ellie assesses their route and destination towards Wyomic, the subject of Joel’s brother Tommy (Gabriel Luna), who they’re trying to find for help, comes up. Joel describes Tommy as a ‘joiner’ who dreamed of being a hero, and will blindly follow a cause if he believes it’s just – the army when he was younger, a travelling group after the outbreak (where Joel met Tess) and eventually the Fireflies. Joel clearly does not approve. 

Joel understands that Tommy has quit the Fireflies and is now potentially on his own, which is the whole reason Joel was so eager to find him in the first place – to rescue his little brother after another foray gone awry. 

‘If you don’t think there’s hope for the world, why bother going on?’ ponders Ellie. ‘You gotta try, right?’

‘You haven’t seen the world, so you don’t know,’ responds Joel.

He continues: ‘You keep going for family. That’s about it.’

The Last of Us – Episode 4 Recap – ‘Please Hold My Hand’
Image: HBO / Binge

It’s the theme that keeps coming back around in The Last of Us, and will be continued to be explored, as the show continues. As of right now, however, Joel clarifies that Ellie is cargo, and he’s only helping her because he made a promise to Tess, who was like family. And then In another scene pulled straight from the game, Ellie falls asleep. And if you’ve played the game, you know what’s coming.

Ellie awakes to find that they’ve approached a blockage on the freeways, with piles of cars blocking the entrance into a city, Kansas City. In a somewhat infuriating horror movie-style move, Joel grabs his rifle and heads out to investigate.

Nothing happens to him, thankfully, but he decides that they have to take the long way around to get past the blockade. As they make their way through claustrophobic city streets, they argue over Ellie’s navigation skills – understandable, given it’s her second day in a car – and as they drive past an alley, the camera pans down to a pile of charred human remains.

Suddenly, Ellie tells Joel to stop the car – she’s spotted the entrance to the Kansas City quarantine zone, which is wide open, with no FEDRA guards to be found anyway. Suddenly, they hear a call for help from a staggering man. Joel immediately snaps to attention, throws his seatbelt on, and orders Ellie to do the same. He slams on the accelerator and the car charges towards the man. 

The Last of Us – Episode 4 Recap – ‘Please Hold My Hand’
Image: HBO / Binge

It’s an ambush, of course. Another individual drops a concrete block on the car from a nearby building, and Joel inadvertently drives over a spike strip. Another figure begins firing on the car, which swerves and crashes through a nearby shopfront. 

Joel and Ellie quickly bail out of the car in a hail of gunfire. Joel grabs his rifle and spots an opening in the wall. He orders Ellie to crawl through it and stay quiet, and he opens fire to cover her. 

Joel manages to take out one of seemingly two gunmen, and runs back into the shop to hide. As the second gunman slowly approaches, we hear Joel shoot him dead. 

In a moment of quiet, Joel attempts to reload his rifle, but it’s jammed. Then, in the worst possible timing, a third gunman bursts through the back door of the shop. Joel quickly hits him with the butt of his gun, causing the gunman to discharge his shotgun into the ceiling. A brawl begins, but Joel quickly loses the advantage.

Image: HBO / Binge

The gunman pins Joel on the ground, attempting to choke him with his shotgun. Ellie, well aware of what’s going on, pulls out her pistol from her backpack, crawls out of the hole, sneaks up on the man, choking Joel, and shoots him in the back. She points the gun at him as he pleads for his life. 

Ellie’s unsure of what to do, and averts her eyes as he continues to plead and offers them his knife. Joel requests the pistol from Ellie, which he puts away. He then draws his own revolver, tells Ellie to return to her hiding place. But instead of shooting the man, we hear Joel kill him with his own knife as Ellie weeps. Ammo is precious, I suppose.

As Joel rejoins Ellie, she puts on a brave, practical face and springs to action. They begin searching for a way out. They see reinforcements arrive, and hear them discover the bodies.

The Last of Us – Episode 4 Recap – ‘Please Hold My Hand’
Image: HBO / Binge

We cut to a different part of the city, with armed individuals standing guard in force. Inside a shipping container, repurposed as a jail cell, an old man is being interrogated by a woman known as Kathleen (Melanie Lynskey). Kathleen runs through a list of names, searching for someone named Henry. 

As they talk, she reveals that she had a brother who was beaten to death while incarcerated by FEDRA, and while the old man is sympathetic, he urges her to stop whatever it is that she’s doing. We learn that this man was a FEDRA informant, supposedly providing information to FEDRA about what we assume to be the Kansas City resistance that overthrew the Quarantine Zone.

With a gun pointed at him, he promises that he never gave FEDRA any information about Kathleen’s brother, but she is convinced that someone named Henry did. She’s searching for him, and she’s convinced the old man knows where he is. She holds the gun to his forehead, but he calls her bluff.

The Last of Us – Episode 4 Recap – ‘Please Hold My Hand’
Image: HBO / Binge

Katheen is called out to the street, where dozens of heavily armed militia have gathered, and the men that Joel killed have been brought in. She’s briefed on the situation – that heavily-supplied outsiders did this – by her right-hand man Perry (Jeffrey Pierce – who plays Joel’s brother Tommy in the video game).

Kathleen speculates that Henry has called in outside help, and asks whether a doctor will help the injured. They’re dead, of course, and in her anger, she returns to the cell and shoots the old man. 

She returns to rally the troops against Henry, and they move out in force – with heavily armed vehicles, weapons, armour, and battering rams – beginning to knock down doors in a sweep across the city. 

In a bar, Joel and Ellie are observing them, wondering about the milita’s intentions, and planning their next move – head to a tall building in order to find a way out. 

After a brief moment of silence, the two finally begin discussing the incident. Joel laments the fact that Ellie had to shoot the man – she’s just a kid, after all, and she shouldn’t have to deal with the trauma. Joel attempts to counsel her, though not very well, and apologises sincerely. Ellie tries to stay strong, but begins weeping.

Image: HBO / Binge

She tells Joel that it wasn’t the first time she’d shot – or potentially killed – someone. 

Joel pulls out Ellie’s pistol, and begins giving her a crash course in proper pistol grip, which they share a lovely moment over. They bond through the trauma, and Ellie’s mood instantly improves. Ellie stows the pistol in her jacket pocket, despite Joel advising her not to. 

‘We’ll get through this,’ says Joel as they ready themselves to leave.’

‘I know,’ says Ellie, in another display of her complete trust in him. 

Elsewhere, Kathleen and Perry inspect the scene of Joel’s ambush. Kathleen remarks that there’s no sign of ‘them’, but Perry has something to show her. He leads her to the building across the street, where they find an attic filled with empty cans, sleeping bags, and children’s drawings featuring two figures dressed as Superman. She’s convinced that they almost have them, and that Henry won’t let ‘Sam’ starve.

Perry continues to express dismay, and leads Kathleen to the basement of the building, where they find a huge fracture in the floor. It pulses, and distant groans can be heard. Both Perry and Kathleen are visibly shaken, but Kathleen urges Perry not to tell anyone about it, for now. He despondently agrees.

Image: HBO / Binge

It’s now nightfall, and Joel and Ellie are breaking into the nearby skyscraper. They begin to head up the stairs – as far as they can – and Joel’s aging body and stamina become very apparent. Ellie questions Joel about the ambush, and how he knew what was going on. He responds by saying he’s been on both sides. But he justifies it by being a long time ago, and he did that they did – what they had to do to survive. Tess and Tommy were both part of the same group.

Ellie asks if Joel has ever killed innocent people. He just looks at her for a while, and urges them to continue.

As they reach the 33rd floor, Ellie teases Joel about his age. As they get ready to sleep, Joel asks Ellie about what she said earlier – that it wasn’t her first time shooting someone. Ellie doesn’t want to talk about it, and Joel again talks about how unfair it is for her to have to go through it. Ellie cynically asks whether it gets easier when you get older. ‘Not really,’ says Joel. 

Image: HBO / Binge

Joel also litters the pathway to their room with broken glass, as a kind of rudimentary alarm system. Ellie questions whether Joel will even hear it. ‘Of course I’ll hear it, that’s the damn point.’ She explains that she’s noticed that Joel doesn’t hear well from his right ear – where his scar is – and she wonders if that’s the reason.

Defensively, he says his bad hearing is probably from shooting, and suggest that she stick to her knife. 

As he turns away from her to go to sleep, Ellie breaks the awkward silence with one more joke: ‘Did you know diarrhoea is hereditary? It runs in your jeans.’ 

Joel tries to stifle a laugh, and eventually gives in. 

Later that night, Joel is woken by Ellie shouting his name. He opens his eyes to see her being held at gunpoint by a young man. He turns around to see a small child doing the same to him. 

He didn’t hear that glass. 

Image: HBO / Binge

Stray observations and analysis

  • This episode kicks off one of the most memorable subplots in The Last of Us video game, the tale of brothers Sam and Henry. And already, there’s a quite a lot that’s changed in this story, with a whole episode’s worth of setup, featuring increased stakes for the brothers, including a formidable force trying to find and kill them. How else does it change? You’ll have to wait until Episode 5 to find out.
  • This episode puts a lot of emphasis on journeys – the journey of Joel and Ellie to get across the country, as well as the journey of their relationship. No Pun Intended is a frequent marker of their growing relationship with one another, bookending the episode as well as marking their changing dynamic. It’s a great device, but in our Season One review we remarked that using it perhaps felt a bit rushed in the grand scheme of things – this episode does a lot of the heavy lifting to accelerate their growing relationship. Will that hold up on a second viewing? Watch this space. 
  • Also bookending the episode are two separate shots of children holding guns. What a cruel world.
  • A similar device is the recurring dialogue format between Joel and Ellie. Joel states something with confidence to try and reassure Ellie, like ‘No-one’s going to find us,’ and Ellie simply responds plainly, as if to confirm that she’ll just trust him wholeheartedly on the matter. Those who know how the story of The Last of Us goes will probably know why this seemingly new addition to the script is significant.
  • I really enjoy how the HBO adaptation of The Last of Us actually puts an emphasis on both passage of time, and the need for Joel and Ellie to eat, rest, and do all the things regular humans do. It’s an aspect that is missing from the original narrative, and it’s nice to see the show consider aspects like this in a more grounded reworking of Joel and Ellie’s long and arduous journey. 
  • Melanie Lynskey (Yellowjackets) is great as Kathleen, and her sweet but secretly ruthless demeanor is fun here. The character feels like she was destined to be a villain on The Walking Dead in another life, and as a result she’s not my favourite new inclusion in this adaptation, but Lynskey is still great to watch.
  • Ravioli in a can. We don’t have that in Australia – but I’m intrigued. Grossed out, but intrigued.

Edmond was the founding managing editor of GamesHub. He was also previously at GameSpot for 13 years, where he was the Australian Editor and an award-winning video producer. You can follow him @EdmondTran