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Ellie and Joel’s Slow Build of Trust is Great in ‘The Last Of Us’

Bella Ramsey as Ellie and Pedro Pascal as Joel in key art for HBO's 'The Last of Us' (HBO)

Many things about The Last of Us draw fans to its story. We love an apocalypse setting, we’re fascinated with how humans react to losing everything they know, and the horrors of it haunt audiences each and every time we dip into the genre. But there is a reason that this particular story stands apart from the rest.

The relationship between Joel Miller and Ellie Williams is what made the Naughty Dog game The Last of Us work. It could have easily been just a man searching for his brother but the heart came with including Ellie in Joel’s mission. And now the HBO series is doing the same thing but making their relationship even richer.

Joel Miller (Pedro Pascal) is a lot colder than he was in the game. He’s been through a lot, he had his daughter Sarah (Nico Parker) die in his arms, and now he’s taking Ellie (Bella Ramsey) to the Fireflies. While it could have been easy to have them at odds for an episode and then best friends in the next, the show keeps similar beats to the game in regards to their relationship—and it really works for the better.

Existing in the post-apocalyptic setting of The Last of Us in general has characters on edge. No one trusts each other and even though Joel is smuggling contraband for FEDRA, we saw in Episode 1 how quickly they would turn on him if needed. So having this tension between Ellie and Joel keeps us invested in their growth: they are two distrusting individuals who won’t just give their trust to a stranger.

Delaying their trust and openness with one another works, mainly by giving the two characters a chance to grow and learn to trust each other versus just instantly being on one another’s side.

It wouldn’t work if it was instant

Having Joel Miller just replace his daughter Sarah with Ellie wouldn’t be the same. The reason that the show (and game) work is because they have a time gap between when Sarah dies and when Joel has to take Ellie to the Fireflies. He’s spent years accepting his daughter’s death only to be forced to take someone around her age to safety twenty years later. That’s not an easy dynamic to accept.

That’s why having Joel not trust Ellie at any point, even before he knows she’s infected, works so well for their dynamic. It’s not easy for either of them to trust. Even Ellie is slow to trust Tess (Anna Torv), who has to admit to her that she’s there to help her get to the Fireflies. It’s now down to both Ellie and Joel to keep one another safe.

Letting their relationship slowly build and grow over time is a perfect way to introduce that father/daughter balance because forcing it to be an instant connection would feel cheap and like a replacement for Joel. Instead, slowly working through their differences and growing together is a rewarding experience for both the characters and the audience.

(featured image: HBO)

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Resident Spider-Man expert, official Leslie Knope, actually Yelena Belova. Wanda Maximoff has never done anything wrong in her life. New York writer with a passion for all things nerdy. Yes, she has a Pedro Pascal podcast.