How Does ‘The Last Of Us’ Episode 6 Explores The Emotional Vulnerabilities Of Joel Miller

Never meet your heroes. The timeworn aphorism explicitly warns you against the kind of disillusionment that may follow the disheartening humanization of the ones you put on a pedestal. What took off as the conscious choice to have their darkest truths elude us has, somewhere down the line, transitioned into expecting god-like infallibility from the ones we look up to. But how fair is it not to allow our heroes the grace of being human before all else? If complete invincibility is what we seek from them, do we really love them? Recently, while speaking to a fellow fan of the show, I came to know that Joel Miller has attained an indestructible stature in conversations where even the very plausible idea of anybody, no matter how dynamic or vicious, taking him down seems unbelievable. And there’s nothing wrong with that per se. After all, what we believe is more often than not, what we wish for.


How fans perceive the aching humanization of Joel in episode 6 of “The Last of Us” will invariably derive from what they truly feel for Joel. Is it love that we feel for our gutsy apocalyptic hero? Or is it only through relentlessly fulfilling our insatiable hunger for heroism that he can manage to hold on to our affection? Because if what we feel for Joel Miller is, in fact, love, his supremely vulnerable emotional state in “kin” is only supposed to intensify our affection. Because it is when a heroic character is in his most downtrodden state that he is the most relatable to us mere mortals. Joel Miller has been beaten down only to get himself back up way too many times for him to still have his emotional state unscathed. And while putting up an impenetrable facade of being unruffled by all that he has been through has worked for quite a bit, Joel’s breakdown in this week’s episode has been long overdue.

The harrowing sight of seeing Henry kill his own little brother was mostly what really pushed Joel over the edge. The man who once didn’t think twice before pulling the trigger on innocents was already getting soft as the wall between him and Ellie was crumbling down. He might have put up a face of indifference for the sake of not slacking on his responsibilities, but it was getting progressively more discernible just how shattered he was after Henry and Sam’s scarring murder-suicide. The same Joel that would valiantly enter a building knowing very well that there might have been deadly clickers inside is now a man startled by the alarming mention of a “river of death.” He is not one for flagrantly declaring his love for Ellie. But at the same time, the entirety of his mind is consumed by the frenzied drive to protect her. Miserably aware of his declining mental and physical state, the fear of failing to escort Ellie safely across the ominous banks of the river triggers the pitch-black insecurities he keeps buried within. He clenches his heaving chest, which seems to be running out of air and hope. But for as long as he does breathe, he must go on. 


Joel has never really had the space or even the privilege of effectively mourning Sarah’s death. We shed tears with him as he went through shock and denial while holding Sarah’s lifeless body in his helpless arms. We’ve found empathy for him as he released his engulfing anger through the punches he pummeled the FEDRA soldier’s face with. We’ve walked alongside him even when he embraced a stoney demeanor to convince himself that he is incapable of feeling misery. It was only when his walls came down, and he began accepting that he cared for someone other than himself that his anxieties started to get the better of him. Having to undergo hazardous conditions for survival, Joel never had the opportunity to go through the acceptance stage of his grief. So when he learns of Tommy’s imminent fatherhood, all he can get himself to think of is the gut-wrenching loss of his daughter. It seems unfair to Joel that Tommy will get to experience the joys of being a father when that very thing, the only thing that ever truly made him happy, was brutally snatched away from him. Joel’s agonizing bitterness is more than understandable when he is unable to feel untainted happiness for his brother.

Sometimes it truly is as though every element of the universe comes together to plot against a fallen soldier only to push him further into the calamitous ground. Already overwhelmed with the darkest intrusive thoughts crowding his weary mind, Joel is punished with the painful sight of a girl who resembles Sarah. Loss is a strange phenomenon. It defies all logic known to man and even wishes to believe in the unbelievable just to soothe the uncompromising pain, even if it is just for a fraction of a desperate second. It hopes against hope even if it has to challenge the laws of life and nature as it would rather take a chance in convincing itself that maybe this time hell would freeze over than accept that what’s gone is gone. Joel knows that the girl he is looking at can’t possibly be Sarah. But he can’t help but wait for her to turn to make sure that a person can never come back from the grave. But Sarah isn’t an unlikely exception to nature, and Joel isn’t that lucky. When he does see the girl’s face and again has his heart shattered into pieces, he goes down another excruciating spiral of a panic attack. 


How earnestly he has been missing his little brother is palpable in how fast he falls apart in his presence. Joel can’t help but sound conceited, even when he doesn’t mean for it to come off that way. He probably didn’t mean to come across as rude when he asked Maria to give him some privacy with his brother. When he gets Tommy alone, he can’t fend off the frenzied avalanche of emotions any longer. All the rage and the fear that he has been hoarding within himself come pouring out of his eyes as he exposes his dejected heart to Tommy. For a man who only had his hardiness to rely on, the recent experiences with his waning competency almost brought about an existential crisis. If he’s not quick on his feet, he doesn’t know who he is. If he is not undaunted in the face of acute danger, he doesn’t know what he is useful for. Going deaf in his ears, being unable to fight off an attacker, and helplessly freezing up in moments of profound urgency aren’t easy businesses to come to terms with for a man who is in charge of protecting a little girl who may just be the savior of the world. And whether he admits to it or not, what Joel is most terrified of is failing to save yet another girl who means the world to him. He would rather be the bad guy and protect Ellie by handing her over to Tommy than be selfish and endanger her life.

In the quietest moments of Joel’s solitude, the fleeting memories of Sarah create a volatile upheaval of dread in his mind. Seeing how beautiful it is in the soothing sanctuary of Jackson, thoughts of Sarah haunt him the most, as he is probably wondering how much she would have loved to be here. Alone in the coldness of Sarah’s absence, Joel gets lost in the warm glimpses of a Christmas where they were both happy bedecking a tree with little ornaments and love. He can’t possibly go through it again. even if it means that broken-hearted Ellie will only hold him in sullen remembrance. He wishes to be hated and rejected by the little girl, for whom he only feels affection. If it means that she will be safe, Joel will give up everything he has. Ellie’s pleading words, however, strike a wounding chord with Joel. Letting it all out in the open and bearing his heart has allowed him clarity of judgment. Through ruminations unclouded by the whispers of anxiety, Joel recognizes himself as the only person who will put his life on the line for Ellie. And what better protection can little Ellie get? Indomitable fate’s cruel design does end up testing just how far Joel will go to shield the girl, who is like a daughter to him. As he dyes the icy terrain red with his blood, all we can hope for is that our very mortal hero will persevere and get back up again.


See more: ‘The Last Of Us’ Episode 6: Characters: Joel And Tommy, Explained: How Do They Reconcile Their Relationship?

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Lopamudra Mukherjee
Lopamudra Mukherjee
Lopamudra nerds out about baking whenever she’s not busy looking for new additions to the horror genre. Nothing makes her happier than finding a long-running show with characters that embrace her as their own. Writing has become the perfect mode of communicating all that she feels for the loving world of motion pictures.

Latest articles