Bella Ramsey and Storm Reid Respond to Homophobic ‘The Last of Us’ Reactions: ‘Absurd’

“Who would have thought that we would be zooming in on two teenagers figuring out an awkward friendship-crush situation?” Ramsey told Variety.

Bella Ramsey and Storm Reid Respond to Homophobic ‘The Last of Us’ Reactions: ‘Absurd’
Photo:Warner Media Press Room

Every Sunday, I end yet another viewing of HBO Max’s The Last of Us in a puddle of tears, thinking that there are simply no more new ways that this virus apocalypse video game-turned-show can possibly break my heart. And every Sunday, I am proved wrong. Last night, the source of my heartbreak was the equal parts tender and devastating love story between Ellie (Bella Ramsey) and her best friend Riley (Storm Reid)—which marks the season’s second queer storyline, and their last night together. And amid the wave of backlash that show has already received for its queer plots, Ramsey and Reid are standing their ground on the importance of telling these stories.

“There’s so many other things to worry about in the world,” Reid said in a Variety interview. “I think being concerned about who people love is just absurd to me.” Even though Riley’s character was only around for a single episode, many viewers (like myself) sensed how important she is to Ellie, and her presence helped us to understand the character better. “Who would have thought that we would be zooming in on two teenagers figuring out an awkward friendship-crush situation?” Ramsey told Variety. “It’s something that was very much just there in the script.”

The entirety of the episode is a flashback: Ellie is still living in the Boston QZ and training in a school to be part of the FEDRA military. She picks fights with girls twice her size and is routinely sent to “the hole,” which sounds a lot like this universe’s version of solitary confinement. While sleeping in her dorm, Ellie wakes up to her roommate and best friend Riley sneaking into their room. Riley had disappeared three weeks prior (which led Ellie to think she was dead), and upon her return, Ellie learns that Riley actually joined the Fireflies, the liberation group intent on freeing everyone from the FEDRA-run QZ.

Over the course of the episode, the two embark on a late night adventure fit for a teeny bopper romcom. Breaking into a rundown mall that FEDRA said was filled with infecteds, Riley shows Ellie all of the wonders of a standard American mall (remember, she was born after society was overrun with the virus), including a carousel, a photobooth, an arcade, and a Halloween store. Periodically, Ellie sneaks longing glances at Riley, and after dancing atop the glass displays at the Halloween store donning werewolf and clowns masks, Ellie works up the courage to kiss her.

Photo:Warner Media Press Room

Things take a dark turn when an infected who died in the Halloween store wakes up and attacks the two girls. After they struggle to fight him off and succeed in killing him, they discover that they’ve both been bitten and will soon transform into zombies themselves. The flashback ends with the two holding hands, as if both waiting to meet their demise, though we can infer that only Ellie is immune to the bite and will survive the attack alone.

Despite the obvious devastation of the episode, its sweet moments are a welcomed change of pace from the show’s usually bleak, survivalist action. For the first time, we get to see Ellie actually be a kid, experiencing the everyday wonders of escalators and teen crushes all in the same night. And while I get that killing characters off after each episode (or video game “missions”) is pretty much the status quo for The Last of Us, I wish seeing queer characters experience pure joy didn’t also mean witnessing one’s imminent death.

“I think despite what people are going to say, if they don’t like it, I think there are going to be a lot more people that appreciate it,” Reid said of the episode to Variety. “A lot more people that feel represented and seen and heard. So that’s what matters.” And she’s right: Less than 24 hours after the episode aired, while fans are still largely devastated by the fate that Riley ultimately meets, they’re also shipping Ellie and Riley endlessly and coping with their grief with darkly funny memes.

I wish I could say that Riley’s passing is the most devastating death of the series, but I can’t speak too soon. Here’s to hoping that when the next queer love story comes along, The Last of Us fans can get it together enough to celebrate it unabashedly—no matter how long or short it lasts.

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