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The Last of Us episode 4 recap (2023) – Kansas City, here we come

Joel and Ellie find that Kansas City isn't altogether welcoming in The Last of Us episode 4, while Melanie Lynskey joins the horror series

The Last of Us episode 4 recap

Our Verdict

Joel and Ellie find themselves at the mercy of a new enemy in a slower episode

For every peak a valley, and so it is that The Last of Us TV series goes slightly quieter in the aftermath of episode 3. In ‘Please Hold My Hand’, Joel and Ellie push on towards Wyoming, getting side-tracked in Kansas City by raiders.

The Last of Us TV series episode 4 shows that FEDRA alternatives aren’t inherently better, as Kathleen (Melanie Lynskey) rules Kansas in absolutely cutthroat fashion. Ellie and Joel get caught up in some dissecion among Kathleen’s ranks, when a long-overgrown traffic jam means they can’t just drive through a bypass.

After the romance of Bill and Frank, we’re back around to hell being other people, and what it means to survive long-term in the Cordyceps age. Hunters manage to ambush Joel using a trick he’s familiar with, forcing a shoot-out that pushes Ellie to go on the offensive herself. Joel doesn’t love that he needed to rely on her, but starts acknowledging her capabilities.

Something Naughty Dog’s horror game drove home at every opportunity was that Joel was little different from many of the other people you have to murder, he just managed to be that much quicker and more ruthless. Two decades of a zombie apocalypse meant doing what was needed when it was needed, frequently translating to killing others for one reason or another.

The reasoning didn’t matter, because everything became life or death once the infected got out of control. Between losing Sarah and trying to keep Tommy safe, Joel had no more bandwidth for second guessing his needs. Until now, HBO’s drama series hadn’t fully dipped into that element of Joel’s pathology.

Bella Ramsey as Ellie in The Last of Us

Not only will he put down anyone that directly threatens him, he knows that letting someone live puts atarget on your back. Ellie us chilled by this side of him, when he tells her to look away as he murders the last hunter that was attacking them. The young man is wounded and begging for his life, but Joel does what’s most like to keep Ellie alive, and that’s zero tolerance for loose ends.

He’s mirrored by Kathleen, who we’re introduced to mid-interrogation over survivors who’ve tried to leave the city. Her subject used to be a family doctor, but their memories together hold no currency. She’s a new The Last of Us character, and she represents a sociopathic brand of emphaticism that stems from spending two decades carving out a life amid the rapture.

Members of the Kansas commune have gone AWOL, and she wants to find them. We’re not sure why, though Occam’s razor would dictate it’s because it makes her rule look weak. The population there actually rebelled against FEDRA some years back, and now leadership is in Kathleen’s hands. She’s an enthralling presence, not suprising when portrayed by Lynskey.

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Like in Yellowjackets, Lynskey brings a delicate intensity to the role. Kathleen’s dedicated and forthright, but she teeters on the edge of collapse, too. It’s all falling apart, the last vestiges of society crumbling away to the tide of fungal of zombification.

Kathleen and Joel are very alike. They’re protective and assertive, and harbour intense willpower. Joel might not have been so different if Sarah survived and he had something other than himself to protect, though she would’ve also given him a moral compass, where Kathleen’s is defined more by impulse.

First Frank, now Kathleen, Craig Mazin is making a habit of building out The Last of Us cast through foils that enrich lesser known sides of the known protagonists. Frank brought out Bill’s sensitivity, and Kathleen is showing who Joel isn’t. He might refer to Ellie as “cargo” (much less than he does in the game), but he’s a more empathetic guardian than Kathleen, who only values her own moral objective within her herd.

Melanie Lynskey as Kathleen in The Last of Us

She shoots her prisoner upon seeing the bodies of the men who tried, and failed, to ensnare Joel, then orders her forces to find their hiding visitors and escapees. In a candid scene, Perry, Kathleen’s main enforcer, finds her looking into a locked room where the ground begins to shatter and collapse, and she’s the door in fear.

One can presume that’s related to the infected in some way, shape or form, but the visual is fitting for nu-Kansas city. The bottom’s about to fall out, and she’s handling it well. Joel and Ellie settled down in an abandoned hotel for the night, and I’d bet they sleep easier than any of the other current residents – or they would, if not for the gun aimed at Joel’s face before credits.

The Last of Us is available in the UK on NOW, and in the US on HBO Max.