What Was Tommy’s Role As Seen In ‘The Last Of Us’ Episode 1? What Does The Radio Song Symbolize?

The central plotline of HBO’s “The Last of Us” will majorly deal with the trials and tribulations of the protagonist duo Joel and Ellie as their journey through the country continues to quantify humanity’s chances of survival, and the character Tommy Miller plays a pivotal part in that journey. The audience gets introduced to him in the initial portion of the pilot as an essential part of the Miller family, and after the time jump to the post-apocalyptic scenario, Joel’s link to the outside world is created through Tommy. We will discuss Tommy’s role, as suggested in the first episode, and what the song on the Radio that plays during the closing sequence might imply in the context of the story.

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Spoilers Ahead


Tommy In The Pre-Pandemic Timeline Of ‘The Last Of Us’ Episode 1

Unlike the games, the series invests a bit more time in showing Tommy in person during the prologue sequence of TLOU. We meet Tommy as he returns home as Sarah and Joel are having breakfast in Joel’s birthday. In contrast to single father Joel’s rugged, weary demeanor, Tommy is presented as more of a laid-back, lively person. The bumper sticker of his pickup truck indicates Tommy’s past life as a combat veteran during Operation Desert Storm, which is why he’s shown to be so proficient with the rifle later in the episode. Later, leaving his army days behind him, he joined his elder brother Joel in the construction business. The close-knit family of the Millers quickly gains the audience’s attention due to the camaraderie among the trio.

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The next time we hear from Tommy is through his phone call to Joel, where it seems he has gotten into trouble after trying to play good Samaritan while saving a waitress and has ended up in jail. From Joel’s reaction to that information, it seems it isn’t the first time this has happened. Joel goes to bail him out in his absence, and Sarah ventures to Adler’s household to discover the horrifying fungal outbreak taking place. His time in the military hadn’t gotten the best of Tommy, and just like in the game, he is presented as the more sensitive, optimistic of the two Miller brothers. Something we see when he hesitates to shoot the infected Adler elderly, and Joel has to be the one to break her charge. This subversion continued throughout the game, which saw Tommy more in touch with his humanity while Joel gradually lost it.

As the family flees to escape the catastrophic situation during the outbreak, Tommy’s field instincts kick in, and Joel stops his preoccupation with listing out worrisome details that may alarm Sarah. Tommy’s humanity is highlighted once again as he almost agrees to help a family thrown into a predicament much like theirs, but amidst the deadly outbreak, Joel’s brutal refusal makes more sense. One of the most important moments of the first episode, however, approaches after their pickup truck overturns and the Miller brothers get separated. Among them, Joel carries an injured Sarah, and Tommy is the one with the firearm—a situation that foreshadows impending tragedy by leaving Joel vulnerable. And the worst possible outcome eventually takes place when a soldier complies with his superior’s orders and shoots her under the suspicion of being infected. Had Tommy been present, the events could have transpired differently. But Tommy’s absence eventually ends up changing Joel’s destiny forever. This won’t be the first time Tommy’s absence will affect Joel in such a way. We also see how fiercely protective Tommy is of his family; seeing them pinned down, he shoots down a fellow soldier without a shred of hesitation.

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Tommy In The Post-Pandemic Timeline Of ‘The Last Of Us’ Episode 1

During the introductory scenes of the prologue, Joel humorously remarks that Tommy is dependent on him. Ironically, we see Joel being dependent on Tommy’s presence in the post-pandemic existence as the only familial connection tethering him to human affairs. Tommy has not been shown yet in the present-day apocalyptic scenario of TLOU, but in this case, his absence makes a significant impact on the narrative. After Sarah’s death, Tommy and Joel managed to survive and start a life in the quarantine zone. In the game, Tommy became disenchanted with Joel’s growing lack of conscience and FEDRA’s brutality. He opted for a better tomorrow and was inspired to join the Fireflies after being convinced by the rebel group’s leader, Marlene. The first episode hints at the change taking place in Tommy’s approach, as we see Joel blames Marlene for turning his brother against him. We get to know Tommy is somewhere in the open country outside the quarantine zone and hasn’t sent a signal in three weeks. Joel fears the worst, as there are worse things than infected out in the open, namely slavers and raiders, who can turn his brother’s life miserable. Tommy’s absence snatches away the slightest chance of Joel getting closure, and he grows desperate, anxious to seek out his brother as his primary focus, putting all his salvaged resources in for the cause.


The Song On The Radio At The End

By the end of the first episode, we see that Ellie has figured out that the selected songs on the Radio in Joel’s room are used as secret communication signals. The B/F is an abbreviation for Bill and Frank, characters who will appear in the series soon. As the trio, Ellie, Joel, and Tess, move away from FEDRA’s QZ at the end of the episode, the scene moves to Joel’s room, where an 80s track, “Never Let Me Down Again” by Depeche Mode, starts playing. The use of the song has levels of interpretations intended. On the surface level, the song-signal guide showed 80’s tracks to be marked with a red X, in other words – danger. Previously, another 80s track, Wham’s “Wake me up before you go-go,” made Joel act concerned, which implies the sender signaling another danger alert can spell some serious mishaps on the other side. On the thematic level, the song’s lyrics and title work for both our protagonists, Joel and Ellie. Ellie is out of options and has to trust these two unknown persons through her journey, and after her secret of being infected is revealed to them, she can only hope that she might not land in trouble. On the other hand, after the trio’s capture by the FEDRA guard parallels Sarah’s death scene, the indication is pretty apparent that this is Joel’s shot at redemption. In his mind, he failed to save his daughter, and now that he has been presented with another chance very much similar to the former event, he will try his best not to let Ellie down.

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See more: ‘The Last Of Us’ Episode 2: Teaser Trailer, Breakdown: What Horrors Can We Expect In The Second Episode?


Siddhartha Das
Siddhartha Das
An avid fan and voracious reader of comic book literature, Siddhartha thinks the ideals accentuated in the superhero genre should be taken as lessons in real life also. A sucker for everything horror and different art styles, Siddhartha likes to spend his time reading subjects. He's always eager to learn more about world fauna, history, geography, crime fiction, sports, and cultures. He also wishes to abolish human egocentrism, which can make the world a better place.

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