SPOILER ALERT: This interview contains spoilers for Episode 7 of “The Last of Us”, now airing on HBO Max.
Ellie takes a devastating walk down memory lane in ‘The Last of Us’ episode 7, recalling one of her most painful moments – as she frantically tries to save the life of an injured Joel in the present day. .
The episode, named after the 2013 video game’s “Left Behind” downloadable expansion pack, reveals what happened the night Ellie discovered she was immune to infection.
Rebellious runaway Riley (Storm Reid) takes Ellie (Bella Ramsey) on an adventure through an abandoned mall, soaking up the wonders of a Mortal Kombat arcade game, carousel, and photo booth. As Ellie finally reveals her romantic feelings for Riley with a kiss and convinces her to stay, things take a heartbreaking turn: the two teenagers are bitten by an infected.
Actors Bella Ramsey and Storm Reid spoke with Variety ahead of the episode premiere to break down their emotional arc.
Storm, you had to establish your entire character from start to finish in a single episode. Did you feel a lot of pressure?
Storm Reid: Bella and (showrunner) Craig (Mazin) and the whole crew made me feel so welcome as soon as I arrived that there really was no room for nervousness. I have just encountered so much love and support. And then getting on set and having to develop and build Riley was kind of interesting, but I don’t think it was difficult. It was just finding the nuances, finding her quirks, finding her optimism and how she moves through the world and takes up space. But I really had fun. I had the best time, and I’m just happy to be part of it.
How did you build the chemistry between Riley and Ellie, on and off set?
Bella Ramsey: One of the really cool things about them is that they’re so easy to understand. When you have a crush on someone, you say to yourself, “I don’t know if he likes me back!” I don’t know what I feel! So I think the way that is shown and translated in a story like this is so cool, and especially unexpected for a post-apocalyptic show. Who would have thought we’d be zooming in on two teenagers finding out about an awkward friendship situation? It’s something that was very present in the script. I had seen a lot of gameplay from “Left Behind”, so I felt it from that too.
As for me and Storm, we hit it off instantly. We didn’t have much time to get to know each other before. We got to know each other while filming, and it helps that we hit it off instantly. We just trusted each other and felt very safe with each other. It wasn’t bothersome at all.
Bella, you demonstrated a slow buildup of confidence in Ellie throughout the episode, eventually culminating in kissing Riley. How did you approach this?
Ramsey: I guess when you become a character you feel what he feels anyway. The clumsiness of it, and the faster beating heartbeat. I could kind of feel myself when we were filming it: my heart was beating faster and my palms were getting sweaty, because we were so immersed in what we were doing. It becomes real between the action and the cut.
Bella, you’ve already talked about the homophobic reaction to the show and why you don’t let it scare you. Storm, what is your opinion on this subject, especially knowing that there will probably be an answer to this particular episode?
Reid: I think Bella said it perfectly a few weeks ago, “If you don’t like it, don’t watch.” There are so many other things to fear in the world. I think caring about who people like is just nonsense to me. I don’t know – I will never understand it. I don’t understand. I think despite what people are going to say, if they don’t like it, I think there will be a lot more people who will. Many more people who feel represented, seen and heard. So that’s what matters. That’s where the work comes in. And that’s where it’s appreciated, and you prioritize those tweets over the not-so-great ones.
The moment Riley and Ellie realize they’ve both been bitten is so emotional, and they each have a very different response to the news. How did you prepare for this scene?
Ramsey: I hadn’t seen that bit of gameplay, and I’m really glad I didn’t. I realized after that I reacted differently to the way Ellie reacts in the game. I think it was maybe more explosive and there was more anger than fear. I think Ellie’s response is an emotion so intense she doesn’t know what to do with it. It becomes very outward and expressive and explosive. It was very cool. I had a lot of faith in Craig and Liza (Johnson), the director, to guide me down this path. I loved this scene. I love the scenes where you feel things very intensely, because you don’t often get the chance to do that in a super safe space. Having this chance was awesome.
Reid: It was an intense scene. I think we’re so used to seeing Riley so upbeat about everything, “Oh, yeah, it’ll be fine. Yes, we can continue. Yes, we are in this post-apocalyptic world, but that’s us. We are about to have fun. I think this is the first time we’ve seen her really realize the weight of the world. The possibility of his world ending is upsetting to them, and they deal with it in different ways. Riley’s emotions are a little more internalized, because I think that’s the moment she realizes that it’s not a joke – not that she took it as a before. But you know things can happen, and then when they happen to you, you’re like, “Oh, This this is what it looks like.
We don’t see what happens after, when Riley turns into the infected and Ellie doesn’t. Did you shoot this scene?
Ramsey: I’m sure they talked about this possibility, but the first scripts we had, you didn’t see it. I think sometimes the things you don’t see have more of an impact because it’s left to your imagination, which can sometimes be even darker than what you might see on screen. I love that it ends so poetically. I think it’s more heartbreaking, Riley saying, ‘Let’s all be poetic and lose our minds together’, it’s horrible to know then what happens after that. Ellie’s fear and confusion, and survivor’s guilt. There are so many things that come with that.
I think it’s actually more impactful than it hasn’t been shown. You see the effects of this on Ellie throughout the season.
This interview has been edited and condensed.