How Did Henry Try To Keep Sam Safe From Reality Through Closed Spaces In ‘The Last Of Us’?

The central narrative of “The Last of Us,” of both the HBO series and the game, unfolds itself in the veins of the journey motif of “The Pilgrim’s Progress,” although through the post-apocalyptic landscape instead of a road to Heaven, and the religious allegory of the former has been substituted with a commentary on the human condition. However, the spiritual essence of the journey remains intact as we find Joel and Ellie gaining bits and pieces of wisdom during their interactions with the characters they meet. By the end of the previous episode, we are introduced to the brother duo Henry and Sam, survivors in Kansas City who are on the run from the insurgents. Like Joel, Henry is acting as a guardian figure to his hearing and speech-impaired young brother and has an impossible duty to protect him from the horrors of the outside world. Henry tries his best to form a cocoon around his brother, symbolic of the human effort to save the last vestiges of humanity during the direst of times.

Advertisement

Spoilers Ahead


Henry’s Effort To Safeguard Sam Through ‘Closed Spaces’

The insurgents led by Kathleen are hunting down Henry and his brother Sam due to Henry selling out Kathleen’s brother Michael to FEDRA. Later in the conversation between Joel and Henry, we get to know that Henry did so in exchange for the leukemia drugs Sam needed, something that only FEDRA could provide. Henry has immense respect for someone as noble as Michael, but when his brother’s life is in question, he probably wouldn’t think twice about doing everything he did all over again. But that’s merely the physical protection he can try to provide to his brother; what about the emotional security of the child who was brought up in a grim, brutal pandemic era? Things aren’t easier with insurgents going about their ways to exact revenge on FEDRA by showcasing instances of barbaric violence. Showrunners provide some solace by using closed spaces to allow Henry to take care of Sam’s emotional well-being.

Advertisement

In the fifth episode, we see Kathleen reminiscing about her childhood by going back to the room she and her brother grew up in. Kathleen shared with Perry that as a kid she was scared of thunder, and to comfort her, Michael had convinced her that their room was an impenetrable box that would keep them out of harm’s way. Michael told her that as long as they were together in the room, they would be safe. The symbolism of the room protecting Kathleen from the emotional traumas of the outside world establishes a parallel with Sam’s life in enclosed spaces. There are also remnants of childhood visible in Kathleen’s room, drawing the connection further.

The first instance of a closed space was the hideout in the attic where Henry and Sam initially stayed. Before discussing that, we would like to address an interesting choice from the showrunners: making this iteration of Sam hearing and speech impaired, unlike the game. According to Craig Mazin, they wanted to highlight the relationship between the brothers in a different vein from Joel and Ellie through a different mode of communication. In the series, this communication also allowed them to show how Henry tries to keep his brother safe using white lies. For example, when Doctor Edelstein expresses his concerns about Sam, Henry lies to his brother, saying that he said they would be safe in the attic. When he senses that his own anxiety and fears are affecting his brother, he distracts him with the fictional, make-believe world of Supersam (a clever twist on the title of the character known as the symbol of hope), Sam’s favorite caped avenger. With a bagful of crayons that his brother gives him, Sam colors the attic in the images of a world where Sam and Henry leap tall buildings in a single bound, are faster than a locomotive and have nothing to fear while saving the day. This becomes almost a bubble where time is transfixed, and nothing from the outside world can intrude to muddle their happy place.

Advertisement

Henry is also brutally honest with Sam about some things. When their supply runs out, he lets his brother know that it’s time to move. He doesn’t mince words to let him know that their only benefactor probably isn’t coming back either. He also encourages Sam to express himself confidently on his own, as he involves his brother during their conversation with Joel and Ellie. While moving with them to escape the city, they chance upon an underground playschool. Despite Joel’s disapproval of them coming to a halt, Henry urges them to stay, mostly for Sam to have time off from the hectic situation. The playschool, another of the closed spaces, allows Sam and Ellie to bond over their favorite comic strip title, “Savage Starlight.” For a brief moment, they forget about the dangers that might lie ahead and engage in activities that children of their age usually do during a better time. Ellie reconnects with a long-lost childhood she never had.

Henry’s protectiveness of Sam reminds us of the earlier episode where Joel was lamenting his failure to prevent Ellie’s loss of innocence, as she became an accomplice in someone’s death. A number of times, Joel tried to safeguard Ellie from emotional hurt, and that started after the duo began to open up. Coincidentally, in most of the instances where they opened up to each other, the conversation took place inside a closed space—be it inside Bill’s car, the apartments in Kansas City, or in Bill and Frank’s house. But unlike Joel, Henry isn’t a seasoned survivor. He hasn’t been faced with situations like taking a life, and he doesn’t have the strength or guile to square off the threats of the outside world. So far, he has depended on others and used his wits to stay alive. If not for Joel’s assistance, he couldn’t have made it out of Kansas City alive. Henry was essentially living on borrowed time, and he tried to fabricate a better world for his dear brother while he was at it. Henry asks Joel if he thinks the children will be okay after witnessing a vicious encounter between the insurgents and the infected. Joel replies it’s easier for them as they don’t have anybody relying on them.

Advertisement

Unfortunately, their time ran out when it was revealed Sam had been injured by one of the infected. Sam doesn’t want to worry his brother; instead, he shares this with the newly met “fearless” elder sister he looks up to. Ellie, much like Henry, acts like a guardian to Sam when she tries to reassure him by applying her immune blood to his wound in the hopes of a miracle! But Ellie herself knows that she is hoping against hope. Later, as Henry instinctively fires to take down an infected Sam, it dawns on him that he has lost his purpose for living. The horrendous realization takes a few moments to surface, and with an utterance questioning his action, something that will haunt viewers for a long time, Henry ends his own life. Ellie puts Sam’s magic board on his grave with “I am sorry” written on it—written on behalf of a world that has long lost its humanity.


See more: The Illusory Safety And The Harsh Realities In The Post-Apocalyptic World Of ‘The last Of Us’ Season 1


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.

Latest articles