Warning: This review contains spoilers
The shocking conclusion of “Endure and Survive” reverberates through the very beginning of “Kin” because one has to figure these traumatic occurrences are starting to accumulate and will eventually manifest both physically and mentally within Joel and Ellie. How could it not see so much death happen in front of you? While “Kin” as a whole is a slight comedown from the emotional rollercoaster of weeks past, there are suitable story devices that work off each other to show the bond between Joel and Ellie deepening and why their histories still get in the way of that happening.
We pick up three months later after the events of Kansas City, and the physical toll is starting to wear on Joel as they both get to Wyoming. He’s having panic attacks, and chest pains – Ellie reminds him, “if you die, I’m f*cked.” That’s a significant burden for a man who believes his abilities are diminishing. (he’s a 50-year-old man, after all). That theme continues to snowball throughout the episode – in the beginning, he loses his daughter, then the woman he loves in Tess, and in the early part of Kansas City, a younger person can get in his hearing blind spot. Joel is questioning himself if he’s up to the task.
While this is happening, Ellie is starting to let her guard down. They talk about what happened with Sam/the blood, if the vaccine will work, what Joel would do if it did, and a possible hunt excavation. However, when they get past “The River of Death,” Joel is confronted with the possibility that he can’t protect Ellie again once the people on horseback engage them. Thankfully, it’s just an efficiently run colony that Tommy and his partner Maria are staying at.
Throughout these five episodes, the many instances of chaos in the world – whether through the tight, oligarchical fists of FEDRA or with the various rebellions and how they can be problematic in their own ways. It’s nice to see that in this apocalyptic hell space, people can live in harmony with each other. Even that comes with caveats – hence the “river of death, bodies near the water” moniker. Once they get the lay of the land, a clever thing that “Kin” does is split Joel and Ellie up and picks at their insecurities.
Joel obviously has some animosity toward Tommy, but somehow still tries to put up this front that he’s only transporting Ellie because she’s “collateral.” Tommy jabs at this with the comment, “out of the goodness of your heart?” The primary purpose of this sequence is to show Tommy has moved on from all the somewhat reckless things they’ve had to do to get to this point. He’s about to have a child with Maria in a safe colony where they can live out their days.
Joel, however, can’t seem to let go of the past and realizes this journey with Ellie is a symbolic way for him to do that. No, he’ll never be able to get Sarah back, but he has somebody in front of him to fill the void differently. That fear is partly why he’s so eager to ask Tommy to carry out this mission – it’s Joel’s reluctance to confront this part of himself. As Father Time tends to render, he is falling off his game. However,
On the flip side, Ellie has her guard up when talking to Maria, but the adage remains – “be careful who you trust because those are the people who mostly let you down.” It’s a trademark in this whole The Last of Us world where everybody is mainly trying to survive. Who can blame them? If the infected don’t get you, a group of raiders might. The apex of “Kin” comes from the acting of Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey mirroring the Joel and Ellie fight in the video game.
Ellie DESPERATELY wants Joel to care about her, but Joel is just not going for it. It’s two people who have experienced immense loss, but Joel can’t see past his own. Because of this, it’s potentially putting Tommy’s new life at risk even though he doesn’t deserve it. We all need somebody – especially in a place where Bloaters are running around, but as fate would have it, Joel and Ellie more so. The cliffhanger of “Kin” shows Joel’s biggest fear realized – now, he’s incapacitated to the point where Ellie has to take the lead. How she handles that remains to be seen.