‘The Last Of Us’ Episode 7: Exploring The Meaning Behind The Wonders At The Mall Through Ellie’s Eyes

For the 7th episode of HBO’s “The Last of Us,” showrunner Craig Mazin decided to take the audience to a flashback and explore Ellie’s backstory, adapted from the “Left Behind” DLC of the 2013 game produced by Naughty Dog. In the episode, we meet Riley Abel, Ellie’s best friend, who comes back one night and decides to surprise Ellie. She takes the teenager to an abandoned mall with the promise of giving her the best night she has ever had in her life and to present to her all the wonders the mall has to offer. The wonders would seem to be ordinary features any mall or amusement park has, but in the post-apocalyptic world governed by fascist military organizations, merry-go-rounds and video games aren’t the most common commodities, so Ellie’s eyes widen when she sees a mall for the first time. However, these wonders have a deeper significance than just being fun distractions before reality sets in, and help develop Ellie into who she is today. Here’s a deeper look into what the wonders signify, exploring the meaning behind each in the seventh episode of HBO’s “The Last of Us.”


For the first time in her life, Ellie learns the joys beyond the walls of the Boston QZ, manned by FEDRA, and has her mind blown by the wonders that a place of amazement like the mall has to offer. When Ellie arrives at the abandoned mall with her best friend Riley, she’s promised four wonders (plus one), each of which has been carefully curated by Riley to impress Ellie. Each of these four wonders can be viewed as stages of childhood, leading all the way up to adulthood. Although it was never on Riley’s list, Ellie finds the first wonder in the escalator—a very common sight for us in public buildings today—but for the girl brought up in a FEDRA military school, this is nothing short of a miracle. She looks at the moving staircase with childlike amazement, exactly as an infant looks at everything around them. Ellie doesn’t understand how an escalator works, and the concept of a constantly moving staircase that keeps looping infinitely seems surreal to the girl. An infant has no clue about the world they’re born into, and they want to touch everything and enjoy the moment for as long as they can. Ellie has a similar reaction to the escalator, she stays at the moving staircase for what seems like a long time, and she claims to not even be moving as she keeps walking against the escalator. She trips, however, and it’s on to the next wonder, like the second stage of childhood.

The second wonder on the list is the unicorn carousel, and Ellie’s eyes light up like the “million lights” that illuminate the ride. This is her first time riding a carousel, something children grow up enjoying in theme parks they visit with parents after learning to walk. The carousel represents the early childhood stage where children start learning how to make friends and begin choosing which of their peers they want to be their friends. Unlike the escalator, Ellie is joined on the carousel by Riley, and it symbolizes the phase where children first meet other kids in parks and playgrounds and make friends. The girls enjoy what feels like a magical ride in silence but with awe in their eyes, and it’s awfully similar to children finding peers in parks and befriending them. The carousel comes to an end, and they start arguing, which heralds the late childhood where children start questioning everything, as exhibited by Ellie questioning Riley about her plans as a Firefly.


Riley leads Ellie to the photo booth, where the pair strike several goofy poses and click pictures, and they keep the photographs that come out. The photo booth symbolizes late childhood when children join schools and also learn to create memories apart from the things they study. Children spend more time with their peers, draw pictures of themselves and the people who are close to them and maintain journals where they record their lives. We saw instances of the same in previous episodes, where the children inside the tunnels created drawings on the walls in Episode 5, and Ellie found a journal of a girl in the Jackson settlement in Episode 6. Clicking the pictures and making memories becomes a significant part of the night for Ellie because she’ll always be reminded of Riley every time she looks at the photos. Additionally, after the pictures have been taken, Ellie asks Riley to get off of her and has a smile on her face even afterward.

The fourth wonder, and probably the most enjoyable of all for Ellie, is the arcade game store, where she and Riley spend several minutes at the arcade playing “Mortal Kombat.” This is the fourth and final stage of childhood, known as adolescence, where children start going through puberty and begin becoming aware of their bodies and those around them. Inside the arcade, the girls laugh and giggle while playing as the MK characters, and while sharing a heartfelt moment with her best friend, Ellie looks at Riley in a different light than she has seen her all along. This sliver of a look hints at the growing affection of Ellie for her friend and her developing sexuality, staying true to the stage. It’s at the pre-teen phase that children start understanding whom they find attractive based on their sexual preferences. The momentary glance at Riley hints at her sexual preference for women, which would go on to define her sexual identity for the rest of her life. It’s also at this age when children start understanding the responsibilities and duties that are expected of them, which is why Ellie checks herself moments later and informs Riley that she needs to get back to her school. She places her duties before her heart, which goes with adolescence, where the childlike amazement starts fading, and a world of responsibilities creeps in.


Although not part of the tour of wonders, Ellie discovers the pipe bombs that Riley had made to kill FEDRA officers soon after she goes into the place Riley is using as her bedroom. The discovery changes the whole perspective that she had about her friend, and that’s when she makes a decision for herself. Ellie decides to sever ties with Riley and leave, because she can’t fundamentally accept the fact that her best friend wants to kill soldiers. Teenage is the time when the entire world seems to be at one side while the teens find themselves at the opposite end, and it’s when they make choices that shape the way they’d live for the rest of their lives. It’s also the age of differing opinions and varying worldviews, and it’s the discovery of the pipe bombs that’s Ellie’s introduction to teenage. She learns something about her friend and decides to leave, but in the end, she can’t. Ellie makes a choice to leave but returns for her friend because it defines who she is as a person.

While on her way back, Ellie hears screams and, panicking that her friend is in danger, she rushes in to find Riley in a Halloween shop. This was supposed to be the final wonder on Riley’s list, and it’s the late-teens age when people finally understand what they want. Ellie and Riley sort out their differences and decide to dance wearing masks. Masks have all sorts of symbolic significance, including the obvious Halloween connotation where people pretend to be someone they’re not, and for a brief while, Ellie and Riley don masks of killer clowns and werewolves and dance, forgetting all that worries them. Masks are also used to hide one’s inner secrets and desires, and one might not know it, but from under the mask, Ellie had been staring at Riley as she danced and quietly took in everything about her best friend, whom she had realized that she loved. Once the masks are removed, the girls share a kiss because they’ve finally accepted who they are, as happens with late teens. However, life arrives with a rude shock, and adulthood barges in in the form of the Infected, which destroys the plans Ellie and Riley had made. Both girls get bitten, and they soon have to come to terms with one of life’s harshest truths—death. Thus, Ellie’s life comes to a complete circle in the span of one night, where she goes from a wide-eyed infant gaping at the wonders the world has to offer to a crying and sniffling adult who’s forced to come to terms with the fact that people we love will get sick and die, and that’s the wonder about life.


See more: ‘The Last Of Us: American Dreams’ Comic Book Differences And Similarities: How It Is Different From Episode 7

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Indrayudh Talukdar
Indrayudh Talukdar
Indrayudh has a master's degree in English literature from Calcutta University and a passion for all things in cinema. He loves writing about the finer aspects of cinema, although he is also an equally big fan of webseries and anime. In his free time, Indrayudh loves playing video games and reading classic novels.

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