The Last of Us – Episode 6 Recap – ‘Kin’

Joel and Tommy finally reunite in Episode 6 of The Last of Us, but that only creates more tensions between Joel and Ellie.
The Last of Us - Episode 6 Recap - 'Kin'

Episode 6 of HBO’s adaptation of The Last of Us goes to some interesting places, namely, the town of Jackson, which marks a significant convergence of the narrative from both Part I and Part II of the original Last of Us video game series. Joel and Ellie get to take a bit of a breather this time, in comfortable surroundings and without fear of danger, which lets them take stock of their journey and relationship with one another.

There’s some great character drama going on here, as the quiet moments in Joel and Ellie’s growing relationship get precious more screen time. But the two also spend some time away from each other, which allows them to seek outside counsel, get some fresh perspective, and get more introspective, with each character coming out from it in a different way.

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 6 Recap – ‘Kin’

This episode was written by Craig Mazin, and directed by Jasmila Žbanić (director of the Oscar-nominated Quo Vadis, Aida?)

Episode 6 opens with a very brief recap of the grim conclusion of Episode 5, reliving the tragic and traumatic moment when Henry (Lamar Johnson) kills himself. After saving Ellie from his newly infected brother Sam (Keivonn Woodard), he now realises that there he has no more to keep him tethered to this brutal world. This episode will continue to explore a number of different duos, and examine what keeps them together.

We jump ahead three months. It’s winter. Snow blankets a forest. 

A figure returns to their log cabin in the middle of the wilderness. Upon entering the abode, the figure is revealed as Marlon (Graham Greene) who notices his wife Florence (Elaine Miles) sitting perfectly still and making eye gestures. 

The Last of Us - Episode 6 Recap - 'Kin'
Image: HBO / Binge

Perhaps not quite understanding her intent, he puts down his bow and begins to take off his jacket, but before he can finish, Joel (Pedro Pascal) reveals himself, handgun pointed, requesting that Marlon put down his sidearm, too. 

After some delightful bickering between Marlon and Florence – ‘You made him soup?’ ‘It’s cold out!’ – the couple then turns their sharp wit onto Joel and eventually Ellie, as the two protagonists try to confirm their whereabouts. 

Joel employs a sly hostage trick – asking Marlon for his answer, and threatening that it better be the same as Florence’s, whom he asked earlier. After some more entertaining consultation between Florence and Marlon, he confirms it, and Joel and Ellie back down, dejected. They’re close to the supposed whereabouts of Joel’s brother Tommy (Gabriel Luna), but they need more help. Their questions about Tommy and ‘Fireflies’ only get more ridicule from the old couple. 

Joel asks about the best way West, to which Marlon says ‘Go east.’ Go past the river to the West, and there’s only death, say the couple. They’ve only ever seen bodies – some infected, some not. If Tommy is past the river, he’s gone, they advise.

‘You’re not going to scare us,’ says Ellie. But Florence observes: ‘scared him’. Joel looks incredibly worried. Marlon cackles. 

As Joel and Ellie leave, Ellie tries to reassure him that the old couple probably didn’t know any better, but Joel’s anxiety becomes overwhelming, and he begins to have a panic attack. However, Ellie quickly snaps him out of it with her brazen words.

Joel and Ellie continue trekking across the snow-covered landscape, over mountains and valleys, and finally arrive at the so-called ‘River of Death’. However, being late in the day, they decide to set up camp for the night. 

The two take the time to regroup and spend some downtime together. Joel attempts to fix his broken boot, worn out from all the walking, with duct tape. Ellie admires the Northern Lights in the sky. Ellie asks Joel if she can try a swig of whiskey, which he reluctantly agrees to – a notable change in his attitude towards Ellie and their relationship.

The Last of Us - Episode 6 Recap - 'Kin'

It’s perhaps not quite all the way there yet, however. Ellie begins pondering what they might do with their lives once they finally reach the Fireflies and a cure is made from Ellie’s blood, but Joel turns his nose up at the idea of ‘we’ – the two of them together. 

Joel, as of this moment, dreams of living in a farmhouse and running a sheep ranch – ‘they’re quiet, and do what they’re told,’ he says smugly. Offering the question back to her, Ellie looks up at the moon, dreaming of being an astronaut like the ones she’s read about in books. 

There’s a long pause. Ellie perhaps comes to terms with realising how impossible that dream is. How the world will probably never go back to normal. And then she wonders out aloud – the cure is going to work, right? 

Ellie reveals to Joel that she knew about Sam’s bite in Episode 5, and that she attempted to mix some of her blood into Sam’s bite to try and cure him. Joel reassures Ellie that it’s probably a lot more complicated than that, and that if Marlene (Merle Dandridge) is certain it can be done, she’s probably right.

As they turn in for the night. Joel offers to stay up and take both watches, encouraging Ellie to get some sleep. Come morning, however, he’s completely passed out on the floor, mumbling in his sleep. He rises in a panic, likely afraid that something terrible has happened like the last time we saw Joel sleep (he awoke with Sam holding a pistol to his face).

Image: HBO / Binge

Thankfully, Ellie is awake, alert, and armed with their hunting rifle – she’d woken up to find Joel asleep, and took over. Joel insists that she wake him if something like that happens again, but Ellie asserts that she’s more than capable of handling herself as she recites all the precautions she took – precautions that Joel has apparently been teaching her during the three-month gap between the previous episode. She’s very proud of herself. 

Finally at the pedestrian bridge that crosses the River of Death, Joel and Ellie hide amongst the trees, firing warning shots into the air to see if they can spot any movement on the other side. All seems quiet, so they cautiously approach and cross. 

Things continue to seem fine on the other side, so Ellie and Joel return to their usual antics, with Ellie desperately trying to learn how to whistle as Joel teases her. Ellie also asks if Joel can teach her how to hunt, but he doesn’t think she can handle the dressing – removing the internal organs. Ellie ponders the suitability of the term ‘dressing’. Isn’t it more like ‘undressing’?

The two eventually come across a large dam – to which Ellie amusingly remarks, ‘Damn!’. In the Last of Us video game, the dam is where Joel and Ellie finally reunite with Tommy and the group he’s found a home with. In the show, however, it’s not to be. At least, not just yet.

Image: HBO / Binge

Continuing on their trek, Joel and Ellie come across yet another river, and upon Ellie’s suggesting that this river might be the ‘River of Death’ Marlon and Florence were referring to, things begin to get tense. 

With his map out and a confused look, Joel looks like a lost tourist in the middle of the wilderness, which is the perfect moment for a troop of armed, masked horseback riders to enter the scene and begin surrounding Joel and Ellie. The duo surrender and drop their guns.

The ringleader orders Ellie and Joel to step away from each other, and one of the assailants brings in a very aggressive dog to try and determine whether either of them is infected – no fancy FEDRA scanners out here.

The dog walks up to Joel and sniffs him. He’s clear. As the dog moves to smell Ellie, it growls, and Joel begins to have another small panic attack. 

All is fine, however, as the dog begins to lick Ellie, and she responds with pats and laughter.

The ringleader asks what their business is, and Joel mentions that he’s looking for his brother. This remark instantly catches the attention of another masked rider, who immediately moves up and asks for Joel’s name. 

The Last of Us - Episode 6 Recap - 'Kin'
Image: HBO / Binge

We cut to the masked riders making their way across a vast plain, towards an enormous and ominous fortified wall. Joel and Ellie are riding with the group, on their own horses.

As they enter, the town of Jackson is revealed – an idyllic community filled with ordinary citizens, tidy shopfronts and Christmas trees, and not at all like the dystopia of the Quarantine Zone. 

This is a notable deviation from The Last of Us video game – the town of Jackson isn’t brought into the picture until The Last of Us Part 2. But the location is shockingly accurate in the HBO adaptation.

As they ride into town, Joel spots Tommy (now sporting a fetching moustache) working on some construction scaffolding. They embrace. It’s a teary, happy reunion. ‘What the fuck are you doing here?’ he asks. Joel looks around at the picture-perfect town, before saying ‘I came here to save you,’ and laughing. 

Image: HBO / Binge

The episode cuts to the picturesque Jackson mess hall, where members of the community are reading books and having coffee. Ellie and Joel shovel food from the buffet carts down ravenously. There’s pumpkin pie and everything, and Ellie can’t contain herself. Joel suddenly becomes aware of the very civil situation they’ve found themselves in, and asks her to mind her manners in front of Tommy and his lady friend Maria – the masked rider who reacted to Joel from earlier. 

Ellie spots a young girl looking at her from behind a pillar, who she loudly calls out. The girl briskly walks away, embarrassed. Though she’s not named or seen again, those who are familiar with the events of The Last of Us Part 2 likely have a very strong inkling of who this (possibly very significant) person could be.

Image: HBO / Binge

In a clash of etiquette, Joel and Ellie quiz Tommy about the harsh welcome wagon and the ominous reputation of the society outside its walls. ‘A bad reputation doesn’t mean you’re bad,’ says Tommy. ‘Not always, at least,’ says Maria, as she locks onto Joel with a piercing stare. Joel tries to move her on, asking her for some family time between himself and Tommy, to which Tommy reveals that he and Maria are, in fact, married. 

‘Oh shit, congrats!’ Ellie says cheerfully, before urging Joel to say congrats, under her breath. ‘Congrats,’ Joel says sternly.

Image: HBO / Binge

The four characters go on a tour of Jackson, and we learn a bit about its foundation and operation along the way. Formed 7 years ago, the town of 300 was expanded on an existing gated community, and is heavily fortified against raiders. The open plains help with suppressing what few infected are around – and Tommy regales Joel with a story about how he found a great scope for his trusty rifle. Maria describes how they keep the place quiet, and mentions staying off the radio – to which Joel and Tommy exchange some interesting glances. There’s a school, laundry, multiple places of worship, electricity from the dam, sewerage, plumbing – even sheep. 

Jackson’s also run by a council that is democratically elected, and everyone shares collective ownership. Joel remarks that it’s a communist society, which Maria wholeheartedly agrees with – it’s a commune, after all. Tommy, on the other hand, is a little shocked by this comparison, he’s obviously offended at the idea. Joel smirks at him – it’s clear that this realisation completely goes against some previously-held beliefs for the proud Texan. 

Joel and Ellie visit the stables and meet a young new pony, Shimmer. In The Last of Us Part II, Shimmer is in fact Ellie’s personal horse that accompanies her through a significant part of that game. It’s a nice touch.

Maria offers Joel and Ellie an empty house to stay in close to theirs, and offers to take Ellie ahead while Joel and Tommy catch up. Ellie is obviously a bit anxious and wary of leaving Joel behind, however – a feeling that will only grow.

Image: HBO / Binge

At a nearby bar, Tommy and Joel share a drink, and Tommy mentions that they’re working on raising some pigs to get bacon. Joel is floored by how normal everything seems to be. Tommy asks after Tess, a question with Joel dodges, and then asks about Ellie. Joel gives him the false cover story – that she’s the daughter of a Firefly bigwig – but Tommy obviously doesn’t buy it. He knows his brother.

Tommy gives Joel the location of the nearest Firefly base, but warns that the path there is incredibly dangerous. Joel remarks that it’s going to be easy with the two of them – an assumption Tommy is clearly very uncomfortable with. He’s not going. 

Joel begins to chastise Tommy’s relationship with Maria, assuming that she’s the one who kept Tommy off the radio and out of contact with Joel. As Tommy tells it though, once he left the fireflies, Maria’s group took him in, and all he wants to do is pay them back by following the rules. 

Recalling the earlier tension with Maria, Joel makes the assumption that Tommy didn’t get in contact with him because the people of Jackson didn’t want the wrong kind of people finding it, referencing the dark things Joel, Tommy, and Tess did in the early days of the post-apocalypse.

Tommy attempts to absolve Joel of any guilt he still holds – they did them together, and they did what they had to survive. But Tommy has seen a better way in Jackson, and he’s going to avoid falling back into old routines by going out and trying to survive out there again. Besides, he and Maria are expecting a baby.

Image: HBO / Binge

Joel is not impressed by the news. Offering no ‘Congrats’ of his own free will. This upsets Tommy:  ‘Just because life stopped for you doesn’t mean it has to stop for me.’ Joel storms out, promising to leave tomorrow.

Stumbling out of the bar, Joel begins to have another panic attack, finding himself short of breath. In the distance, he spots a young girl with curly hair that resembles his daughter’s, Sarah.  He moves to try and catch a glimpse of the girl, but of course, it’s a complete stranger. 

Meanwhile, Ellie comes out of the shower to discover that Maria has left a set of brand-new clothes for her, as well as another gift: A reusable menstrual cup. She’s very amused (and a bit grossed out) by it. But this means no more exploring dangerous basements for tampons ever again!

She goes across the street to visit Maria, where she spots a memorable shrine above the fireplace with two names: Kevin and Sarah. Maria enters with another present for Ellie, a very warm-looking weatherproof jacket, and the insists on cutting her hair. Ellie doesn’t get a chance to refuse.

The two bond, and Maria talks about her past life a little bit. She was a district attorney, and a mother. Thinking back to the memorial, Ellie makes an assumption that both children were Maria’s, but Maria corrects her, explaining that Sarah was Joel’s daughter. Ellie sits and ponders this in a long silence. Maria suddenly realises it might not have been her place to tell her that.

The Last of Us - Episode 6 Recap - 'Kin'
Image: HBO / Binge

Maria begins to express concern over Ellie’s situation, the fact that she might not know everything about Joel, and it might not be the best idea for her to follow him around. From Maria’s standpoint, she knows that Tommy followed Joel for a while, and together they did some heinous things. Ellie rebukes with vigour, and impresses Maria with it somewhat. She leaves Ellie with this piece of advice: ‘The only people who can betray us are the ones we trust.’

Maria drags Ellie to the town hall, where the town’s children and adults are watching a movie. It’s The Goodbye Girl, a 1977 romantic comedy whose plot involves a young girl, her growing relationship with her mother’s new boyfriend, and her fear of abandonment. Very thematically appropriate for this episode. Ellie sees Tommy leave, and goes to follow him.

In a workshop in another part of town, Joel is struggling to fix the broken sole of his boot. He struggles with some pliers, before dropping everything despondently. His hand hasn’t seemed to recover from the beating he gave the FEDRA guard in Episode 1.

Tommy arrives with a gift for him: brand-new hiking boots, and an apology. Instead of forgiveness, Joel, still sullen, asks how dangerous the path to the university is, before coming out with it and explaining the whole situation: Ellie is immune. Tess is dead. Her dying wish was for Joel to take Ellie to the Fireflies.

Joel also explains how incapable he thinks he’s becoming, slow and deaf, recounting that Ellie had to save Joel from getting strangled to death when they first arrived in Kansas City, that Henry had to kill Sam to save Ellie (while he was left helpless), and how petrified he felt when the dog sniffed out Ellie earlier in the day. He recalls his constant panic attacks, and recurring dreams of failure and loss – presumably, the raw emotion of failing to protect Sarah, and losing her.

Image: HBO / Binge

Long story short, Joel feels incapable of continuing to protect Ellie, and in tears, begs Tommy to take over as penance for all the horrible things they did, and to make the world a better place for his unborn child. Tommy agrees.

Joel heads to the house they’re staying in, where she finds Ellie rummaging through the diary of the previous inhabitant, a teenage girl, and expressing her confusion over how easy their lives all were.

Joel begins to speak, but Ellie already knows what he’s going to say – it appears she was eavesdropping on Tommy and Joel’s conversation. She’s outraged, of course. Joel tries to reason that Tommy would be the more capable escort, but Ellie isn’t having any of it. ‘What are you so afraid of?’

After a pause, Ellie remarks that she’s not Sarah. Joel shuts her down immediately upon hearing Sarah’s name, but Ellie attempts to press on with her point. ‘You have no idea what loss is,’ Joel scowls in one of the game’s iconic lines, before Ellie fights back with the fact that everyone she has ever cared about has died or left her – including now Joel. 

Ellie’s on the verge of tears. But Joel, still angry that she invoked Sarah, says his goodbyes and storms out. 

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Joel enters the bedroom, and his demeanour is no longer one of anger, but sorrow. He sits and reminisces about Sarah, before going to sleep.

In the morning, Ellie is all packed and ready to leave. There’s a knock at the door, but she’s disappointed to find that it’s Tommy. They head to the stables barely a word between them. 

Arriving at the stables, they find Joel readying a horse – he had planned to steal one, but ended up sticking around. He begins to explain that Ellie deserves to make a choice about who to go with, but before he can even finish Ellie hands him her spare duffel bag. ‘Let’s go.’ Tommy nods, somewhat relieved. 

Before leaving, Joel and Tommy embrace, with Tommy offering both of them a place in Jackson, and his fancy rifle. 

Out in the wilderness, the duo have taken a quick break so Joel can teach Ellie how to use Tommy’s rifle. Their moods are good. They tease each other, and they smile. They ride off into the sunset and bond over several days, with Joel regaling Ellie with tales of how the world used to be. It’s a pleasant journey.

The Last of Us - Episode 6 Recap - 'Kin'
Image: HBO / Binge

Joel and Ellie finally arrive at Eastern Colorado University, where Tommy said the Fireflies should be. It’s eerily empty. Eventually, they stumble upon a troop of monkeys (presumably escaped from a lab), and spot a Firefly symbol. They arrive at what looks to be the entrance to the lab, but there are no guards. Wary, they arm themselves. 

Inside, they find medical supplies, but also a packing list, suggesting that whoever was there had moved out. Suddenly hearing a disturbance, they head upstairs to investigate and enter one of the labs to find… just a few more monkeys making a ruckus.

In the same room, Joel and Ellie find a map that points to Salt Lake City, and assume that’s where everyone went. But before they can speculate too much, they hear voices – four armed men are wandering around outside. Joel and Ellie rush to the rear exit.

Cautiously, they approach their horse, but as they begin loading up, one of the men attempts to attack Joel from behind, breaking his wooden baseball bat on a tree in the process. Joel quickly grabs the man in a headlock from behind and breaks his neck, but as he turns to Ellie, they both realise the broken stump of the baseball bat embedded in his stomach. He pulls it out. The end is sharp. There’s a lot of blood. The three other men come rushing in and Ellie urges Joel on the horse. She fires her gun as they gallop away.

Some distance away, Ellie and Joel are no longer being chased, but Joel is white as a ghost. He slides and falls off the horse, his wound gushing blood. He’s passed out. Ellie frantically tries to rouse him, to no avail. Tears begin to well up in her eyes. She can’t do this without him.

The Last of Us - Episode 6 Recap - 'Kin'
Image: HBO / Binge

As the camera pans out, a slow, sombre cover of Depeche Mode’s ‘Never Let Me Down Again’ plays.

I’m taking a ride with my best friend
I hope he never lets me down again
He knows where he’s taking me
Taking me where I want to be
I’m taking a ride with my best friend.

Stray Observations and Analysis 

  • First of all, the old couple at the beginning of the episode, Florence and Marlon, is just delightful. Though they don’t have much screen time, their brief interactions are both amusing and speak worlds about their personalities and relationship with one another. The actors – Marlon Greene and Elaine Miles – are clear pros (Green was even nominated for an Oscar for his role in Dances with Wolves [1980])
  • For those who are familiar with the original game series, especially The Last of Us Part 2, this episode is an absolute delight. Seeing Jackson recreated so perfectly, with so many little faithful touches and details, was a surprise, especially since it doesn’t come into play during the first game.
  • Some interesting political commentary in this episode – Maria’s comments about living in a communist society and Tommy’s displeasure with the idea, as well as Joel’s comments about how society used to be populated by ‘people who wanted to own everything’ and ‘people who wanted everyone to own nothing’, while he sat in the middle. Coupled with the exploration of the fascist FEDRA versus the democratic uprising of Kathleen’s citizen’s militia in Episode 5, it’s clear that the show isn’t shy about exploring the multi-faceted state of society.
  • Obvious, but worth pointing out: The original version of Depeche Mode’s ‘Never Let Me Down Again’ is initially heard at the end of Episode 1. It’s a good callback.
  • Lines of the show: So many to choose from in this episode. Some killers from Marlon and Florence – ‘You made him soup?’ and ”Did you tell him the truth? Are you telling me the truth?’ to Ellie and Joel’s usual japes – ‘Oh shit, congrats! (Joel, say congrats)’. But some mention should be given to the more impactful dramatic lines – the ‘You don’t know what loss is’ scene especially. 

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