Joel and Ellie were getting right to the point where they both started to let their guards down. Leave it to The Last of Us to rip that away at the end of “Kin,” where Joel gets violently attacked. “Left Behind,” he’s noticeably in bad shape, and justifiably, Ellie is freaking out. It will only be so long until the wound gets infected or Joel bleeds out. This is Ellie's apex point, saying to Joel, “don’t you f*cking die on me.” However, they have a daughter/father affinity for each other through just getting to the firefly base.
But “Left Behind” is not so much about the present or future – it’s time to dig into Ellie’s past and look at one of the first hard decisions she had to make. If you’ve played the game, Left Behind is the exact title of the extra story (or Downloadable Content), which centers around one night with Ellie and her best friend, Riley (played by Storm Reid). Out of all the episodes so far, this is probably one of the most game accurate down to the details.
At this point, we know why Joel is so hardened and hesitant to embrace anybody. Now, it’s time to look at a significant inflection point within Ellie’s young life. We see her at a FEDRA settlement, not taking too kindly to what a girl named Bethany says about Riley. It lands Ellie in front of a FEDRA officer (definitely not the first time), and he proclaims he sees a leader in her. She can go through door number one (horrible life on patrol) or door number two (a FEDRA officer who helps keep the “whole thing going”). This is a major theme when Riley comes to her room and asks Ellie to go out with her past curfew.
Riley joined the Fireflies after somebody was impressed with her sneaking-out skills. Although Riley and Ellie are friends, they have different views on how FEDRA and the Fireflies operate. We have seen a little of this in Kansas City, where that rebellion group deemed FEDRA as an authoritative group – however, they were tyrannical themselves. Depending on where you’re standing, there are pros and cons. However, Ellie and Riley have the night to themselves, seeing the wonders of the mall.
It goes back to what Joel said to Ellie in the fourth episode that kids shouldn’t have to experience the terrors of the apocalypse. They should be doing precisely what Ellie and Riley were doing – joking around, playing Mortal Kombat II, reading a pun book, and having fun at the mall. We’ve seen so many instances where this virus has ravaged children or teenagers, directly or socially. ‘Left Behind’ shows us that happiness can still happen (if only temporarily). Ellie doesn’t know many things – like an escalator or why certain stores were bare and left alone.
We also get a view of Ellie’s sexuality in a beautiful way. When they both go on the merry-go-round, Ellie looks at Riley affectionately and longing. Riley jokes about the lingerie in front of the Victoria Secret store, and Ellie straightens her hair. Then there’s the kiss. Maybe it’s not so much the Fireflies mission (ironically, that’s where Ellie has to go); it’s more so this thing is taking the person she cares about away. For Riley, it’s something different. She cares about Ellie, but the Fireflies give her a sense of purpose and family. As she says, FEDRA would have her guarding sewage detail.
With the Firefiles, as we see with the bombs, it’s inherently dangerous and tips the scales from a moral sense. Sadly, these great moments of them dancing and playing in the Halloween store get broken up by the infected – a disheartening metaphor for this whole series. Even inside a wall tucked away, we’re constantly reminded of how bad the world is outside.
If we had seen it happen, I feel it would have taken away from the emotional heaviness of the act. Think about how hard it had to be for Ellie to kill her best friend and find out she was immune—then walk with that throughout this whole mission. This is one of the main reasons the episode ending with Ellie repairing Joel’s wound was so effective. There was absolutely nothing Ellie could have done for Riley. The slightest chance of saving Joel’s life is worth it.