The Last of Us – Episode 7 Recap – ‘Left Behind’

The Last of Us goes back in time explore Ellie's relationship with her best friend Riley, and their fateful last night together.
The Last of Us Episode 7 Recap Left Behind

Episode 7 of HBO’s adaptation of The Last of Us presents audiences with the most extensive glimpse into Ellie’s (Bella Ramsey) backstory yet, showing snippets of Ellie’s life growing up in the Boston Quarantine Zone in much greater detail. The dynamics between Ellie and her first best friend and romantic interest Riley (Storm Reid) – a character first introduced in the Left Behind expansion content for The Last of Us game – are also explored, and are the central focus of this episode.  

A very injured Joel (Pedro Pascal) is also reluctantly in Ellie’s care in the present day, and as Ellie adopts this caretaker role, the dynamic between the duo is challenged. It’s an episode that solidifies their bond for each other, depicting an intensity to protect within Ellie. 

Read: The Last of Us interview – Storm Reid on portraying Riley

Though filled with conflict and tragedy, this episode truly is a heartfelt watch that communicates themes of love, and depicts a beautiful insight into exploring adolescence within the confines of a post-apocalyptic setting. 

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 7 Recap – ‘Kin’ 

This episode was written by Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann, and directed by Liza Johnson.

Episode 7 opens with a very panicked Ellie and Joel, as Ellie attempts to tend to Joel’s stab wound in the shelter of an abandoned garage following the bloody conclusion of Episode 6. 

Joel pushes her aside hurriedly, telling her to find Tommy, and Ellie is seen rushing to exit before we’re invited into a flashback of her former life in the Boston Quarantine Zone – set not long before discovering her immunity to the virus, and meeting Joel. 

We see Ellie running laps in a gym listening to ‘All or Nothing’ by Pearl Jam on her trusty Walkman. This is a lovely nod to The Last of Us Part II game, as Joel performs an acoustic rendition of ‘Future Days’ by Pearl Jam to Ellie in one of the game’s opening scenes. 

Another young girl in the gym, Bethany, starts an altercation with Ellie, pulling the headphones off of her while telling her to ‘pick up the pace’, not wanting to run doubles as a result of her. Ellie doesn’t want to start an argument, which leads Bethany to make a snide comment about Ellie’s ‘friend’ – the one usually known to fight, and to everyone’s knowledge, has abandoned the Quarantine Zone for unknown reasons 

This leads Ellie to throw the first punch, which lands her in the office of a head FEDRA agent. A shot of Ellie’s fresh black eye is shown, and the agent reveals Bethany has also landed in the infirmary with fifteen stitches. 

Image: HBO / Binge

The agent is warm with Ellie, saying he’s placed her in ‘the hole’ (an implied FEDRA isolation encampment) three times to no avail, and decides to level with her instead of asserting any further punishment. He reminds her of the intelligence and leadership qualities she possesses, and presents her with two possible ‘life paths.’ 

The first is what he calls the ‘life of a grunt’ – a path he feels she is ultimately heading with her actions thus far – and the other is of becoming a FEDRA agent. He reinforces that the second path will allow her to ‘tell the Bethany’s of the world exactly where to shove it.’ Ellie, having connected with and shown slight trust for the agent, leans towards the latter path.

We then see Ellie in her bedroom on a rain-soaked night reading a Savage Starlight comic (the same series she bonded over with Sam in previous episodes), as she stares at an empty bed beside her. After falling asleep, Ellie is awoken by an intruder who has snuck through her bedroom window and placed a hand over her mouth.

Ellie pushes them off, reaching for her switchblade in defence. It’s quickly revealed that this intruder is the aforementioned ‘friend’, Riley (Storm Reid), who has been gone from the Quarantine Zone for three weeks. After Ellie realises this and disarms herself, the pair take a moment to reunite. 

Riley is immediately protective of Ellie after noticing the black eye, promising to ‘fuck up’ whoever caused the injury, and Ellie makes it clear that’s not necessary, standing her ground in anger as she demands answers for where Riley has been in her absence. To Ellie’s shock, Riley reveals she has joined the Fireflies – the series’ primary resistance group spearheaded by mercenary Marlene (Merle Dandridge). 

She then invites Ellie to sneak out with her to a ‘secret’ location, and Ellie reluctantly accepts. As she changes clothes, Riley peruses her desk and sees a cassette tape with the band A-ha on the cover – another musical call back to The Last of Us Part II.

Image: HBO / Binge

The two make their exit to the streets, catching up on the events of Ellie’s fight and humorously bickering over their respective loyalties to FEDRA and the Fireflies – a theme that runs throughout the majority of this episode. They climb through a window and multiple flights of stairs before encountering a deceased man on one floor of a building, who is sitting next to an almost full bottle of alcohol and a bag of unknown pills. Ellie promptly steals the bottle just before the man falls straight through the rickety floor.   

They share swigs of the drink, both pretending to enjoy the taste, as they journey across the rooftops of the city. Riley, after letting Ellie hold her newly assigned handgun, then reveals to her how she joined the Fireflies. 

She explains that on one of the nights when Ellie was in ‘the hole’, Riley snuck out, and on her way back was met by an older woman (Marlene) who claimed to be impressed by her stealthy abilities. The woman asked for Riley’s opinion on FEDRA, to which Riley told her ‘the truth’ – ‘They’re fascist dickbags and they’re the ones that should be getting hanged for their crimes, not the people.’ After hearing this, the woman offered her a place within the Fireflies. 

The pair then begin to make their way to Riley’s secret location – the Mall – crawling through broken architecture which leads to a room full of electric generators. Riley reveals here that these are unknowingly still connected to the city’s power grid as a result of FEDRA intervention. Ellie is instructed to wait patiently inside the Mall while Riley activates these, and she’s met with a sea of storefronts that light up in front of her, much to her amazement. Riley’s planned post-apocalyptic date-of-all-dates has begun to take flight.  

A dreamy rendition of ‘Just Like Heaven’ by The Cure plays while Ellie takes her first steps up and down a functioning escalator, and the two walk through a lane of abandoned stores, which Riley explains had been looted at the beginning of the outbreak. They land at a Victoria’s Secret, and Riley notes the ‘uncomfortable’ nature of the risque garments they see. She laughs at the thought of Ellie wearing one of them, to Ellie’s disgust, and it’s at this point Ellie takes a minute to fix her hair in the reflection of the display window. 

Riley then leads a close-eyed Ellie to another pocket of the Mall, and reveals to her a fully operational carousel that the two board while swigging more of the looted alcohol. 

Image: HBO / Binge

The carousel abruptly stops, and Ellie signals for her and Riley to return to the Quarantine Zone, explaining they may have a chance to run operations at FEDRA together in the future. Riley reveals to Ellie that her future assignment was to be for sewage detail, and that Ellie had more of a chance to lead than she ever could have. Ellie is upset she withheld this information from her back home, but gains more of an understanding as to why Riley is more loyal to the Fireflies. 

Ellie and Riley then snap a bunch of portraits at a photo booth, and Ellie pockets the faded printout before they land at another familiar location shown in The Last of Us: Left Behind – Raja’s Arcade. Riley busts open a loose change dispenser, using the tokens to duke it out with Ellie on a Mortal Kombat II arcade machine – the same game Ellie was overjoyed to see in Episode 3. Whilst the two are immersed in a competitive game, the camera grimly pans a few metres away from the arcade to reveal a glimpse of an infected person fused to the wall, who is just beginning to wake up. 

The two cheer after another match, sharing a brief look into each other’s eyes before Riley pulls away. Ellie tells Riley that she needs to head back to the Quarantine Zone, but is drawn back into the date after the promise of a gift is presented by Riley. The pair head to a Macho Nacho food stall, and it’s revealed Riley has been using this location as a basecamp before she gives Ellie her gift, No Pun Intended: Volume Too – Ellie’s notorious pun book which made its first appearance in the series in Episode 3. 

After the two share some jokes from the book, (and become puzzled by the punchline of understanding the punchline to ‘how does a computer gets drunk?’ [taking screenshots]), Ellie finds a series of pipe bombs which Riley confirms were the property of the Fireflies, noting she had been protecting their stash. Ellie figures out that Riley has been posted to this location by the Fireflies, and becomes angry as the time the two had spent together felt inauthentic.

Image: HBO / Binge

Before the two can argue, Riley reveals that she has been instructed by the Fireflies to guard a post in the Atlanta Quarantine Zone, and that Marlene had refused her request of bringing Ellie with her, making this date their final goodbye. There is a growing tension between the two and Ellie storms off, saying her last goodbye to Riley before quickly running back after she hears screams echo through the Mall. 

As she rushes towards the sound, she sees Riley is safe and that the source of the screams came from a pop-up zombie decoration in a Halloween shop – one of the last locations on the date Riley had initially planned. The two share a moment of respite, and Riley shares more about her loyalties to the Fireflies after Ellie questions her. 

Riley opens up about the longing she feels for a sense of family, and that despite discovering the Fireflies weren’t everything she thought they were before being recruited, she felt she mattered to them as they chose her. She confirms that she is set on leaving for Atlanta, and whilst Ellie is visibly upset, she understands her motivations.

After their brief heart-to-heart, Ellie and Riley each adorn clown and wolf masks taken from the Halloween shop floor, and begin dancing to ‘I Got You Babe’ by Etta James in an attempt to break the tension. Ellie, still reeling from the thought of losing Riley, takes off her mask which prompts Riley to do the same, and the two look at each other before Ellie utters a soft ‘don’t go.’ In this moment, Riley agrees, and the pair share a kiss and begin chuckling, both content with the new decision. 

This joyous moment is quickly interrupted by the aforementioned member of the infected, who has now made its way into the Halloween shop. 

Image: HBO / Binge

Riley begins shooting and the two run until Riley is pushed down, leading Ellie to fight against the infected with her switchblade. Ellie gets knocked into a stack of shelves and fumbles against the infected, and as she crawls out Riley hits it with a metal rod leading to an altercation of her own. Ellie then delivers the final blow to its head with her switchblade, and indulges in a brief moment of victory before discovering that both she and Riley have been bitten. 

We then see a small glimpse of Ellie in the present day clambering around the garage to find supplies to help Joel, before cutting back to Ellie in the Halloween shop breaking display cabinets out of frustration. 

Ellie and Riley both sit together, defeated at their seemingly shared fates, whilst Riley lists out their next possible steps. One is the less favourable ‘easy way out’, alluding to a shared suicide by the hand of Riley’s gun, and one is to ride out the effects of the infection together. Riley then quotes a direct line from the original video game version of Left Behind, saying ‘we could just be all poetic and shit and lose our minds together.’ 

The pair embrace each other at this moment, and we jump forward in time again to a shot of Ellie in the garage, urgently looking for supplies, before finding a needle and thread. She then rushes to Joel, holding his hand tightly before dabbing his wound and beginning to suture. Joel, in visible pain, clutches Ellie’s arm in the process, and Ellie comforts him while not losing focus on the task at hand. 

What happens in the moments after Riley was bitten is never explicitly shown, neither in the original game nor this episode of the series. It’s not clear if Ellie left her in the Mall after discovering her immunity, unable to come to terms with what happened to her, or if she had to end Riley’s life at her own hand. 

Whatever the case, the flashback with Riley serves as further context into Ellie’s motivation as a character. Now that she has established a strong relationship with Joel, and it’s become very clear the two care for each other, she is more determined than ever not to let this world take another person she loves away from her.

Emily Shiel is a freelance writer based in Melbourne, Australia who is passionate about all things accessibility, mental health and the indie games scene. You can find her on Twitter at @emi_shiel