This post contains spoilers for HBO's "The Last of Us" and the video game series of the same name.
In the Cordyceps-inflicted world of "The Last of Us," safe spaces are almost impossible to find. When one is not lunged at by the infected (who function as a dangerous hive mind), there is ample risk of being killed by humans, who remain ever-ruthless in the face of the apocalypse. Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann's adaptation of the "Last of Us" video games further intensifies the despairing hopelessness of such a world, while also occasionally offering us a glimpse into almost-idyllic safe havens that offer renewed hope. After ending episode 5 on a truly gut-wrenching note, the latest episode of the HBO adaptation eases us into a relatively more secure zone, especially with the early introduction of the Jackson commune, which serves as a crucial locale in the original video games.
Even before this snowy settlement is revealed to audiences, we see Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) becoming more emotionally open and vulnerable with one another. The guarded awkwardness that Joel exhibited has dissolved considerably, and Ellie seems much more at ease around her protector, whom she has clearly grown to depend on. Although the threat of danger lurks at every corner, the two seem comforted by each other's presence, and these subtle moments of warmth are reflected in several scenes in which they stand guard, banter, or share a meal. While previous episodes have steadily established their growing connection, episode 6 cements the idea that Joel and Ellie have evolved into each other's safe spaces — and no one else can assume these roles in their stead.
A Safe Haven In The Middle Of Nowhere
Episode 3 of "The Last of Us" chronicled the beautiful, fulfilling relationship between Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett), who found love and solace in one another amid near-impossible odds. Although isolated from the world at large, Bill and Frank built a sanctuary together, one where beauty did not go unappreciated and art still had a place in a dying world. Frank's presence in Bill's world softens the walls he built around himself all his life, allowing him to relish in the unstated joy of biting into a fresh strawberry with his lover. Although immensely sad, Bill and Frank's story is infinitely more hopeful than most representations of love in the face of the world ending, as it embraces death as an inevitable end after having lived a rich, satisfying life.
In the latest episode, the Jackson commune, which is a key opening location in "The Last of Us Part II," emerges as a safe space for a community of 300 people, including children. The only instances of such large-scale groups in the show have been QZs, which are anything but safe spaces, and Kathleen's (Melanie Lynskey) resistance group, who are seen indulging in avoidable violence in the name of retribution. Both in the games and the show, the Jackson commune is genuinely idyllic, keeping the state of the world in mind. When Ellie and Joel arrive, they're stunned to see such a jovial environment where resources are freely shared among all with the aid of a fair barter system. The commune is not only a shining example of what humans can accomplish when they give in to their best instincts but also a reminder of human resilience, given how they've succeeded in generating hydroelectricity from the dam.
There's Hope After All
In a world where survival is the only priority, leaving no room for any other concerns, heat, shelter, and a consistent supply of food are luxuries. Amid the stark horrors of this fungus-engulfed setting, the Jackson commune ignites hope for humanity. Granted, things can never revert back to how they used to be — Ellie ponders this when asking whether people were truly occupied with seemingly inane things (like matching outfits or crushes), which seem absurd in the present. However, the commune's dedication to re-capturing the spirit of honest human collaboration and collective empathy is truly inspiring and, frankly, rare.
The reason why the Jackson commune segment is so impactful is that it is preceded by pure dread and an inclination to believe that humans in the show's world are capable of heinous deeds (which is not unfounded, as previously evidenced). The ruthless coldness of the group that surrounds the duo is rather chilling in the beginning, but once Maria extends empathy by asking Joel his name (a rarity in this world), they're ushered into the heavily-guarded safe space. This transition evokes a lot of warmth, despite being short-lived. Moreover, as the show has been renewed for a second season, it is imperative that we will be visiting Jackson again, as it is the only safe space one can think about down the line.
The commune is also the site of reunion for two brothers, and a catalyst for Joel and Ellie to finally confront how they really feel about each other. Even though the commune offers Ellie everything she missed out on while growing up, she's still fixated on Joel's whereabouts, as he is someone she feels truly safe with. Conversely, the warmth of the commune triggers memories of Sarah for Joel, leaving him perennially-anxious.
Survival In Quiet Corners
In the official podcast discussion for the latest episode, Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann told host Troy Baker about survivors who stayed alive by simply carving out a quiet corner in the middle of nowhere, like the couple at the beginning of the episode. Completely isolated from the fate of the world, these people were able to survive "reducing their world" down to the space they made for themselves while staying out of harm's way. Druckmann addressed this in detail:
"For fans of the game, especially 'Part II,' it shows you can survive if you find, like, a quiet corner. There are still safe areas. It's not just all doom, gloom, and danger, like, around every corner. It does exist, but you can survive there on your own."
Moreover, Mazin credited episode director Jasmila Žbanić for bringing her own experiences as someone who grew up in the middle of war in Sarajevo to the episode. Instead of being interested in depicting war-torn landscapes, Žbanić was more interested in depicting a "society that actually functioned" in a world ravaged by calamity. The Jackson commune offered the perfect opportunity for Žbanić to do so, as it allowed her to flesh out characters like Maria, who relied on methods of survival that did not involve violence at all.
The conversation between Joel and Tommy (Gabriel Luna) touches upon this — although they did what they had to for survival, there are other ways to exist without having to kill innocent people. Sometimes, circumstances leave people like Joel with no choice, but these non-violent methods, although more difficult to embody and live by in such a world, exist. Žbanić utilizes this philosophy to etch a beautiful, moving episode about human goodness, where hope exists even in the bleakest of times.
"The Last of Us" airs Sundays on HBO.
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The post The Last of Us Episode 6 Reveals Another Glimpse at Light in the Darkness appeared first on /Film.