Editor's note: The below contains spoilers for HBO's The Last of Us Episode 5 and the video game The Last of Us Part II.In a key scene of "Endure and Survive," the fifth episode of HBO's The Last of Us TV series, ruthless militia leader Kathleen (Melanie Lynskey) reveals the motivation behind her pursuit of fugitives Henry (Lamar Johnson) and Sam (Keivonn Woodard): she holds Henry responsible for the death of her brother. In a powerful monologue, Lynskey's Kathleen describes how her brother, Michael, acted as her emotional protector since the two were children. Michael's death robbed Kathleen of her source of psychological safety and unleashed the darkness and vengeful impulses within her. Though her brother was a man of kindness and forgiveness, Kathleen openly admits that she does not share those qualities. She wants revenge, and she will stop at nothing to find it.
For those who have played The Last of Us Part II video game, this monologue may feel like foreshadowing, as the obsession with vengeance and justice that Kathleen espouses is also shared by the video game version of Ellie in the 2020 sequel. Kathleen's desire for revenge serves as a hint at possible events in the show's second season, as well as a warning to viewers about the destructive power of all-consuming obsession.
Kathleen and Ellie Each Have Quests for Revenge
Kathleen's monologue presents her as a woman mourning the loss of a man that made her feel safe in a dangerous and unpredictable world. Likewise in The Last of Us Part II, Ellie struggles to process the loss of the man that protected her, guided her, and kept her safe: Joel, the character that Pedro Pascal plays in the HBO series. In both cases, the women are devastated by the deaths of their loved ones and set out on a campaign of revenge against those they hold responsible. For Kathleen, this means using all of her militia's resources to tracking down Henry, who sold out her brother to FEDRA, the occupying government military force, in exchange for leukemia medicine to save his young brother Sam.
In Ellie's case, she tracks Abby cross-country, murdering everyone who stands in her way. Though the first game portrays Ellie as a wise-cracking innocent whose experiences open her eyes and help her transition into maturity, the second game showcases Ellie's descent into brutality, her desire for revenge turning her into a hardened killing machine that prioritizes a misguided sense of justice over the potential for a happy future. The Last of Us HBO series presents Kathleen as the endpoint of such obsession, a cautionary tale about what might happen to anyone so focused on revenge, and in that way, "Endure and Survive" hints at the show's second season, focused largely on Ellie's quest for revenge.
Showrunner Craig Mazin alludes to this similarity on The Last of Us Podcast. When discussing Kathleen's relationship with her brother, he explains, "Her brother was her Joel. And her Joel died. And when her Joel died she kinda lost it and needed to kill the people that killed her Joel." Without directly describing the events of The Last of Us Part II game, Mazin hints at them by saying that "there might be a reason why this sounds familiar." It was the showrunners' intent to make the two characters a point of comparison. Between Kathleen's monologue and her fate at the end of this episode, Mazin and Neil Druckmann have crafted a thematic foundation for Ellie's story in the future, a clever tactic that will reinforce the message of the second game's narrative when it is incorporated into their adaptation.
Kathleen Is What Ellie Must Avoid Becoming
In the frightening and violent conclusion of the TV episode "Endure and Survive," Kathleen's militia cohort Perry (Jeffrey Pierce) sacrifices his life to buy her time to escape from a hoard of rampaging infected. Though Kathleen could take this opportunity to escape, she is so hellbent on avenging her brother that she continues her pursuit of Henry, leading her into a confrontation that ends with her death. Kathleen briefly holds Henry, Sam, and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) at gunpoint before being clawed to death by a terrifying child clicker.
As Mazin explains in the companion podcast, "I think it's important to show that when you are dead set on using violence to settle the score and win the day, you are going to probably get subsumed [sic] by that yourself." When discussing Perry, Mazin even alludes to Moby Dick while referencing the self-destructive power of revenge: "He told her to run, and she couldn't help but chase the white whale to the very end." Kathleen's obsession with revenge prevented her from ensuring her own survival, and as a result, she is brutally killed, thereby failing to complete her revenge plot and allowing Henry and the others to get away.
The thesis of The Last of Us Part II video game is also about the futility and self-destructive horrors of revenge. In a shocking moment in the game's first act, Joel is murdered by Abby, a woman seeking revenge for the death of her father, a doctor whom Joel killed during the climactic hospital sequence at the end of the first game. Ellie sets out on a cross-country journey to find Abby and kill her, and that obsession with revenge consumes Ellie to the point where she sacrifices her relationship with her romantic partner in order to fulfill it. As the story unfolds, the player is reminded of the brutality of murder and how all acts of aggression may beget retaliation, creating a vicious cycle of violence in which no justice is ever truly achieved. The game's heart-wrenching final moments present a confrontation between Ellie and Abby, who is now broken and near-death even before the two fight. Though some gamers were shocked by the decision that Ellie ultimately makes, namely to let Abby live and sail away, those who understood the game's narrative theme realized that this was the only way that Ellie could break the cycle of violence and prevent the destruction of her soul. Unlike Kathleen, Ellie chooses to walk away from her quest for revenge, and though she must live to face the decisions that she made during her journey, she can at least walk away with her life.
Both Ellie and Kathleen seek justice, but only Ellie realizes that true justice will never exist in such a brutal world. The fulfillment of Ellie's revenge quest would only result in further bloodshed and heartbreak. Kathleen's myopia leaves her open to attack, her focus on revenge consuming her mind and soul. Mazin and Druckmann have already implied that the show's next season will adapt The Last of Us Part II, and Episode 5's emphasis on obsessive vengefulness sets the stage for the events of that second season by foreshadowing the tragic and brutal events to come. Kathleen functions as a philosophical counterpoint to Ellie, showing the viewer what could happen to Ellie if she fails to realize the futility of her obsession. Though Mazin and Druckmann have made a number of changes in their adaptation, it seems clear that they want their series to continue in the game's footsteps when it comes to powerful narrative messaging.
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