The Last of Us Episode 5: What Does Ellie’s Message on Sam’s Board Really Mean?

Oh, so you thought things couldn’t possibly get any more emotionally draining than The last of us episode 3, did you?

Well, it looks like we were all wrong.

After a tense, action-packed escape from Kansas City, followed by a violent showdown with Kathleen’s militia and a bursting hole full of infected, Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) appear – along with their new companions Henry (Lamar Johnson) and Sam (Keivonn Woodard) – should episode 5 be expected to have a happy ending. Your little gang of two would now become four! Joel would have had an adult companion that he would grudgingly respect! Ellie would have a boyfriend to read comics with!

But no. Of course it was too good to be true. And after the episode ends abruptly in tragedy, Ellie writes a simple note on Sam’s grave – “I’m sorry” – that says a lot about her character.

But what exactly happened and what does the note mean? Let’s recap.


Who are the Fireflies and FEDRA in The Last of Us?

What happens to Ellie and Sam at the end?

When the door to the room they share in an abandoned motel is closed, Sam, who is deaf, uses his magic eraser board to ask Ellie a question.

“Are you ever scared?”

After some back and forth and a joke about scorpions that doesn’t land, Ellie gets serious.

“I’m scared of ending up alone,” she writes. “What about you?”

“If you turn into a monster, are you still in it?” is Sam’s answer.

He pulls up his pant leg and shows a bloody bite mark. Instantly, we and Ellie know the worst has happened – during the showdown earlier, unbeknownst to anyone else, Sam was bitten by an infected. And while Ellie probably knows what that means, she doesn’t run out of the room and tell Joel. Maybe she’s in denial about her new boyfriend’s fate, or maybe she really believes what she says next. But either way, she shows Sam her own healed bite mark and writes “My blood is medicine” on the board. She then cuts her palm and smears blood on Sam’s leg wound. The last thing Sam texts is “Stay awake with me,” to which Ellie replies, “I promise.”

Tragically, it’s not good. Ellie wakes up the next morning upright in her chair to find Sam has succumbed to an infection. He attacks them and is shot by his older brother Henry, who then turns the gun on himself.

Yes, we swell.
Credit: Liane Hentscher/HBO

Why does Ellie write “I’m sorry” on the board?

After Henry and Sam are buried, Ellie, face blank, places the boy’s magic eraser board next to the mound. When Joel picks it up after she’s gone, he sees that she wrote two words: “I’m sorry”.

On the surface, there are many ways this could be interpreted. Of course, the simplest explanation is that Ellie regrets that Sam died. But if I dig a little deeper, I think her message stems from a conversation Joel had with Henry just prior to Ellie and Sam’s written exchange.

“Do you think they will be alright?” Henry asks as the two adults watch the kids read a comic in the other room.

“Yeah, I think it’s easier when you’re a kid anyway,” replies Joel. “You have no one to rely on you. That’s the hard part.”

The line about people relying on you is key. When the door closed and Ellie and Sam were alone in the motel, they weren’t just two kids anymore. They were friends now. Sam confided in Ellie his secret, and for better or worse, she temporarily took on the “adult” role in the situation – reassuring him and offering a solution, telling him she could make him better before promising to go along with it him to stay awake.

Ellie writing “I’m sorry” on the board could mean different things. It could mean she’s sorry her blood didn’t help save him, or she’s sorry she didn’t keep her promise to stay awake with him.

Above all, it means a tragic moment of growing up for her character. Ellie is no longer just a kid being told to follow Joel’s rules; With Sam, someone else was relying on her, and in her own mind, at least, she was failing him.

As she writes the note, it’s possible she’s also grappling with the broader ramifications of what Sam’s death could mean. Every risk they’ve taken so far has been to transport Ellie because she’s immune to infection. She is special. But what if her gift can’t actually help anyone but her?

What if it’s all for naught and Sam is just the first of many that she can’t save? It’s another great responsibility resting on her young shoulders, another thing pushing her to grow up faster than she has to.

The Last of Us will now continue HBO Max.(opens in a new tab) New episodes air every Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.

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