The following review contains spoilers for "The Last of Us" Episode 5, "Endure and Survive."
'The Last of Us' is not a particularly easy show to watch. It's not a particularly difficult show to produce either. One of the things that has made the HBO program such a smash hit is how those two ideas have combined to create something that feels like a feat. The physical and emotional agony that Joel (Pedro Pascal), Ellie (Bella Ramsey), and all of the other characters go through is a distinct weight to the program.
One of the best examples so far of how this program has thrived under almost impossible circumstances is in the case of brothers Sam and Henry, brought to the screen by actors Keivonn Woodard and Lamar Johnson. They arrive with a faint air of hope, that their assistance and determination will not only get them out of post-revolutionary Kansas City, but also Joel and Ellie. However, their journey comes to an abrupt, too-soon end.
Johnson's response when he was able to see the episode for the first time was one of pride rather than fear or sadness.
"Will I go back to it?" Johnson told IndieWire. "Those big scenes that I was initially a bit apprehensive about, I'm glad with how everything came together."
Part of what makes it worthwhile to rewatch is seeing how well Sam and Henry are connected. The two actors who brought them to life in this series said that the transition to becoming on-screen brothers was a quick bonding process.
"Day One, the first day that we met, we were in the production offices running around and playing tag. We connect a lot over video games, and things like that, so it really wasn't difficult." Johnson said.
"The Last of Us" is a film adaptation.
“I feel like the two of us met really well. We talked. We talked.” Woodard said, via an interpreter.
Woodard had plenty of opportunities to play around, because as Henry and Joel have their deep conversations about what families owe each other, Sam and Ellie have their precious moments to enjoy themselves and to be children.
“We’d be working all day and all night, and I would make jokes and talk with people,” Woodard said.
“It probably would have been Henry if Ellie had been playing soccer with him.” Johnson continued. He definitely still wants Sam to have some form of innocence. I think Henry wears a lot of the weight on his shoulders and just lets Sam do his best to be a kid in such a difficult world.
The memorable part of Episode 5 takes place in a (mostly) abandoned area. A group of Infected invades Kathleen, drives the three younger members into a run for their lives, and results in Sam getting bit. That one location became the set for grueling evening filming. For Johnson, it was a fully realized world.
Johnson said the whole area was made up of 14 houses. “They planted trees and grass, and it appeared like a neighborhood. I was amazed when I saw the amount of work that they put into the cars. Even the doors are worn out and the windows are cracked. They didn't spare any effort.”
In "The Last of Us," Keivonn Woodard and Lamar Johnson play.
Johnson remained glued to the pyrotechnics, despite the pressures of filming.
“I have a video of the explosion on my phone. It was amazing how practical everything was. They even blew the car up. That’s a massive, ‘OK, cool. That’s what we're doing,’ moment,” Johnson said. It took two or three weeks of nights.
The unthinkable happens the morning after Sam and Henry's escape from the house. Ellie tries to shoot him but Henry shoots him to protect the rest of the group. Realizing what he's done, he turns the pistol on himself. It's a clue that (along with Frank and Bill) characters can make an impact immediately.
Woodard did his best to keep himself entertained.
“I remember when I was reading the script, and I saw that Sam died, and I did not want my character to die,” Woodard said. I had a conversation with the director letting him know, ‘I don’t want them to die.’ But I eventually had to accept it.
Johnson said he was aware of Henry's destiny throughout the audition process, but never wanted to let that end diminish or sabotage anything that came before it.
"It's not about getting ahead of yourself." Johnson said. "I knew that Henry and Sam would have that scene, but I just wanted to be present for them and for our conversations before I got to the point where everything all crumbles."
"The Last of Us" airs on HBO Sunday nights at 9 p.m. ET and is available for streaming on HBO Max.