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Ellie and Riley from The Last of Us
Image via Naughty Dog

Who is Riley from ‘The Last of Us?’

She's Ellie's long-time friend... and at one time, maybe more.

Joel and Ellie might be the most famous faces in Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us franchise, but there are plenty of other characters who influence their decisions, challenge their beliefs, shape their personalities, and leave a mark on their lives. For Joel, it would be the loss of his daughter, Sarah, that drives him to deliver Ellie to the Fireflies. As for Ellie, she has a more complicated relationship with the grown-ups in her life, so she naturally latches on to like-minded peoples — meaning other teenagers.

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In the trailer for HBO’s The Last of Us series, we see a snippet of Storm Reid‘s live-action portrayal of Riley, a character whom Ellie interacts with in Naughty Dog’s DLC Left Behind. Born and raised in Boston, 16-year-old Riley Abel speaks ill of the military and praises the Fireflies. While seeking refuge from the outbreak in Boston, Riley befriends Ellie and the pair become inseparable. Like Ellie, Riley is an orphan. When she was young, her father became infected with the parasitic brain infection known as Cordyceps, which has plagued the United States for decades. He attacked her mother, whom he tore to shreds, forcing Riley to kill him in order to save herself.

Riley and Ellie meet in-game during the American Dreams DLC, wherein Riley defends Ellie — the newcomer to the Boston quarantine zone — from a group of bullies. While fleeing the zone’s authority officer, Riley pickpockets Ellie’s Walkman, which she reluctantly returns later on after insulting Ellie’s taste in music. It became apparent after meeting Marlene, the leader of the Fireflies, that Riley wanted to become one herself. She would dress in the Fireflies’ likeness, acting as if she were Marlene. Once Marlene confronted her about this foolishness, Riley appeared to concede, but Marlene made it clear that she had been testing Riley all along and sought to test her worthiness. Riley becomes an honorary Firefly, but Marlene forbids her from seeing Ellie again — with whom Riley had a heated argument.

During the events of Left Behind, Ellie and Riley are forced to fend for themselves after being abandoned in a shopping mall. There, they rekindle their friendship, which Ellie mistakes for something more. There’s a moment of intimacy between the pair, who share a kiss and rekindle their ‘friendship.’ There’s a mass of runners that target Ellie and Riley, who flee the complex immediately. That’s the last time that Ellie and Riley see one another.

Almost all of this plays out in HBO’s The Last of Us, during the seventh episode overall, aptly titled “Left Behind” to correlate with Naughty Dog’s DLC. In the series, we get a flashback of Ellie completing drills as a FEDRA trainee, but it’s evident that she’s rebellious and unsatisfied with the life she leads. It’s also apparent that there’s a spare bed in her dorm, which belonged to Riley before she left mysteriously. One night, after an altercation with her bully, Ellie is greeted by Riley, who returns from purgatory to fill her in on her adventures and encourage Ellie to sneak out. Although she’s reluctant at first, Ellie accepts, packing her things and joining Riley on a trek across the rooftops to an abandoned mall, where Riley gives Ellie the night of her life.

Although it’s all fun and games initially, Riley soon reveals to Ellie that she had encountered a Firefly during her time away and Marlene had recruited her, much to Ellie’s dismay. Riley also urges them to savour their final night together, since Riley would be getting relocated to another base camp. Ellie, devastated, chooses to push aside her sorrow to enjoy Riley’s company for the last time. After riding an escalator for the first time, riding the carousel and playing Mortal Kombat II, the pair make their way to the Halloween store, which is where Ellie begs Riley to stay and they share an intimate kiss that Ellie apologises profusely for. Riley reassures her that there’s nothing to be sorry about and Ellie convinces her not to leave.

All seems well, but a Runner (almost a Clicker) awakens nearby, attracted to the sound of Ellie and Riley’s merriment. It attacks Riley, forcing Ellie to interject and defend her. In the end, Ellie manages to shiv the Runner and save them, but it comes at a price. Ellie begins to freak out upon realizing that she’d been bitten, but Riley solemnly reveals the same. The girls ponder their options, the first of which — shooting each other — Riley dislikes. In the end, they come to accept their fate, and the flashback ends. We’re then led to believe that Riley turned, while Ellie did not (as she’s immune), forcing the latter to kill the former. This is who she’s referring to when Ellie tells Joel it “isn’t her first time” killing.

“Left Behind” left us behind an exhilarating teaser for the upcoming eighth episode, which will air on HBO Max at 6PM PT (9PM ET) on Sunday, March 5.

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Image of Chynna Wilkinson
Chynna Wilkinson
Chynna has been a noteworthy presence within creative media for over seven years. As a self-proclaimed geek driven by a passion for horror, comic books, video games, and modern cinema, she takes pride in doing what she loves. In addition to her personal writing projects, Chynna is also an award-winning screenwriter, published poet, and accomplished academic writer, producing everything from short stories and screenplays to articles, features, and poetry. She enjoys watching anime, horror movies, and animated shows and her life revolves around cinema, video games, and tasteful literature.