How Does Joel Finally Accept Ellie As A Daughter In ‘The Last Of Us’ Episode 6?

From the first episode of HBO’s “The Last of Us,” Joel and Ellie have been known to be inching towards a surrogate father-daughter relationship – neither of them wanted it, but the situations would force them into it all the same. Both Joel and Ellie would vehemently deny it whenever anyone would point them out as a father and daughter duo, but as the episodes progress, the 56-year-old man and the 14-year-old teenager have to accept that they’re family, even if they don’t want to admit it themselves. Episode 6 is rightly titled “Kin,” because it’s in this episode that Joel finally lets go of that defense mechanism that he had been using to push Ellie away and gives himself a second chance to be a father to a girl who needs him terribly. Here’s how an emotionally bankrupt man like Joel finds love once again in the corners of his heart for a girl who’s like Sarah reborn.


In the early days, when they started their journey, Ellie would wake up with a gun aimed at her by Joel, ready to be fired because of the bite on her hand. While driving to Kansas City, Joel denies Ellie the position of family and instead calls her “cargo,” but that’s just the poor man’s internal defense mechanism to keep the girl at arm’s length so that he doesn’t develop affection for her. But we know all this, and it has been established that Joel definitely cares for her, so will he ever treat her as a daughter? As it turns out, no matter how much Joel might want to love Ellie like the daughter he lost, his tremendous trauma from the past won’t let him. While shepherding the teenager across the country, Joel encounters certain death several times, and one of those times, he needs her to save him. With each passing day, he realizes how much of a failure he is—the root of which lies in his inability to protect Sarah from a soldier’s bullets.

Joel has night terrors every time he collapses on a flat surface to sleep, and of late, the trauma of losing his daughter has started manifesting itself even while he’s awake, in the form of panic attacks. His heart gets erratic, his ears start ringing, and he has to clutch onto something so as not to tumble face-first. These panic attacks are in response to the fact that the heart of a father can’t help but see another 14-year-old as the daughter he once lost, but he’s terrified of letting the façade fall away and showering Ellie with the full extent of his love. The first time he saw Sarah in Ellie was when the soldier pointed the gun at her in Episode 1, and the buried rage burst forth, and Joel caved the soldier’s face in. Months have passed since, and the extreme hardships of the path have left him battered, broken, and too weary from defending himself, let alone protecting Ellie. Ironically, Joel’s sole purpose of living for the longest time had been to protect the ones he loved, and it was the failure to do the same that gave him PTSD. Thus, when the unknown masked people surrounded the two on horseback and sent the sniffer dog at Ellie, Joel’s ears began ringing again, as fear of losing a daughter yet again made him catatonic.


Every night, Joel would see Sarah die in his dreams, and his condition worsened upon learning that the only person who remembered his trauma from the olden days—his brother, Tommy—had moved on with his life. While already plagued with the knowledge that his dead daughter is never coming back, Joel learns that his brother is about to have a baby. Life seems to be playing one cruel joke after another with the broken man because he spots a girl who looks exactly like his beloved daughter, and the jumbled thoughts of Sarah and his failure to save her come hounding back, and Joel stumbles to a pillar to keep himself standing. Finally coming clean to his brother, he admits that he can’t trust himself anymore because he’s not strong enough to shepherd Ellie to the Fireflies any longer. After a lifetime of fighting and being tough, Joel’s spirit is crumbling, and he won’t survive the death of a second daughter.

Moments after entering the gated community of Jackson, Joel spots a Christmas tree being decorated, and he remembers to tease Tommy for preparing for a festival while the rest of the world has gone to hell. It’s revealed later that this pointed remark went beyond poking fun at someone for nurturing hope and had affected Joel in the worst way possible. He has a thundering confrontation with Ellie when she comes to know that he plans to dump her with Tommy and shirk his responsibilities. She reminds him that she’s not Sarah, and Joel makes it crystal clear in a stony voice that the two aren’t father and daughter. That night, before going to sleep, Joel lets himself think of Sarah—the last Christmas they celebrated together—and her smiling face. It’s the first time that Sarah’s face comes to his mind, not as a nightmare where she dies or bursting through his repressed trauma when a girl like Sarah is in danger. He finally comes to terms with the fact that Sarah is dead, but that doesn’t mean he needs to bury the ocean of repressed love in his heart when he can be a father to a girl who needs it much more than Sarah at the moment.


The next morning, Joel is a changed man, and the rest of their journey to the University of Eastern Colorado is markedly different from the way they had behaved until now. Joel didn’t allow himself to smile in Ellie’s presence, lest she thinks he has allowed her to get close, and never admitted that they could be family. However, after coming to terms with all the hurt he had hidden in the crevices of his heart, Joel slowly begins to accept Ellie as a daughter. Initially, he didn’t even let her touch a gun, but he then entrusted her with one when she saved his life from a raider in Kansas City. At the start of Episode 6, he didn’t wish to teach her how to hunt because he didn’t want to do anything more than the absolute basics—all part of that wall of defense, which came crumbling down soon after. After reconciling with his past and making peace with Sarah’s memories, Joel spends time showing Ellie how to use a rifle and opens up about his life before the apocalypse. Remember when he coldly replied “Pass” to most of her questions? The same Joel proceeds to explain football, what college used to be all about, and the economic situation of the USA before the fungus attacked. He also talks about his childhood dream of becoming a singer—a theme that’s further explored in the second part of the game. After decades of bottling up his emotions, the catharsis lightens Joel’s heart, and he finally becomes the father that Ellie needs.

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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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