‘The Last of Us’ Episode 4 Recap: Danger and Puns in Kansas City

The Last of Us episode 4 came to HBO and HBO Max on Sunday, with Ellie and Joel (Bella Ramsey and Pedro Pascal) back on the road after last week’s heartbreaking diversion. They’re on track to connect Ellie to the Fireflies, a rebel group that wants to replicate her immunity to the fungal infection that transformed billions of people into monsters.

This episode also features a major deviation from the game by introducing an incredible new villain. Let’s see how that goes down by diving into episode 4 SPOILERS.

spoiler alert

A ruthless leader

The marauders in this episode are as terrifying as they are in the PlayStation game, with the initial confrontation with them playing out similarly to the source material. (Bill is also alive in the game, but parts ways with Joel and Ellie before this goes down.) The incident takes place in Kansas City, but it happened in Pittsburgh in the game.

The HBO adaptation also gives these marauders a leader — the quietly menacing Kathleen (Melanie Lynskey from Showtime’s incredible Yellowjackets). This new character is on a bloody quest for vengeance after her brother was beaten to death by FEDRA (Federal Disaster Response Agency), which ran quarantine zones with the remnants of the US military. It’s essentially one of the last remnants of the government, but its power isn’t absolute — guerilla groups like Kathleen’s have overthrown them in some cities.  

Having dealt with Fedra, her group is hunting down people who collaborated with Fedra — the names Henry and Sam will likely stir memories if you’ve played the game. Kathleen is shown a loft they’d been hiding in, and it’s filled with a kid’s art of Superman. (HBO parent company Warner Bros Discovery also owns DC Comics, hurray for brand synergy.)

Melanie Lynskey's Kathleen looks down at someone unseen in a shipping container in The Last of Us

Melanie Lynskey’s Kathleen makes her debut in The Last of Us episode 4, and she’s a character that wasn’t seen in the game.


HBO

The horrors created by the cycle of revenge will be familiar to anyone who’s played The Last of Us games and is particularly evident in Part 2. It’s like the Kathleen storyline was added to the show so vengeance is a clearer thematic through-line of vengeance between this season and the second.

Kathleen’s bearded goon Perry is played by Jeffrey Pierce, who voiced Joel’s brother Tommy in the games (he’s played by Gabriel Luna in the show). How about: He warns her about a sinkhole being created by infected under a building, but she just orders him to seal it off. Seems like Kathleen is letting her grudge distract her from a more immediate problem. 

Ellie get your gun

Joel is wracked with guilt over Ellie being forced to shoot Bryan, but she reveals that it wasn’t her first time doing so. Accepting that there’s no hope of preserving his teenage ally’s innocence in this hellish world, he teaches her to use a gun properly. 

Joel and Ellie talk in an abandoned store with paper-covered windows in The Last of Us

Joel accepts that Ellie will need to engage in violence to survive.


HBO

It mirrors a situation in the game in which Joel gives Ellie a handgun after she proves her capability by covering Joel with a rifle as he kills a bunch of bandits. It’s a subtly defining moment in their story in that medium and will likely prove similar in the show. 

Blasts from the past

They get some retro pop culture on their road trip, in the form of a Hank Williams cassette tape. The song is 1955’s Alone and Forsaken, which is used in a similar way in the game.

As they’re driving through the Kansas City streets, we also catch a glimpse of an abandoned movie theater that was playing two artifacts of 2003 cinema — Kate Beckinsale vampire-werewolf fantasy Underworld and Nicholas Cage dark comedy Matchstick Men — when the outbreak occurred.

The song that plays over the credits is Lotte Keshner’s cover of 1987 New Order song True Faith, which was featured in The Last of Us Part 2. The musician was initially uncredited for this use, but game director Neil Druckmann acknowledged this and apologized in a tweet. Keshner was subsequently credited accordingly, Polygon reported in 2020.

Big book of puns

On a lighter note, Ellie finds a book of puns that she uses to lighten the grim mood of their journey. In case you feel like breaking them out in your everyday life, here are the jokes she hits Joel with:

  • It doesn’t matter how much you push the envelope. It’ll still be stationary.
  • What did the mermaid wear to her math class? An algae-bra.
  • I stayed up all night, wondering where the sun went. And then it dawned on me.
  • Why did the scarecrow get an award? Because he was out standing in his field.
  • Did you know diarrhea is hereditary? It runs in your jeans.

Joel knows the answer to the scarecrow one and laughs at the diarrhea one, hinting that the pair are bonding. Seems dangerous to become too fond of your “cargo” Joel.

After evading Kathleen’s group, they go to sleep in the apparent safety of a room on the 33rd floor of a building. Despite Joel’s safety measures, they wake up to find guns pointed in their faces — they’ve been discovered by Henry and Sam (Lamar Johnson and Keivonn Woodard).

Episode 5 of The Last of Us hits HBO Max next Friday, Feb. 10.