The Last of Us' Joel Is Not a Good Guy (But That's So Easy to Overlook!) and More Post-Episode 4 Thoughts

Joel Miller has done bad things.

We’ve heard the refrain several times over the course of The Last of Us’ first four episodes. Joel said it. Tess said it. Ellie asked about it. And we’ve seen it for ourselves: Starting in Episode 1, when Joel lost his mind on the guard blocking his exit from the Quarantine Zone, and as recently as Sunday’s hour, which found him finishing off an attacker he easily could’ve let live. (Read a full recap.)

Pedro Pascal’s character is a man of unflinching violence perpetrated with disregard for morality or collateral damage. On paper, I sure as heck don’t wanna hang around with that guy. And yet! The minute you throw him on screen, protecting a smartass teenage girl, he’s my favorite. My absolute favorite. Cue up the Hank Williams and save me a spot in the backseat, because I AM FULLY ON THIS RIDE WITH THESE TWO.

The way I forgive this man his transgressions! (And, as you know if you’ve played the video game on which the HBO series is based, there’s… a lot more ground to tread here — but don’t ruin it for the newbies in the comments.) “He’s experienced overwhelming trauma,” I think as he makes Jell-O out of a FEDRA guard’s face. “He’s had to survive decades in a hellish dystopia!” I murmur to myself as he swiftly silences that kid who’s crying for mercy in the laundromat. “He’s doing it for Ellie!” I intone, like a mantra, as the season, and the… let’s call them “choices” continue.

In my defense, Joel is played by a very charismatic actor who is so seemingly replete with joy, he couldn’t get through his inaugural Saturday Night Live hosting gig without dissolving into giggles multiple times. I mean, who is going to hate this guy?

If you’re new to The Last of Us‘ story — AKA you haven’t played — we’re at the precipice of some seriously gnarly stuff that’s going to come up for both Joel and Ellie. Similarly, Sunday’s ep marked the start of Joel’s willingness to engage more with her. We got their banter in the car (his gruffness only ratcheting up her impishness, a beautiful thing to see), his opening up about Joel and Tess, his inability to tamp down his laughter after she shared yet another dad joke from Will Livingston’s No Pun Intended: Volume Too.

We also saw Joel become very concerned with Ellie’s emotional well-being after she had to shoot someone to save his life. His halting check-in, as well as the way he circled back to the topic later in the episode, shows a care — dare I say affection? — that belies his insistence that she’s nothing more than “cargo” and the fulfillment of a promise to a dead friend. “We’ll get through this,” he assured her. Is that the kind of thing you say to someone you truly don’t care about?

Episode 4 also had me thinking about:

* Melanie Lynskey and what a damn force of nature she is. So glad she’s here as Kathleen, even if it’s not 100 percent clear yet what’s going on in the remains of the Kansas City QZ. Don’t get me wrong: I’m extremely glad the Yellowjackets star is finally getting her due. But you all slept on Ever After, and it shows.

* What Chef Boyardee’s offerings would actually taste like after 20 years in the can. Probably, as Ellie and Joel mentioned, not too bad? Good, even, if you’re grading on a post-apocalyptic curve?

* Quick reminder that next week’s episode will be available early on HBO Max and HBO On Demand because of the Super Bowl: Details here.

What are your Episode 4 thoughts? Drop ’em in the comments!

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