Once the girls finally make their amends and Ellie begins to understand Riley’s motivations in a heart-to-heart, they share their very first kiss. Foolish and in love, they decide on another fittingly teenage solution: running away together. Then, “Left Behind” reaches its logical endpoint. Like most things in “The Last of Us,” all these moments of humane beauty are quickly tinged with tragedy. Ellie and Riley are bitten by an infected, and their time together is unfortunately cut short once again. Riley then tells Ellie that they should savor every last moment they have, “We can be all poetic and s*** and just lose our minds together.”
Of course, we know that Ellie survives the bite, but we can only imagine what she had to do to Riley as she turned (luckily, that horror is left offscreen in both game and show). But, even though she’s gone, Riley ultimately gave Ellie something that she will value for the rest of her life: perspective. Riley’s final moments are juxtaposed with the present moment in the plot: Ellie finds medical supplies to help stitch up Joel’s open wound. Will Ellie go back to Jackson in safety, or try to keep Joel alive at all costs?
She couldn’t save Riley, but she learned some crucial life lessons from her best friend that night. Ellie knows now that the world is complicated and cruel, but she must fight not just for what she believes in, but for who she loves. Riley’s words echo, “Whether it’s three minutes, or three days — we don’t give that up.”
In honor of her best friend and first love, Ellie continues to nurture Joel — her protector won’t be left behind.