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‘The Last of Us’ Episode 4 Highlights Joel and Ellie’s Growth

Joel and ellie talking in the last of us

One of the best parts about The Last of Us as a game and with the HBO series is the relationships that are built throughout the story. I wrote about the slow build of trust between Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) already. But the fourth episode of the series really digs into how much they’ve grown to care for each other.

While we got a brief look at both Joel and Ellie and how they have changed throughout their journey, it is their relationship that is, in a lot of ways, the most important. Without the Joel and Ellie dynamic, the game and show wouldn’t work. They’re the two we’re going on this journey with. They’re the two we care about.

And so episode 4 really drove home how the two characters have changed in their relationship to each other and let’s unpack why that was so lovely to see. Obviously there will be spoilers for episode 4 of The Last of Us ahead.

Protecting each other

joel and ellie walking together in the last of us

Joel and Ellie’s dynamic in the game was all about making sure that they were each safe. Ellie looking out for Joel because he was the one who knew where she needed to go and Joel making sure she stayed safe because it was his job. They grow to care about each other but in the game, they have what I’d deem a “video” game growth. Meaning you, as the player, sort of understand they care about each other and carry on with your gameplay.

In the show, we’re more invested in these characters as a whole and so the “gameplay” aspect of the series is just watching their relationship grow. We don’t get to go on side adventures or see what new things mean, we get to just watch as Joel and Ellie grow to care about each other. And it comes down to how willing they are to protect one another for no other reason other than that they care.

At first, Joel would protect Ellie for the car battery he needed. Then he’d do it because it’s what Tess wanted but in episode 4, we saw him actually seeming to care about whether or not Ellie survived for his own benefit. And the same goes for Ellie. When the two are fighting for their lives, they check in with each other and it’s clear that she doesn’t just see Joel as her ticket to her next location but instead cares about him.

Laughing together

Joel Miller and Ellie Williams in the Last of Us

Part of the joy of episode 4 is Ellie’s book of puns. She starts to tease Joel and he starts to retaliate. The two aren’t tip-toeing around each other and are testing their dynamic. Yes, he sees Ellie in a way as a replacement for his daughter and Ellie finally has a parental figure to look up to. But the two are actually working towards understanding each other and having fun.

The end of the episode is really the moment that shows just how far they’ve come together. Joel laughs at a bad pun and Ellie calls him out for it and the two have a genuine moment together that isn’t forced and shows that they do have fun around the other. It’s just light in a way that we have rarely seen throughout the entire series and it was our first bit of insight into how they both actually feel about each other.


Their relationship is one that means a lot to fans and seeing how they are growing and changing is just so fascinating to watch unfold. And I can’t wait to see what happens next.

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She/Her. A writer who loves all things movies, TV, and classic rock. Resident Spider-Man expert, official Leslie Knope, actually Yelena Belova. Wanda Maximoff has never done anything wrong in her life. Star Wars makes her very happy. New York writer with a passion for all things nerdy. Yes, she has a Pedro Pascal podcast. And also a Harrison Ford one.