The Last of Us Episode 4: Ellie Gets Punny With Joel, But Their Next Stop Is No Laughing Matter

Following last week's narrative detour, the duo get back on track, encountering foes familiar to gamers while bonding over Dad jokes.

by | February 6, 2023 | Comments

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The Last of Us’ third episode, “Long Long Time,” earned plenty of praise – and decisive discourse – last week for its dramatic deviation from the game’s narrative and deep-dive into Bill and Frank’s backstory. Episode 4, “Please Hold My Hand,” also takes a significant detour, but this time it’s a more literal, geographical one.

Upon leaving Bill’s (Nick Offerman) home, in both the game and series, Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) hit the road for Wyoming with hopes of finding Joel’s brother Tommy. In the source material, their trip is soon derailed in Pittsburgh, where they’re ambushed by Hunters and their truck is totaled. In the show, however, they journey nearly another thousand miles west — before things go south — to Kansas City.

Spoiler alert: The following contains details about The Last of Us season 2, episode 4, “Please Hold My Hand.” Stop here if you have not watched the episode.


Pedro Pascal, Bella Ramsey in The Last of Us

(Photo by Liane Hentscher/HBO)

While the game and show disagree on where Joel and Ellie hit a literal bump in the road, the ensuing events play out similarly. A man seeking help stumbles in front of their truck, begging for them to stop. As a seasoned smuggler, Joel immediately recognizes the ruse and hits the gas. But more aggressors quickly emerge, causing the pair to ultimately crash into a storefront.

In the game’s version of events – which unfold in a chapter titled “Pittsburgh”– the chaotic scene sets the stage for two or so hours of tense, action-packed gameplay. More specifically, while Joel and Ellie desperately attempt to survive and escape the Hunter-controlled city, players’ trigger fingers are taxed as Joel leaves an increasingly large pile of corpses in his wake.

But as the series has already proven, it’s far more interested in fleshing out its characters than bloodying their hands. This is especially apparent in the immediate aftermath of the truck’s collision. As in the game, the show sees Joel dropping some Hunters to protect Ellie. But the series forgoes the game’s bloody, extended melees and much bigger body count to focus on fewer deaths, particularly one of a young man who’s shot and disarmed by the duo. With the tables turned, the wounded, terrified assailant calls for his mother and pleads for his life. It’s a brutal, gut-wrenching moment that had us sympathizing with this “bad guy” while he fruitlessly begs to be spared.


Melanie Lynskey in The Last of Us

(Photo by Liane Hentscher/HBO)

More than just humanizing this victim – and, more widely, every desperate survivor who’s seen their moral integrity tested in the post-apocalypse – the scene plays a huge part in shaping Joel and Ellie’s relationship. But before we dive into the mushy stuff, let’s meet a “bad guy” that’s much harder to sympathize with. The game’s Hunters are a largely faceless group of scavengers that have taken control of Pittsburgh. By and large, they’re just bullet fodder for the player. The series’ Kansas City version of this same antagonistic faction also control their respective city, having usurped FEDRA, but they’re led by Kathleen (Melanie Lynskey), a totally original – and ruthless – character.

While the source material’s Hunters have no real motive beyond murdering and stealing to survive, Kathleen’s small army are driven by revenge. As evidenced by their ambush of Joel and Ellie, they’re also not above killing and robbing, but the episode sees them put those activities on hold to hunt down a young man named Henry and his little brother Sam.

Jeffrey Pierce in The Last of Us

(Photo by Liane Hentscher/HBO)

These siblings will be familiar to fans of the game, as it features them in their own heartrending story arc (which we won’t spoil here). But they’re now given a much larger, connected role, as Henry’s apparently a traitor indirectly responsible for the beating death of Kathleen’s brother. With her somewhat reluctant, assault rifle-packing lieutenant Perry (played by Jeffrey Price, pictured, who voiced Tommy in the game and its sequel) by her side, Kathleen will stop at nothing to find Henry and exact her revenge.

When the body of Joel’s aforementioned victim is discovered, she believes Henry is responsible, leading her to mercilessly execute a doctor – the very one who delivered her as a baby – that she’d been interrogating. Her and Perry also discover Henry’s hideout, which is littered with empty food cans and a child’s drawings – presumably Sam’s – depicting the brothers dressed as masked superheroes.


Pedro Pascal, Bella Ramsey in The Last of Us ep 4 featurette screencap

(Photo by HBO)

While Kansas City and Kathleen are new additions, Joel and Ellie’s misadventures stick pretty close to the game’s script, sometimes shot-for-shot and line-for-line. From lighter moments – like their hilarious exchange over Bill’s porn magazine and Ellie’s joke obsession and love of comic books to more dire situations – such as the post-ambush attack – the episode is brimming with scenes that’ll have fans pointing like Leonardo DiCaprio’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood meme.

But again, the series also extends and tweaks these sequences to better fit the medium and give more context to its characters’ growth. As in the game, their time in the truck includes listening to a cassette of Hank Williams’ “Alone and Forsaken,” as well as a quick cut to Ellie sleeping after she insisted she’s not tired. These familiar callouts, however, sandwich a new, lengthy dialog exchange between the two, exploring Tommy’s history, his involvement with the Fireflies, and Joel’s contentious relationship with him.

Joel and Ellie also spend far less time in the city evading and killing Hunters than they do bonding. The catalyst for their maturing relationship stems from a familiar scene that takes a fresh turn, while also supporting Ellie’s earlier, secretive commandeering of Bill’s gun. Shortly after they crash in the game, Ellie saves Joel by warning him of an attack he doesn’t see coming. In the show, this translates to her hesitantly using her previously hidden pistol to shoot and seriously wound Joel’s surprise attacker.

Bella Ramsey, Pedro Pascal in The Last of Us

(Photo by Liane Hentscher/HBO)

Her target is the aforementioned man who pleads for his life. Joel puts the final, lethal bullet in him, but he’s tortured by the fact Ellie had to pull the trigger in the first place. Later in the episode, he awkwardly explains this, blaming himself and apologizing to Ellie. He also gives her the gun and teaches her how to properly aim it. Throughout the episode, they also have some tentative conversations about Joel’s past experiences killing people, and the morally gray justifications behind his actions. Ellie also confesses she’s hurt people before, a topic she’s not ready to elaborate on.

The start of the episode sees Ellie telling Joel jokes, trying to soften him up, but to no avail. He’s clearly annoyed and, soon after, refers to her as “cargo” – as he does in the game – stressing his only connection with her stems from Tess’ final request to deliver her west. Fast forward 45 minutes, past their earnest, emotional exchanges, and they’re both laughing uncontrollably while falling asleep to one of Ellie’s previously-annoying jokes.

Of course, this is the post-apocalypse, so they don’t get to celebrate their blossoming bond over ice cream the next day. On the contrary, while the pair drift off to la la land enjoying a shared, happy moment, they awake to pistols in their faces. A young man and boy stand over them, guns drawn, while the latter raises his index finger to his mouth in a “shush” gesture. As the boy does this, the camera pans to reveal a mask – like those from Sam’s superhero sketches – painted across his face.


Perhaps the biggest, albeit least subtle, Easter egg in the episode is Ellie’s joke book, “No Pun Intended: Volume Too.” As mentioned above, its groan-worthy contents ultimately play a pivotal role in helping grease the wheels of Joel and Ellie’s fledgling relationship. The diarrhea joke that finally cracks Joel is pulled from The Last of Us’ expansion Left Behind. Ellie is gifted the book in this side-story by her friend Riley, but it can also be scooped up as an optional collectible in the main game.

Longtime fans – as well as Dad joke enthusiasts – will surely enjoy Ellie’s persistent delivery of the eye-rolling puns, but the episode’s callouts and nods don’t stop at poop humor. Less evident Easter eggs include Ellie moving desks and opening doors to assist Joel’s navigation through obstructed areas, a regular occurrence in the game.

Ellie also notes Joel doesn’t hear especially well on his right side, a script-flipping reference to the source material’s “Listen Mode.” In the game, triggering this skill heightens Joel’s senses to help him locate enemies, an ability that received some ribbing for being a bit superhero-like.

Viewers will also spot a Hunter truck with “RUN” spray-painted across its plow. While the graffiti reads the same in the game, the vehicle it’s scrawled on is far more menacing, pursuing the player and peppering them with turret fire.

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