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What’s Riley’s Fate in ‘The Last of Us’?

Storm Reid as Riley in The Last of Us

The Last of Us episode 7, “Left Behind,” hit HBO on February 26, 2023, after the preceding episode left viewers on a cliffhanger. Viewers will recall that Joel (Pedro Pascal) was not in good shape at the end of episode 6, “Kin.” However, given that Joel is one of the main stars of the show and that the game storyline the show is based on is known, most of us knew that Joel wasn’t actually going to die. What was unique was that, even if he didn’t die, viewers had no clue how he and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) were going to get out of this predicament.

This latest episode of The Last of Us, though, decided to once more masterfully delve into an enthralling backstory. This one was especially intriguing because it was about Ellie, who we have grown close to over the past few episodes, though her past remained frustratingly elusive. As a result, we were content to let Joel lay dying for a little while longer while we delved into an Ellie backstory.

In the flashback, Ellie is in FEDRA military school but causing trouble and getting into fights. However, beneath her tough exterior, she is still very much a vulnerable child, concerned about her future and seeking guidance. She thinks she may want to join FEDRA so she can be the one giving the orders. Her Firefly friend Riley (Storm Reid), though, begins to change her perspective. In the end, instead of choosing between FEDRA and the Fireflies, Ellie chooses to love.

What happened to Riley in The Last of Us?

Yaani King and Ashley Johnson as the voice of Riley and Ellie in The Last of Us
(Naughty Dog)

Reid masterfully portrayed Riley in The Last of Us, episode 7, effectively making viewers fall in love with her in less than an hour. At one point, she attended FEDRA military school with Ellie, and the two became best friends. However, she disappeared on Ellie for a short period. When she came back, she revealed she had joined the Fireflies. Ellie is iffy about Riley’s affiliation with the Fireflies, but it’s clear her friendship with Riley means a lot to her, so she lets Riley lead her out on a night of “wonders.”

Riley brings her to an abandoned mall and gives Ellie a few precious moments of childlike wonder and normalcy. The two ride a carousel, take photos in a photo booth, and visit an arcade. Riley is also revealed to have gifted Ellie the second part of her beloved book of puns. After the two argue over Riley being sent away on a mission for the Fireflies, Ellie implores her to stay, and the pair finally share a tender kiss.

As always, though, happiness is short-lived. An infected straggler is awakened by the noise of the girls and takes them by surprise with an attack. The pair succeed in fighting it off, and Ellie triumphantly kills the infected with her knife. However, the adrenaline fades when she notices a bite mark on her arm. She doesn’t have time to register this fact before Riley raises her hand and shows that she was also bitten. The pair cry, Ellie breaks stuff, and they sit and discuss their options. In the end, they decide not to give up, choosing to live for however many hours until infection takes over. This is the last we see of Riley.

From the events of The Last of Us, we know that Ellie survived, but what about Riley? Ellie is immune to the disease caused by cordyceps fungus, but, to our knowledge, no one else has ever been discovered to be immune. That means we can guess what Riley’s fate is. Unfortunately, Riley almost certainly succumbed to the disease. In the video game, she dies from the infection, which is likely a more merciful fate than living as an infected. We do get a little bit of comfort in knowing she died on her own terms: living every last moment until the end with Ellie.

(featured image: HBO Max)

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Rachel Ulatowski is a Freelance Writer, blogger, and aspiring author. As a Freelancer Writer she hopes to give readers the same comfort and enjoyment that she finds in all things nerdy and noteworthy, as a blogger she enjoys snarking on YouTubers and reality stars, and as a future novelist she hopes to raise awareness for child abuse through literature.