In one flawless photo, Ellie and Riley are forever captured together, making silly monster faces and laughing nervously — oblivious to what’s in store for them.
The last of us Episode 7 takes teenage protagonist Ellie (Bella Ramsey) back in time to a fateful night where her best friend Riley (Storm Reid) surprises her with a tour of an abandoned, yet powerful mall. With butterflies galore, Ellie bravely shields her feelings for Riley as they explore the shops, but despite Riley’s cool, calm and collected exterior, Ellie is not alone in these turmoils. And in a delightful photo booth scene, the show captures the familiar anxiety of crash confirmation and pays homage to one of the sweetest scenes in gaming.
During Riley’s Wonders of the Mall tour, after the pair ride the carousel, she takes Ellie into a photo booth. They sit nervously inside, side by side. Riley came prepared with her $5 bill and Ellie accuses her of having done this whole photo booth thing before. “No you idiot, I expected to do it with you.” Hnnnngggggg.
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At the booth, a cartoon rabbit directs them to strike their best pose. Panic then sets in when the pair realize they haven’t prepared any poses. After a classic surprised WTF-do-we-do pose, Riley suggests bunny ears and back to back, while Ellie suggests a scary pose, allowing them to squish each other. Physical contact! With your crush! It’s the sweetest, most awkwardly edgy sequence, in which Riley and Ellie look absolutely thrilled and giddy in each other’s company.
Credit: Liane Hentscher/HBO
The scene is taken from The last of usDownloadable Content (DLC) Stay back, the spinoff released by Naughty Dog in 2014 that forms the basis of the narrative in Episode 7: Ellie’s Story with Riley. In the game, Ellie and Riley come across a photo booth at the mall(Opens in a new tab) as part of a sequence that uses the normal mechanics and actions of the game, but uses them for what is essentially a date.
“We took those mechanics that were used for violence when you were playing as Joel in the full game, and then for this extra chapter, we flipped those mechanics to make you connect with Riley and go on these kinds of dates, running around together. ” The last of us creator Neil Druckmann said on the HBO podcast(Opens in a new tab). The studio spent huge resources developing this emotionally intimate character moment, the type of heart-pounding scene Druckmann said Naughty Dog values as much as big action sequences.
“We had the idea of, ‘Oh, what if they went to that photo booth?’ Since this is something you do in a mall with your friends, take pictures together. It would be a moment that would make it interactive, you could choose which poses you wanted to do. So there’s a little bit of agency for the player there in terms of shaping how that experience goes.”
Director Craig Mazin told the HBO podcast that he wanted to include the photo booth scene almost exactly as it appears in the game “right down to the bunny ears and monster poses.” — Mazin and Druckmann have talked about which scenes are considered important to doing this, such as Ellie and Joel’s argument, and which may deviate or expand into the game world, such as Bill and Frank’s story.
In the game’s photo booth scene, Ellie, who you control, can choose a theme between “Love”, “Friends” or “Cool”. (Yes, Naughty Dog is literally hammering out the whole relationship-defining conversation right now.) If you choose “Love,” Riley quips, “Are you trying to woo me?” Elli quickly unblocks it, “In your dreams.” After locking the theme, players can choose to have Ellie and Riley change their poses using different PlayStation buttons. Some of these poses end up in the show, including the bunny ears and the scary pose, which is a really sweet moment for players. In many of the poses, Riley swings next to Ellie, physical contact that makes teenage hearts flutter.
“Ultimately, this moment is about a breach in the dam,” Druckmann said. “Watching these girls begin to telegraph to each other whether they know it or not that there’s more to it than just friendship. That’s what the game was about.”
Ellie (Bella Ramsey) and Riley (Storm Reid)
Credit: Liane Hentscher/HBO
It’s that feeling, that head-over-heels crash, that makes this scene so remarkable. Druckmann referred to it as “that moment when you’re so insecure…there’s never enough evidence to say, ‘She definitely likes me.’
“Ellie gets so excited and terrified of physical contact with Riley that when it happens, she has to stop her because she’s afraid she won’t be able to stop herself from kissing her,” Mazin added.
Ellie mostly spends most of the episode/game protecting herself from these feelings. On the show, she quickly but jokingly tells Riley to get off her in the photo booth, in a moment of embarrassment. It’s the second time she’s been weirded out about physical contact with Riley — Ellie stumbles into the elevator, Riley catches her, and Ellie hastily adjusts and stammers, “I’m fine.”
“Ellie is afraid that Riley will see right through her,” says Druckman. “He’s going to see all the emotions he’s feeling and he’s going to be embarrassed. So she has to protect herself from that.”
But not only is Ellie protecting herself from the possibility that Riley doesn’t feel the same way, she’s also unsure of how Riley would feel about Ellie being gay.
“That’s, I think, a real fear that Ellie has is that it’s not just going to be a rejection of romance, it’s going to be a total rejection of her as a person and as a friend,” Mazin says. “And maybe” you can’t stand it.
The Last of Us is now streaming HBO Max.(opens in new tab) New episodes air every Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.