‘The Last Of Us’ Episode 7: Recap And Ending, Explained: Is Riley Dead Or Alive? Can Ellie Save Joel?

Druckman and Mazin have effectively confirmed that their contaminated world will unrestrictively unfold before our eyes as the consequential backdrop. The center stage will be chiefly reserved for what really makes this apocalyptic human drama stand out from the many others—the characters and an extensive analysis of what made them the people that we see before us. And that could’ve been done in a lackluster manner where a survivor goes down a dreary path and the dilapidated premise dictates the bulk of the bonds they form and how they form them. Lucky for us, that isn’t what the showrunners of “The Last of Us” are going for. And neither are they going for a more generic, episodic walk backs to the origins of the ones we’ve come to love. It’s the wholly mercurial turns each episode takes that keep us on our toes. And it’s how a deeper look at the characters mirrors the abrupt paths people in our lives decide to lay out before us when they are ready to let us in that makes us feel closer to the characters.


Spoilers Ahead

A Friend In Need

“Left Behind” hoists the heavy mainsail that had its two wayfarers miserable in the devastating aftermath of their last brush with trouble. Struck down just as they were forming a closer bond, Joel and Ellie’s barbed journey has seen better days. We are comforted to see that there’s fight left in Joel yet. Fright creeps up on us as we see the breathless Ellie giving it her all to save her only friend in the world. She is not about to be pushed away. Not when Joel’s very survival rests on her little shoulders and every choice she is about to make. No comfort hoarded in Jackson’s fair community comes close to the warmth she feels when Joel is there by her side. Why else would she choose to go with Joel instead of Tommy? And why would she abide by Joel’s adamantine orders now, in his gravest condition, when she was never all that inclined to do what she was told? In Joel, she has found all that has been lost along the way. His life is of the utmost importance to Ellie, who has felt immense loss, whether Joel knows anything about it or not.


Hello Again, Boston

When the entire world has succumbed to the anarchic fungus, and we have only the little comforts to hold on to, even a retreating timeline taking us back to Boston QZ sings of a better day. It’s a time when Joel isn’t bleeding out, even though he hasn’t met Ellie yet. It’s a time when Tess is alive and somewhat well somewhere. And we’re in the severe training ground of FEDRA military school, where Ellie is running lazy laps with a group of kids, all being brought up to be pawns in the war FEDRA hopes to wage against the Fireflies. Her best friend Riley, the hand-throwing rebel that the fascist militia has failed to tame time and again, isn’t there to have her back. And that is what the school bully Bethany takes advantage of as she picks on someone with a significantly smaller frame and yanks her Walkman earphones off.

Neither the bully nor her nose see a disgruntled punch coming from the seemingly defenseless Ellie. But Ellie does see herself getting into trouble with Kwong, the FEDRA officer in charge of raising soldiers. She welcomes and even tables the idea of being thrown in the hole to pay for the 15 stitches that Bethany has been subjected to in the infirmary. That measure has proved ineffectual for someone as stuck in her ways as Ellie. In her, Kwong sees the possibilities of a future FEDRA officer, lording over her power instead of taking shit orders from the likes of Bethany. Such an approving appraisal from someone authoritative has Ellie’s muddled feelings about the draconian, brutal establishment tied up in knots.


On one hand, she is not a follower of rules. On the other hand, it’s hard to turn away from the idea of making some worthwhile changes when she grows up to be in a position of power. Extremist military dogma infiltrating Ellie’s fresh, persuadable mind is noticeably reflective of how impressionable youth get manipulated into a futile path of establishing their worth by carrying out unthinkable brutality for the benefit of the ones they serve.

A Firefly And Her Best Friend

Night falls in Ellie’s cozy little room in the QZ. She flips through the pages of Savage Starlight, and a tour of her room gives us a warm view of the posters for Mortal Kombat II and the 1980s sci-fi film Innerspace. Further prodding through her belongings revealed cassettes of A-Ha’s greatest hits compilations and Etta James. How Ellie has made the sullen room her own with tokens of all that makes her feel alive is a reassuring reminder of all that people manage to hold on to, even in a world where dreams have shorter lifespans than fruit flies. She looks over with concern at the empty bed beside her and chooses to ignore the anxious voice in her mind. Ellie’s sleep is interrupted when an unidentifiable intruder breaks into her room and muffles her mouth.


Quick as a cat, Ellie swiftly gets the better of the intruder and pulls her switchblade. I was expecting a late-night revenge attempt by Bethany, but the attacker turned out to be Ellie’s best friend, Riley. She has been AWOL for 3 weeks, leaving a worried Ellie behind. Ellie can now breathe free without being suffocated by the fear of her friend being dead somewhere out there. But Riley is back after being recruited by the Fireflies, the radical group that Ellie is being trained to kill. 

How Did Riley Get Recruited By The Fireflies?

Ellie would trust Riley with her life. Breaking out and evading the ever-vigilant FEDRA patrol in the middle of the night aren’t things Ellie needs to be convinced to do. Riley, to Ellie, is the embodiment of all the liberating ideals that frown at chains. While Ellie’s rebellious predispositions only surface at intervals, Riley is untamable through and through. Walking through the flickering warm glimmer of the night, hiding from FEDRA mobiles making their rounds, Ellie feels alive in the rush of being defiant. Riley cares about Ellie’s well-being more than anything else. Freshly versed in the Fireflies’ ideology, she advises Ellie to pick her battles carefully so as not to end up with more black eyes or worse. Ellie isn’t all that worried. Now that Riley is back and they’re in a pact again, no one would dare pick on her. They make their way through a forsaken skeleton of a building and Ellie is made to climb 7 floors when she was lured with the promise of 2. Gasps replace their lively giggles when a corpse is the only sight to see on the dingy floor.


Ellie’s age isn’t suggestive of the kind of darkness she is able to grasp and comprehend. As they sneak the bottle of booze from the dead man, who seemingly took some pills and chased them with booze, she knows why a man would intentionally do such a thing. It’s discernible from Ellie’s lingering gazes at Riley that the former has a crush on the latter. Making their way out of the building, she asks Riley if it was her interest in a boy that got her hooked on the Fireflies. Riley clears her suspicion with the truth without clearly giving away the real answer that Ellie was looking for. A 40-something woman, who we know to be Marlene, had picked up on her abilities to sneak around without being caught by FEDRA.

Counting on the shared venom against the fascists, Marlene asked the young girl to come aboard and join hands with the ones that FEDRA deems terrorists. Kwong’s words have struck a chord with Ellie, who is now dangerously close to falling for FEDRA’s insistent brainwashing. Whether it is for the sake of keeping her friend safe or not, the fact that Ellie even considers uttering praises of FEDRA’s totalitarian endeavors makes us thankful that she is soon to be taken away from the military school. All the times that Ellie practically begs Joel for a gun are traced back to the moment she asks Riley to let her hold the gun that the Fireflies have issued her. Unlike Joel, Riley gives in to Ellie’s request. Plaguing truths of the haphazard world that don’t allow kids to be kids turn up in unforeseen interludes of the two best friends’ glad adventure. In a fallen world, Riley can’t be expected to be untouched by death. She has lost her parents and has had to unlearn all that she knew of the old life to get used to the new one. 


What Surprises Did Riley Plan For Ellie?

Having FEDRA announcements echoing in her mind, Ellie pauses to rethink entering the mall that Riley has brought her to. The four wonders that Riley has handpicked to surprise her friend with reside in a mall that has been shut off by FEDRA for the supposed hordes of infected. But if it is shut down, how could Riley break in? They climb past the new housings that have taken in more survivors; a benevolent action of FEDRA that Ellie sings the praises of. When they enter the mall, Ellie has completely handed over her leash to Riley. Starry-eyed Ellie is in awe seeing the dead mall illuminated by lights that Riley has turned on. She is anxious about being caught but is soon reassured that the lights are confined within the walls.

Running up and down, overwhelmed with joy, Ellie’s first experience with an escalator is as bewildering as it gets. The bulk of their walkthrough in the mall insistently juxtaposes depressing emblems of a long-lost life with the happy glimmer in Ellie’s eyes. Riley looks back at the fervid time she has heard of from her mother. Ellie chuckles at what people choose to prioritize in their time of desperate need. While the sneakers store has been thoroughly ransacked, the personal hygiene store has stood untouched. Chirpy Riley leads Ellie to the first wonder, a functional carousel bright with twinkly lights and brighter with their smiles. The further Ellie goes down Riley’s predesigned chain of events, the harder it is for her to not drift into a longing pause whenever they’re close. Ellie doesn’t want to watch their friendship slip through her fingers. But it’s not something she can yearningly hold on to. At least not by asking Riley to stick around so that they can eventually become FEDRA captains.


Riley’s disillusionment with FEDRA has happened away from Ellie’s eyes. When Riley’s time came, she was granted a life of wasting away on sewage duty. That isn’t something Riley would hang around for, however much she may miss her best friend. Slipping a $5 bill through the photo booth slot, Riley wishes for Ellie to let go of the drab pragmatisms of the world out there. They are here now, and they better conjure up the goofiest faces if they want a memory worth preserving. The next wonder is admittedly the most beautiful thing that Ellie has ever laid her bewitching eyes on. They’ve come to stand before the glowy arcade that holds the happy promise of more fun than Ellie can even dream up. Mystified by the gorgeous Mortal Kombat II, Ellie mourns being bereft of the coins that they would need to play the game. But Riley seems to have taken all the intricacies into consideration before bringing Ellie to Raja’s Arcade. She has broken into the change stash and has gotten her hands on enough coins to use for about a lifetime of games.

As the two get busy fighting each other on the screen, Ellie and Riley have decidedly blocked out all that is wrong with the world. The moment is all they have. And it is all they want to live in for as long as the illusion lasts. What they are peacefully dismissing is that the noise they’re making has awakened an infected. This may not be the last time Ellie gets to bathe in childlike merriment, but from what we know of Riley’s fate, every second that the two spend together bears the icy truths of what is to come. Gloom permeates their happy adventure when Ellie follows Riley to the next wonder. She giggles like a toddler holding the “No Pun Intended” book that Riley hands her. But Ellie’s fleeting amusement disperses into thin air when she comes to realize that this is where Riley has been staying. She is not to be pacified with what she believes is “propaganda” when she comes across the grenades that Riley is in charge of. Deluged within her own mind by the crippling fear of losing her friend and the disenchanting realization of what this night has been all about, Ellie proceeds to part ways with Riley. Walking after her, Riley passes on the wretched news. She has planned the night to say goodbye to her friend, who can’t accompany her on her way to the Atlanta airport.


‘The Last Of Us’ Episode 7: Ending Explained: How Did Riley Die? Can Ellie Save Joel?

Ellie has never been able to give Riley an exposed look at her heart. Partly in fear that the feelings she has been safeguarding inside wouldn’t be reciprocated, and partly because she wouldn’t risk anything that could drive Riley away. In the stuffy halls of the QZ military school, Riley was her window to look out of and for the breeze of life to get in. The pain she feels at the prospect of never seeing Riley again comes out dressed in the guise of anger, an emotion she will be able to justify. She walks out of the mall in tears only to find herself rushing back when a frantic scream coming from the mall alarms her. It was only another prank by Riley, who sits by the Halloween store and waits for her friend to behold the last wonder. Drowning in the grief of the looming separation from her best friend, Ellie doesn’t understand why Riley is compelling herself to go away. “You don’t know everything,” says Riley. And Ellie really doesn’t. She doesn’t know how the feeling of being untethered plagues every waking minute of Riley’s existence.

Unlike Ellie, Riley once had the feeling of belonging to something. It was only when death snatched away her parents that Riley plummeted to the cold hard ground of having nothing to belong to. A sense of purpose is only meaningful when it is strengthened by the sense of a singular faith that each enforcer is fastened to. With the Fireflies, Riley has found another chance to feel that she belongs to something greater than herself. And even though she will miss her best friend, she can’t deny herself the feeling that she has been longing for forever. But she won’t think of bidding their friendship a morose farewell. Blasting Etta James’ “I Got You Babe,” which she found on Ellie’s walkman and may or may not have intended to give back, Riley asks her for a dance. Two kids, dancing through what is the last dance that they’ll ever share, wearing goofy masks and hiding their smiles underneath, end it with a kiss. Fearing that the kiss might have freaked Riley out, Ellie offers an agitated apology. We aren’t supposed to know why Riley was okay with the kiss. Perhaps only to spare us an even worse heartache, the truth about what Riley felt for Ellie was left ambiguous. As their eyes look for the noise they’ve just heard, we know what time it is, and we will be subjected to it whether we want to be or not.


A ferocious infected breaks up the two and attacks Riley. Being her first time facing a zombie, Ellie’s amateur hands violently stab him on his side. It’s only when the zombie attacks Riley again that Ellie puts the switchblade through his skull and eliminates him. There’s an evanescent moment of relief when Ellie is unaware of what has taken place. Until Riley points at the bitemark on Ellie’s arm and then to the mark on her own hand. Unaware of her immunity, Ellie believes that this is the end of the road for them both. They expected to part ways, but having their time in the world cut short is not an easy thing for Ellie and Riley to grasp. Riley thinks up two options they can choose from. Going the easy way and eating a bullet. Or choosing to be with each other for as long as the fungus doesn’t get the better of them. They opt for the second choice, and however hard it may be to admit it in light of Riley’s impending death, it’s the choice that saves Ellie’s life.

Back in the present, Ellie is faced with two options yet again. She can save herself and go north until she reaches Jackson. Or she can stay and help Joel. She is not ready to lose another friend. Not when all hope isn’t lost. She scours the house and gets her hands on a needle and some thread. Playing an expert nurse with her untrained hands, Ellie stitches up Joel’s gaping wound as he winces and looks away. Whether he makes it or not, Ellie would know that she did all that she could. And for the sake of Ellie and us, I hope that Joel will make it through. 


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Lopamudra Mukherjee
Lopamudra Mukherjeehttps://muckrack.com/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.

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