Turns out that episode’s director, Ali Abbasi, came down with COVID-19 and had to quarantine for some days, so Mazin filled in while he was recovering. It was during this stretch that he directed what he considers his favorite scene in the series:
“It’s the scene where Joel reveals to Ellie why he has that scar on his head. She says, ‘Time heals all wounds.’ And he says, ‘It wasn’t time that did it.’ I’m particularly proud of that scene because, first, it’s simple — it’s two people talking, which is my favorite. They’re not even moving when it gets really good, so everything else goes away and it’s just about their connection. And I’m so proud of the performance that Pedro and Bella delivered in that moment. It was also the third-to-last day of shooting, so it was the culmination of a calendar year of shooting and the culmination of the work that they had done with each other as professionals, but also as human beings. It was so real and it was so beyond. I just love it.”
Mazin calls this scene simple, but that’s a little deceptive. A lot is going on here, precisely because the two characters don’t pour their hearts out to each other. Neither would do that. But both do open up a little bit, just enough so it’s clear how much they mean to each other.
This crucial scene sets us up for the controversial finale of the series and the video game it’s based on, so that we understand Joel’s headspace and why he can’t possibly walk away. The reason why “The Last of Us” was such a monster pop culture hit isn’t because of the cool zombies; it’s because of deceptively simple scenes like this.