It’s no secret that Joel is purposefully trying to push Ellie away. He lives by a strict philosophy, and that is the idea that everyone you put trust into will eventually either stab you in the back or die first. By trying to maintain his emotional distance from Ellie, Joel hopes to prevent that attachment from happening — meaning, he won’t be disappointed if and when she eventually dies.
However, as we’ve come to witness, Ellie is a stubborn thing. She wants to know what makes Joel tick and who he is under what she clearly recognizes as being an inauthentic exterior. She does this in a variety of ways, each more purposefully grating than the next. Even though Ellie isn’t Joel’s number one fan yet, this fourth episode proves that she sees right through his emotionless tough-guy act.
The same can also be said for how Joel recognizes the walls Ellie is putting up for herself. While she wants to pretend to be a too-cool badass, she’s ultimately just a scared kid trying to survive. That’s why Joel doesn’t get mad at her for firing a gun he didn’t know she had, and it’s also why he’s still carrying out this intense mission. By dedicating as much time as this episode does to this mutual understanding, their relationship ends up growing in an extremely organic way perfectly fit for the show’s medium. Anyone afraid of Joel and Ellie’s dynamic being rushed due to the series’ condensed format should fear no more.
“The Last of Us” is now streaming on HBO Max.