Brothers Henry and Sam have really been through the ringer by the time their storyline collides with Joel and Ellie’s in “Endure and Survive,” the fifth episode of HBO’s “The Last of Us.”
As rebel faction leader Kathleen (Melanie Lynskey) continues her manhunt for Henry (Lamar Johnson), it’s finally revealed why he betrayed her brother and turned him into FEDRA: It was the only way to access medicine to treat Sam (Kevionn Woodard), who had Leukemia.
“It just becomes this sort of shifting alliance throughout the episode where you’re like, ‘Oh, God, nobody’s the bad guy. Everybody’s just in so much pain and trying to survive,’” Lynskey tells Variety of the revelation. “It’s just done so beautifully.”
But though Lynskey may see it that way, Kathleen certainly doesn’t. “It makes her lose all perspective,” Lynskey says, admitting she understands how the loss could break Kathleen down. “I’m so in love with my siblings. I’m the oldest of five, and they’re just the world to me. They’re everything.” She wipes away tears. “If I think too long about something happening to one of my siblings, I would crumble.”
In the brutal world of “The Last of Us,” Sam, aged 8, is particularly dependent on his older brother, since he’s deaf. With brotherly love as a central theme in the episode, the relationship between Henry and Sam needed to resonate with audiences immediately. Johnson and Woodard hit it off right away, which they say helped in building their on-screen dynamic.
“The first day we met, we were running around the production offices playing tag. That is how organic and easy it was to connect with Kevionn. He has such a great spirit, great energy, that it was very easy to make that connection,” Johnson gushes about Woodard, who, like Sam, is deaf. “He’s just so talented. Considering that this is his first role — I’m so proud of him. He did such a great job.”
“I really like trying new things,” says Woodard, who communicated with Variety through interpreter Ajamu Brown. “I thought I would just give it a shot and get an idea of what it’s like. I just wanted to get it right.”
When Kathleen finally catches up to Henry and Sam, who are attempting to escape Kansas City with Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey), she seems to have them in her clutches — until a massive horde of infected emerges from underground.
Lynskey says the scene, which was accomplished almost entirely with practical effects rather than CGI, made for an unforgettable day on set. “Everybody coming out of that hole, the speed with which they came out — it was really overwhelming. There’s things exploding around you. There’s fire in the streets. There’s stunt people doing backflips, flying through the air. I’ve just never been part of something that huge. It was incredible.”
Among the throng of clickers is an imposing new beast: a bloater. The colossal monster proved to be a little frightening for 9-year-old Woodard on set. “I felt really scared,” he says. “And I didn’t want to go at first, because I’m not really into monsters or scary things. I went into this big place and met a few of them, and I felt more comfortable. I felt fine. He took his head off and he took his teeth out. And then he put it back on. He showed me what it looked like, so I felt more comfortable after that.”
Lynskey, on the other hand, found the bloater to be a source of humor on set. “Somebody’s helping him move around and holding a bottle of water with a straw up. That makes him a little bit less scary when you see him with his Fiji water,” she says with a laugh.
The infected attack gives our heroes the perfect opportunity to flee: But not before they face off with Kathleen one last time. As she points her gun at them, a clicker who’d been a child, whom Ellie had fought off earlier, leaps into the air and brutally kills her.
“I thought it was amazing,” Lynskey says of Kathleen’s death. “We never know what fate has in store for us. For you it’s this horrible, horrible death. That little girl was so amazing. She’s like a tiny circus performer!”
Of course, the world of “The Last of Us” is bleak, and the episode made room for even more tragedy. As Joel and Henry make plans to continue traveling together, Sam timidly reveals to Ellie that he’s been bitten. Ellie attempts to cure him with her blood, to no avail. In the morning, the infected Sam attacks her, leading Henry to shoot him dead. Horrified, Henry then shoots himself in the head.
“I really wanted to honor the performances from the game,” Johnson says of the heartbreaking scene. “That was important to me, but also, I didn’t want to create a carbon copy. I wanted to interpret it the way that I felt inclined to do, or felt pulled to do. It was just about trying to be as present as possible with my environment.”
Describing further what Henry goes through in that scene, Johnson says: “If I can sum that up in one word, I would just say ‘shock.’ There was a wave of emotions that were hitting him all at the same time. It was actually very hard to process for him in that moment,” he continues. “It’s so much for him, especially after everything that he’s gone through to protect Sam and everything that they have gone through that night, for Sam to die by his hand. It’s a tough thing to stomach.
“He was like, ‘You are my purpose. You are my will to live here, the reason why I’m living, and the fact that you’re no longer here. I can’t be here. I’m gonna go join you.’”