Aside from Joel and Ellie warming up to each other, the episode’s other big concern is the introduction of a new group of survivors that’s equally, if not more dangerous than the fungal folk. Back in episode 2, Tess’ last stand was changed from the game to involve infected as opposed to soldiers. In hindsight, this change seems to have in part been made to save the earnest introduction of non-infected antagonists for episode 4.
Joel and Ellie getting ambushed in Kansas City (changed from Pittsburgh in the game) and crashing their truck into a laundromat is a nod to a memorable encounter from the PlayStation classic, but what ensues in the aftermath is new. Ellie saves Joel’s ass with the gun she snuck, and instead of tearing into her for lying, he simply has her hand it over. Later, he teaches her how to handle it properly. Especially in these scenes, Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey’s performances are nuanced, and the material allows for their eyes, body language, and behavior to tell the story.
Then we meet Kathleen (Melanie Lynskey), the leader of a militant rebel faction who’ve evidently wrested control of the city from FEDRA’s hands. Lynskey does a fantastic job of coming across as formidable and vicious while letting her character’s humanity seep through just enough. She’s hunting down Henry and Sam, and Joel and Ellie, and when she unflinchingly takes the life of the doctor who literally delivered her into the world, we know she’ll probably do way worse to Henry for selling out her late brother to FEDRA.
It’s nice to see that Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann have the confidence to expand upon the original story with a brand new character like Kathleen. Being that she’s so enmeshed with Henry from the jump, it’ll be interesting to see whether the brothers’ respective fates are altered from their game counterparts’. So far, the developments surrounding Kathleen and her group haven’t been nearly as compelling an addition to the story as Bill and Frank’s were, but there’s still time to see how Kathleen impacts events moving forward.
One ominous sign of things to come is the gurgling sinkhole Kathleen and her right hand man Perry (Jeffrey Pierce) find in the storage room of the abandoned building Henry and Sam have been holed up in. Judging from the looks on their faces, it’s clearly a major issue literally bubbling to the surface, and Kathleen’s decision to keep it under wraps until they solve their Henry problem will undoubtedly come back to bite them in the ass.
The closing moments of the episode give a bit of insight into both Joel and Ellie’s pasts. Joel all but confesses that he’s killed innocent people to survive in the years since the outbreak, and that he doesn’t want that for Ellie. “It isn’t fair, at your age, having to deal with all of this,” he mumbles, which is the most compassionate and fatherly thing he’s said to her yet. When he recalls her mentioning she’s hurt people herself, she refuses to talk about it.