What Did The Pun Book And The Gun Symbolize In ‘The Last Of Us’ Episode 4? What Made Joel Finally Accept Ellie?

After taking its fair share of time through three episodes to establish the emotional hindrances and differing motivations that maintained a substantial rift between the fated pair Joel and Ellie, HBO’s “The Last of Us” gave viewers the much anticipated moment of their bonding in the eventful fourth episode, “Please Hold My Hand.” The title is taken from Hank Williams’ song “Alone and Forsaken” and aptly foreshadows the resolution of the beginning of a trusting relationship between the duo. At the very end of the last episode, the melting barriers between the two are hinted at after Joel strengthens his resolve after reading Bill’s letter and manages to hold a friendly conversation with Ellie. In the fourth episode, the narrative keeps the duo in focus for the majority of the runtime and uses visual cues like a handgun and joke book to chart their journey both in a literal and metaphorical sense.

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Spoilers Ahead


What Do The Gun And The Pun Book Symbolize?

In the third episode, Ellie finally gets hold of a gun from Bill and Frank’s house after pleading for one from Joel repeatedly, to no avail, since their journey began. As an orphan brought up in the FEDRA military school, Ellie has known this little apparatus to be a symbol of power and dominance and has a childish obsession with it. She has first-hand experience seeing it put into effect against the infected and probably wonders whether having one earlier could have kept her from getting bitten and protected her close ones at the same time. In the opening scene of the fourth episode, we see her standing in front of a mirror and posing with the gun, disassembling and putting it back together perfectly, smelling the barrel, etc. The scene kind of reminds us of Travis Bickle prepping himself in front of the mirror, and although there is some amount of false bravado associated with both instances, Ellie’s reasons are centered around her age and background.

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It isn’t until she has to use her gun to injure the Hunters member, Brian, in order to save Joel that she realizes the consequences of her actions. Ellie is no stranger to using violent methods, as shown her using knife to incapacitate the FEDRA guard outside Boston QZ. Her affinity for violence might have stemmed from the only father figure she knows, Joel. Although neither of them yet considers the other as family in the remotest sense, Ellie subconsciously absorbs Joel’s approach, like little kids often get influenced by the examples of the adults around them. But the scenario is drastically different this time around as Ellie sees that, unlike a zombified creature, a human capable of expressing emotions and showing empathy has been shot by her and is pleading for his life. She is shaken to her core but knows at the same time that letting the person live would mean a death sentence for them; hence, she moves away as Joel ends Brian’s life. Later, Joel’s poor attempt at comforting her doesn’t go all that well initially, and Joel offers the gun back to her as he teaches her to hold guns properly. This puts a smile back on her face, and in this context, the gun acts more as a symbol of trust.

During the initial bit of the episode, as the pair prepares to set out to continue their journey, Ellie brings out “No Pun Intended: Volume Too,” a silly pun book from her backpack. She bombards Joel with terrible puns, and Joel’s stoic mask almost slips off. Later, after an eventful day in Kansas City, Ellie once again uses the pun book to good effect as Joel finally lets out a laugh. Aside from softening up Joel and letting the duo bond, the book also acts as a signifier of a number of things. In the game, the pun book was given to Ellie by her best friend Riley, and for Ellie, it’s a reminder of her deceased friend. The puns also highlight that although Ellie acts more mature than her age and pretends to be a tough cookie, she is nevertheless a child. Her joy at those silly jokes is pure and juvenile. Needless to say, those puns add some levity to the overall grim scenario. In the game, the book was a collectible item, but the showrunners have smartly included it in the narrative.

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What Made Joel Finally Accept Ellie?

Ellie and Joel share more similarities than they care to admit. Both of them have cocooned themselves over their shared experience of trauma and grief, and both of them started the journey with hostility and distrust toward each other. After Sarah’s death, Joel had merely survived through two decades and never lived, as he had made himself into a stonehearted, emotionally unavailable person. Ellie has lived her entire life in the confinement of FEDRA, but in her case, “survived” is a more appropriate word.

To keep the promise that he made to Tess in her final moments, Joel agrees to take Ellie to the Fireflies. Gradually, Joel’s silent treatments turn into small talk, then into chats. An ever-inquisitive Ellie riddles him with questions, which he answers unenthusiastically but looks forward to answering anyway. Ellie’s wonder and amusement regarding the world as it was before doesn’t impress the cynical Joel, but it gradually eats away the hardened exterior he puts on in front of the world. He shouldn’t concern himself with what kind of magazine Ellie reads, but he does, which hints that he cares about this teenage girl. Therefore when he says to Ellie that she is a cargo, not family – it is more about reminding himself of the same thing, of staying inside the cloister. As they arrive in Kansas City, Joel gets pinned down during a fight with a Hunters member and almost gets himself killed – until Ellie saves him by shooting the person. This rattles Joel, and he almost gets a déjà vu of past events when he couldn’t save Sarah. Almost like a concerned guardian figure, he tries his best to comfort Ellie. So far, he has saved her from physical threats; for the first time, we see Joel trying to safeguard Ellie against psychological trauma—almost similar to how he wanted Sarah not to look at the violent outbreak scenario all those years ago. He time and again laments for the world where a kid has to go through the harrowing prospect of taking a life, how it signifies the loss of innocence and apologizes to Ellie.

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Ellie was more open toward Joel but never let her guard down consciously. Even in this episode, when the shock and agony of Brian’s eventual death overwhelmed her, she didn’t want Joel to see her vulnerable side, so she held her tears until she reached the other room. After Joel apologizes to her and probably for the first time addresses her emotional condition directly, Ellie doesn’t feel ashamed of crying in front of Joel anymore. Her act of reading the pun book to Joel is also another way to extend her range of trust, given how significant the book is to her—the last memories of her best friend, Riley.

Joel has a hard time finding the proper words to comfort Ellie, and he decides to extend his range of trust by giving Ellie her handgun back. As the duo shares the most father-daughter moment so far by practicing holding a gun properly, in the post-apocalyptic world, it seems oddly appropriate. Like a child, Ellie giddily laughs after completing the drill. It’s fitting that when they venture outside once again, and Joel assures her that they’ll get through, Ellie replies that she knows. As they take refuge in a building at night, Ellie shares another of her terrible puns, and Joel, who had not even smiled once during the post-pandemic years, laughs out loud. Ellie’s puns are once again a reminder of Sarah, as the father-daughter establishes pretty early on the witty banter the father-daughter used to have. Joel harbors a void that has been left by Sarah’s demise, something that has slowly stripped away his humanity and optimism, and the memories are too agonizing for him to ever revisit. Unknowingly he has let Ellie move inside and fill the void somewhat. It’s not ironic that earlier, he was following his purpose and guarding Ellie, and after he opens up, he lets his guard down figuratively and metaphorically as the duo gets ambushed by Henry and Sam.

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See more: What Roles Will Henry And Sam Be Playing In ‘The Last Of Us’ Episode 5? Why Did Sam Point The Gun At Joel?


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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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