The Last Of Us Episode 5 review: A little bloated
In its opening trilogy of episodes, The Last of Us delivered some of the most emotionally hard-hitting opening chapters told in recent television storytelling - a new high for video game adaptations altogether. After its fourth episode, "Please Hold to My Hand", doubled as a great buildup to what comes next, Episode 5 doesn't entirely deliver as one might have hoped. Nevertheless, we've come away more invested in its leads than ever.
Brothers: A tale of two sons
After picking up where Episode 4 left off, "Endure and Survive" delves into the series adaptation's latest deviation from the game: the added backstory to Henry and Sam - before teaming up with Ellie and Joel to get out of Kansas City as they escape Kathleen and her militia.
As well as the two brothers pairing well with Joel and Ellie's well-honed back-and-forth banter, Henry and Sam's casting is on point with an interesting tweak to the game counterparts that work in its favour. Along with actor, Lamar Johnson, contributing an added warmth in his great performance as older brother Henry, making the live-action Sam deaf - as is his actor Keivonn Michael - does well in further selling their sibling bond via sign language. That's in conjunction with the supplementary challenges of being hearing-deficient in an apocalyptic world with sound-sensitive zombies would bring.
As in the game, the dynamic between the four is delightful. Whilst Joel and Ellie playfully clash in their gruff and broody Vs larger than life way, Henry and Sam interweave elements of hopeful positivity and innocence respective of their ages.
Between getting to know each other and venturing through Kansas to escape from the city, one of the most poignant is when the group comes across an abandoned underground settlement. Like its video game counterpart, the little journey not only moves forward character development for Joel and Ellie, but further builds the world for the audience by showcasing other personalities with their own stories behind them - both good and bad.
A little too much deviation
Unfortunately, a lot of what was best about Episode 5 is cut short by more of what slightly buckled the previous: Kathleen and her militia. A complete set of characters exclusive to the show, we spend A LOT of time with Kathleen, her gun-wielding second-in-command, and learning of her reasons for hunting Henry after his betrayal of her group.
It's not that the scenes themselves are bad. After all, Melanie Lynskey does really well in conveying the layered "kindhearted but do what needs to be done" personality Kathleen is meant to have. The issue with these scenes comes in two ays: it's not nearly as interesting as watching Joel and Ellie spend time with Sam and Henry, and it never really goes anywhere where the show wouldn't have already been without them.
Changes better fitting the medium it's been adapted to is where HBO's TV version of The Last of Us has been where it's at its strongest, courtesy of increased depth into its world and character exploration. The drastic changes to Bill's arc for Episode 3 are a definitive example of that, managing to follow the rest of the game's main story beats, but still making sure the final product is as concise and compelling as it needs to be.
In the case of bringing Henry and Sam's backstory to the surface by conjuring up one just for Kathleen and her group, this feels like The Last of Us' true first case of filler - demonstrating it can sometimes work more to just keep the mystery, and bigger isn't always better.
Bloating vs bloater
Despite unnecessarily trailing off midway for characters we don't really care about, Episode 5 picks right back up in the final 20 minutes of the 1-hour episode.
Starting off with a retelling of the game's street sniper scene, which is tense enough in its own right - End and Survive's ultimate climax only gets bigger and better by expanding on the suspense and chaos that follows.
Since the infected have been taking a backseat for the last couple of episodes, this terrifying and unpredictable scene serves as a reminder as to how frightening the fungus zombies can be - not only Clickers, but what a horror the sight of a hulking behemoth Bloater can be as well.
Not to mention, the fact that the Bloater was incredibly crafted with mostly practical effects and prosthetics - thanks to Game of Thrones' Night King and Stranger Things' Vecna designer, Barrie Gower - deserves a shoutout all in its own.
What's more, all of the anarchy ends up an emotionally harrowing finale that players of the game will know all too well. Again, with some slight tweaks as to how the episode gets there, Endure and Survive ends with an impact that matches, if not surpasses, the source material it was birthed from thanks to the performances at play.
With the latest illustration of what such a post-apocalyptic world can bring, Joel and Ellie have been shaken - before needing to gather the pieces back together for the road ahead.
Is The Last of Us episode 5 good?
Endure and Survive, The Last of Us' fifth entry, is the still-great lesser of a first-rate array of episodes. Now past the halfway point of the first season, Episode 5 presents an interesting contrast to what's set up to be the finest video game adaptation ever made.
Whilst the HBO series has been able to maintain a careful balance of medium-specific deviations - at the same time upholding the key story beats that made the original game so beloved. In the first and third acts of the episode, Endure and Survive does just that once again. However, with too much time spent on superfluous characters, Episode 5 also shows that even the best titles in entertainment aren't immune to adding a bit too much bloat for their own good.