‘The Last of Us’ Episode 7: Recap, And Ending, Explained – Who Was Riley? Why Does Ellie Come Back For Joel?


HBO’s adaptation of “The Last of Us” has been brilliant due to both its own additions to the videogame storyline as well as its adherence to the original work. Episode 7, adapted straight from the 2014 DLC “The Last of Us: Left Behind,” is another solid execution based on good writing and excellent performances from Bella Ramsey and Storm Reid. The plot mostly takes us back to times when Ellie was still a student at the FEDRA school, while the present timeline with Joel severely injured and almost dying also continues simultaneously.

Spoilers Ahead

How Was Ellie’s Life At The Fedra School? Who Was Riley?

Episode 7 of “The Last of Us” actually begins sometime after the events from the end of “The Last of Us” Episode 6, where Joel had passed out from the stab wound he received back at the university campus. Ellie manages to find them shelter inside an abandoned house, but Joel’s condition looks quite bad. The man himself expects this to be his end, and pulling Ellie close to him, Joel tells her to leave him. He wants Ellie to head up north and find Tommy, who will then help her out of the situation. Although the girl listens to the advice, she does not seem convinced, at least for a long time. Ellie walks up to the door and hesitantly turns the doorknob, preparing to leave, when a memory from her past seems to stir her up, and we are given a look into it as well.

Some time back, Ellie was still in the FEDRA school where Marlene had gotten her admitted, also in line with a rule that all young teenagers who were orphans had to go through mandatory training under the FEDRA. Ellie did not fit in well at the school and was often picked on due to her habit of listening to songs on her Walkman by herself instead of being like the other trainees at the place. We are made privy to one such day when a bigger classmate called Bethany tries to pick on Ellie by talking about a missing friend of hers. But Ellie is usually not one to tolerate such behavior, as she starts to beat Bethany up and is soon summoned by the school principal for it. Based on the interaction with Captain Kwong at the office, it is clear that Ellie has a record of getting into fights and going against disciplinary regulations. Captain Kwong tries to motivate the girl in a different manner, telling her that she is smart enough to become a captain herself one day, but only if she has enough discipline. Ellie returns to her room that night and tries to indulge herself with her favorite Savage Starlight comic book, but the empty bed in her room keeps distracting the girl. This bed, opposite to her own, belonged to a dear friend of hers who had run off from the school a few days earlier, and this was the very same friend Bethany had been teasing about.

Late at night, around two, someone sneaks into Ellie’s room through the outer window and tries to surprise the girl. This stranger is none other than Riley herself, Ellie’s close friend and roommate. Riley now encourages Ellie to step out of bed and follow her out of the school, for she has something brilliant to show her. Ellie has too many questions and is also a bit irritated by her friend’s sudden disappearance and even more shocking return, but she does eventually agree to go out. As the two girls jump across rooftops and buildings, Riley reveals more about her current situation. She had a habit of regularly sneaking out of the FEDRA school, and on one particular night, a woman working for the Fireflies complimented her sneaking. Upon further conversation, Riley told the woman how she hated the FEDRA and how she wanted to liberate the Boston QZ from military rule. As it turned out, this woman was Marlene, the leader of the Fireflies in Boston, and she immediately hired Riley. The young girl was now a member of the Fireflies, always carrying a handgun with her, and it was through this new responsibility of hers that she got to know of an abandoned shopping mall nearby. Although the mall had been officially closed off due to it being apparently infested with the infected, Riley now takes Ellie there, promising her the best night of her entire life.

Why Does Riley Take Ellie To The Abandoned Shopping Mall?

The time spent at the shopping mall becomes the central force of the plot in “The Last of Us” Episode 7, as it essentially builds up Ellie as the character that we know at present. After switching on the lights and electricity at the place, Riley tells her friend that she has prepared four special attractions that will definitely blow Ellie’s mind. Even before she showed her the first attraction, Ellie is already won over by the escalator, for she had never seen a working one before, let alone used it. The greater attractions follow one by one as Riley leads her to a carousel, and the girls take a ride. The pair had also picked up a bottle of alcohol on their way to the mall when they came across a man who had killed himself with an overdose of alcohol and sleeping pills. On the wooden horses swirling amidst a heavily lit but eerily empty hall, the two share the bottle of alcohol and then move on to the second attraction—a photo booth. Mostly clueless about posing for photographs since that is no longer a usual practice after the apocalypse, Ellie and Riley just go with the flow and get photos clicked. The next surprise is the biggest for Ellie, as the two head to a gaming arcade store and find an old Mortal Kombat II machine. As had been revealed earlier, Mortal Kombat II was Ellie’s favorite game, one that she had heard more about than experienced for herself. Now, with all the time in the world, as well as the left-behind cash register full of coins, Ellie and Riley spend hours playing the game to their fullest satisfaction.

But before the fourth and last attraction can be arrived at, though, the two friends have a falling out when Riley reveals the real intention for her having brought Ellie to the shopping mall. Riley had actually been hired by the Fireflies to guard their ammunition stock hidden inside the mall and had also been posted to a new mission in Atlanta. This meant that it was Riley’s last night in Boston before moving away, and for this reason, she had brought Ellie along to enjoy their last night together. Ellie is livid at this; she has had anger and frustration building up ever since she heard that Riley had joined the Fireflies. It was true that Ellie hated the FEDRA as well and wanted to someday raise arms against them and fight some rebellious war, but such resolutions were like dreamy ideas that still needed any serious nurturing inside Ellie’s mind. She could never imagine actually joining the Fireflies, who she believed was a terrorist organization that killed innocent people only to prove their point. She could not fathom the fact that her best friend—in fact, the only friend that she had—was now a part of the same terrorist organization. Ellie angrily leaves the place and huffs her way to the main entrance of the mall, about to go back to her FEDRA dorm. But the reality of the night also catches up with her soon enough—no matter what, this was indeed her last chance to spend time with Riley, and she simply could not let this opportunity go. Ellie returns to Riley, and they enjoy the last attraction together—a Halloween props store. Although Riley promises that she does not intend to recruit Ellie as a Firefly, the girl does ask Ellie to go away with her.

There was always an evident romantic urge and tension developing between Ellie and Riley throughout “The Last of Us” Episode 7, which made it eventually impossible for them to hide their feelings. After first entering and lighting up the shopping mall, the girls came across a lingerie store with its products still put on display. Riley joked that she imagined Ellie in one of these lingerie sets, to which both girls laughed out loud, but the thought did seem to stick in Ellie’s mind. For a few minutes, she keeps looking at herself in the store’s glass reflection, setting her hair, and perhaps imagining a reality where she would understand the purpose of such products of vanity. During their time on the carousel and later too, Ellie pretends to like the alcohol, only trying to act cool in front of her friend, whom she also wants to impress. In “The Last of Us” Episode 6, Ellie clearly told Joel how she hated alcohol every time she had it, making it clear that her pretension was only for Riley. In the photo booth, there is a short moment in between their poses and giggles when Ellie tells Riley to get off her because her friend keeps leaning against her. So now, when the girls share a dance with Halloween masks and loud music, the attraction takes over, and Ellie and Riley have their first and only kiss. The two are shy at first but then also incredibly excited about the future. Ellie immediately asks what they would do next, to which Riley replies that they would figure it out. As soon as their romance is revealed to each other, both start to see a life of being together, but alas, even the dreams are too short-lived.

While the girls had been frolicking through the attractions of the empty shopping mall, an infected person had woken up from its slumber inside a nearby toy store and had been making its way towards the girls. Now at the Halloween prop store, Ellie and Riley are jumped by the infected, which chases them and has to be shot at by Riley. The bullets are of little effect, and it is Ellie who ultimately kills the infected with her knife. Ellie is ecstatic about the whole experience of killing, as she feels the adrenaline rush, but Riley’s expression changes the entire mood of the place. Although the shopping mall was not really infested, as believed by people, it still did have infected living inside, and one such infected was enough to cause enough harm. Both Ellie and Riley had been bitten by the infected before it was killed, and now this meant the end of the line for the two girls.

Breaking down with fear, shock, and disappointment, Ellie and Riley try to decide what they should do next. In a calmer and more composed tone, Riley sets out their possibilities—they can either take the easy way out by shooting themselves dead right away or be brave and try to deal with the infection as long as they can. Riley tearfully expresses that she wants to go down the second path, not giving up on life and bearing through their fate, whether it takes two minutes or two days to kill her. Ellie now asks of any third option, for neither of the two seems promising to her, but as the two best friends and new lovers embrace with tears, the fact that there is no third, or better, solution is poignantly expressed. What happens after this is not really shown in “The Last of Us” Episode 7, but it can be guessed based on earlier hints. After possibly waiting to lose their minds together (Riley’s words), there came the point when Riley started to turn into an infected while Ellie was still fine. At this time, Ellie had no idea that she was immune to the deadly fungus, and so she probably thought that her time to turn would also come soon. Perhaps in order to relieve Riley of the pain, or maybe to protect herself instinctively, Ellie must have killed Riley, either with her gun or the knife. This would also explain Ellie’s earlier admission to Joel that she had killed someone before killing Joel’s attacker in Kansas City.

‘The Last of Us’ Episode 7: Ending Explained: Why Did Ellie Come Back For Joel?

Although she is about to leave the house in the present timeline, with Joel lying sick in the downstairs room, Ellie decides not to leave but to find any sort of medication for the man. The reason for such a decision by Ellie, is directly linked to her previous experience with Riley, about which she has been reminiscing all this time. It seems that the spirit or determination to never give up on life was something that Ellie had picked up from her dear friend. Although she had to ultimately kill Riley, for maybe she had become a threat to Ellie or to herself, there was no such threat from Joel. In fact, he was also the only one to have stuck with her, unlike Riley, who was about to leave her too. As fate would have it, Riley’s life had to be cut short due to getting infected, but otherwise, too, she was preparing to leave Ellie and go away. When Ellie asked Riley why she had agreed to go away to Atlanta, Riley spoke of her desire to belong to someone. Unlike Ellie, who had been an orphan ever since she could remember, Riley had spent time with her family and parents. She had, in fact, even witnessed the death of her parents, so she knew what it meant to belong to someone. The feeling of being loved and wanted by somebody was what she had missed for a long time after her parent’s death, and FEDRA never wanted to make her feel that way. As Riley was about to turn seventeen in a few months, she would be recruited to do odd jobs by the FEDRA as per the law, and Captain Kwong had already notified her that she would have to do sanitation work. On the other hand, the Fireflies made Riley feel like she was wanted; they made her feel at home, and this was most probably due to how Marlene is as a character. This was the reason why Riley had therefore opted to leave Boston and go to Atlanta, even if that meant leaving behind her closest friend.

It seems that Ellie, too, now has a similar train of thought in the present timeline when she goes looking for medicines for Joel. With Joel by her side, Ellie genuinely feels wanted and cared for, no matter how indirect such expressions are. While Riley had apparently found a family in the Fireflies, Ellie seems to find her own family in the singular Joel, and she is, therefore, ready to go through any measures to keep him alive and safe. Ellie manages to find a sewing needle and thread in a drawer and uses it to sew Joel’s open wound. As Joel flinches in pain, he presses his hand onto Ellie’s with desperation and helpless love. Ellie and Riley, too, had once held on to each other’s hands in a similar manner, and the bond that Ellie and Joel had started to grow ever since their journey out of Boston first began now seems to have come full circle. Also interestingly, Ellie keeps carrying a more palpable memory of Riley than just her indomitable spirit– Ellie’s favorite joke book of puns had been gifted to her by Riley on their night out at the mall.

What Should We Expect From ‘The Last of Us’ Episode 8?

Although sewing up Joel’s wound is going to immensely reduce the pain, he would still perhaps need medications and professional help to get him up on his feet. It is quite evident from the situation that it would be Ellie running the show for some more time, perhaps, as she searches for any medicine or remedy outside of the house and through the abandoned neighborhood where they are holed up. If the video game plot is indeed adhered to so closely, then we can expect what can be arguably called the darkest part of the whole storyline. How such characters and situations are adapted by HBO’s makers will be something to greatly look forward to.

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Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya keeps an avid interest in all sorts of films, history, sports, videogames and everything related to New Media. Holding a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies, he is currently working as a teacher of Film Studies at a private school and also remotely as a Research Assistant and Translator on a postdoctoral project at UdK Berlin.

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