From Linda Ronstadt to Hank Williams, The Last of Us has reliably gifted us with memorable needle drops. Now, we can add another to that list thanks to episode 6, which delivers a particularly devastating musical moment — one that calls all the way back to the very first episode.
Episode 6, titled “Kin,” ends on a horrifying cliffhanger. Joel (Pedro Pascal) gets stabbed in a fight, and although he and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) are able to escape from immediate danger on horseback, it’s clear he’s in bad shape. He collapses in the snow, leaving Ellie to plead with him to get up. As the camera pulls out, we hear a somber piano and a voice singing, “I’m taking a ride with my best friend / I hope he never lets me down again / He knows where he’s taking me / Taking me where I want to be / I’m taking a ride with my best friend.”
Sound familiar? That’s because we’ve heard these lyrics before: when Joel, Ellie, and Tess (Anna Torv) leave the Boston QZ. They’re from Depeche Mode’s 1987 song “Never Let Me Down Again,” which played over Joel’s radio as a signal from Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett).
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As Mashable’s UK Editor Shannon Connellan wrote about the use of “Never Let Me Down Again” in episode 1, “Depeche Mode’s lyrics could be considered ironically thematic too, in terms of Ellie and Joel’s perilous journey and their strained, tumultuous relationship.”
However, with the slower, sadder cover in episode 6, the lyrics of “Never Let Me Down Again” take on a new meaning. After months alone on the road together, Joel and Ellie have forged an unbreakable bond. Even in this episode, we see that neither wants to leave the other behind. The episode title “Kin” certainly points to the reunion between Joel and his brother Tommy (Gabriel Luna), but it also highlights Joel and Ellie’s kinship as well. Their link goes deeper than “best friends” — at this point, they’re family.
The subdued cover of “Never Let Me Down Again” highlights the tragedy of Joel and Ellie’s situation: Joel could very well die from this injury, and Ellie doesn’t know if she can complete her journey to the Fireflies without him. Similarly to the Depeche Mode lyrics, Joel knows where he’s taking Ellie — but she’s a lot less well-versed in the ways of survival without him.
Re-using “Never Let Me Down Again” in this moment also positions the end of “Kin” as the close to a chapter of Joel and Ellie’s journey that started with their departure in episode 1. That’s because Joel’s collapse ushers in a major role reversal. For so long, he has taken care of Ellie. Now that he is gravely wounded, it becomes her job to take care of him. Knowing Ellie and how fiercely she cares for Joel, she’s going to do everything in her power not to let him down — but you can bet The Last of Us will emotionally destroy us along the way.
The Last of Us is now streaming on HBO Max.(Opens in a new tab) New episodes air every Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.