Episode 7 is the first time this season that The Last of Us deviates from its major source material, the 2013 video game of the same name, which follows Joel and Ellie, the two main playable characters.
With Episode 7, however, co-showrunners Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann (who authored the original game) opted to draw from other Last of Us concepts, focusing on Ellie and Riley, a girl Ellie knows before she meets Joel.
Episode 7 is inspired by two key sources: The Last of Us: American Dreams, a four-issue comic series written by Druckmann and Faith Erin Hicks, and The Last of Us: Left Behind, a Downloadable game expansion based on the comic.
The story for Episode 7 is arranged in The Last of Us: Left Behind. In the DLC, we play as Ellie shortly after Joel got hurt at the hospital/lab. Joel is dying in a mall, so Ellie has to look for medicine and supplies there.
It’s the same plot point as Episode 7, where Ellie stays with Joel after taking him to a suburban house. In the game, Ellie’s movements through the mall trigger playable flashbacks: Ellie and Riley explore a different mall after breaking curfew and getting out of their military school. The events are the same as in the game, except that Ellie doesn’t go hunting in the present.
It’s an unusual game level because it has a quiet frame story and tells a coming-of-age story as well as a post-apocalyptic run-and-slash story.
But the story does end with blood. In both the game and Episode 7, there is an attack on the two girls. Both have bits. But only one can make it.
Who Is Riley?
Riley is mentioned in The Last of Us, which came out in 2013. When Ellie and Joel get to Jackson, Ellie tells Joel about losing someone close to her, but the players don’t find out anything else about Riley.
Riley was mostly made up by Faith Erin Hicks, a Canadian illustrator who designed the character for the comic series. She lives at a military boarding school in Boston at the same time as Ellie.
In the comic American Dreams, Riley and Ellie sneak out of school and end up getting in the middle of a Firefly mission, which makes Marlene very angry.
Left Behind starts where the first book ends. Riley is now a Firefly. She used to go to a military school, but she dropped out. Three weeks before Ellie meets Joel, this meeting takes place.
In an interview with Wired, Druckmann talked about why he and Hicks chose to have both characters fall in love on this night:
“When you come up with a character you think about who they are, backstory. With Ellie, it’s just been a lingering thought, and I’ve had conversations with [Ellie voice actor] Ashley Johnson about the character. But everything was non-committal. We didn’t have to commit to anything because there aren’t any romantic storylines in The Last of Us. When I did interviews with Faith for the comic book, we both made the mistake when we were describing Ellie and Riley for the first time – we said Ellie was attracted to Riley. We meant, I think, that she was just really drawn to her, that she really looked up to her. But then I thought in the back of my mind, what if there’s something more than that? It became this interesting dimension of their relationship that we could explore.”
What Happens to Riley in Episode 7?
As in Episode 7, we don’t see what happens to Riley. On the other hand, we are told what happened next: Marlene takes Ellie in and then helps get her back to the Fireflies.
Riley’s death does explain Ellie’s anger when she was held captive by Firefly, as well as her funny ways of making up for her helplessness. It also shows why she wanted to find a cure: She blames herself for Riley’s death, just as she did for Sam’s.
In the same interview with Wired, Druckmann talked about why he left Riley’s ending up to the reader:
“There’s a book by David Mamet [where] he talks about how you try to enter a scene as late as possible so that the viewer is engaged and trying to fill in the backstory. And you leave as early as possible, so if there are things you don’t have to show, you don’t show them. This story, this arc, was about how Ellie left her childhood behind and becomes an adult. There is another story to tell there about what happens afterward but in terms of this arc that was all we needed to tell and no more. You can fill it in yourself, or maybe one day I’ll team up with Faith and tell the rest of the story.”
Maybe in The Last of Us Season 2, Druckmann and Mazin will finish the story.
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