Episode 7 of the HBO TV series The Last Of Us, aired in February 2023, did an excellent job representing one of the most important moments of the video game: the relationship between Ellie and Riley and the kiss they share in the culminating moment of their story. That kiss is considered an essential milestone in the history of video games: let’s discover where we can find it in the game plot and why it is so important.
You can watch HBO’s “Inside the Episode” video for Episode 7 of The Last Of Us here on Youtube. The kiss is at minute 3:26.
The Last Of Us: the meaning of that kiss between Ellie & Riley in the video game
Riley is an important presence in Ellie’s life in the video game The Last Of Us. She meets Ellie in Boston’s quarantine zone, and they quickly become best friends. Riley’s adventures are mainly depicted in the video game The Last Of Us – Left Behind, published in 2014, one year after the first The Last Of Us. Left Behind represents the prequel of The Past Of Us Part I, and its events take place three weeks before Ellie meets Joel in the main storyline.
Riley is Ellie’s roommate in the military boarding school of Boston’s quarantine zone. However, Riley strongly criticizes how the quarantine zones are managed and escapes, becoming a Firefly. After six weeks away, Riley will return to Ellie and take her to the abandoned mall that we see in Episode 7 of the series.
The reason why Riley brings Ellie to the mall is that she has to tell her something important: she has to leave Boston, and she wants Ellie to come with her (although she didn’t actually receive permission from the fireflies about that). That night at the mall represents an experience Riley wanted to give Ellie to celebrate the intensity of their relationship.
The kiss between Riley and Ellie represents a crucial moment in their story. While they are dancing, Ellie stops and asks Riley not to go. Riley thinks about it for a moment, then breaks her firefly pendant and drops it on the floor, symbolizing that she decided to leave the fireflies and stay with Ellie. At that moment, Ellie kisses Riley. You can watch the scene from the video game in the video below.
The kiss has been considered a breakthrough moment in the history of video games. As articles like this and this show, it represented the peak of an intense, emotional story between two girls, giving a meaningful dimension to their characters. It’s also Ellie’s first kiss and the first moment of her life when she feels another girl returns her feelings.
As the series’ creators explained, the kiss represents the happiest moment for Ellie at that moment, and it’s immediately followed by the worst tragedy: the attack of an infected who will bite Ellie and Riley. After discovering that they were bitten, their world crumbles. Ellie reacts with anger, whereas Riley cries, feeling the loss of what she had. The way Riley explains their options is taken from the video game, and it’s full of meaning:
“Way I see it, we got two options. One, we take the easy way out. It’s quick and painless. I’m not a fan of option one. Two, we fight. There are a million ways we could’ve died today. And a million ways we could die before tomorrow. But we fight for every second we get to spend with each other. Whether its two minutes… or two days… we don’t give that up. I don’t want to give that up. My vote? Let’s just wait it out. You know, we can be all poetic and just lose our minds together.”
Her philosophy is: let’s live the best out of our last moments together. Let’s enjoy these moments and fight together, in the name of what we feel for each other.
The video game doesn’t show what happens next, but from the story of The Last Of Us, we understand that Riley will become infected, whereas Ellie will discover she’s immune. This will lead Ellie to Joel, who will bring her to Wyoming and see if a vaccine can be created from her.
But the meaning of the relationship between Riley and Ellie is what will motivate Ellie to take care of Joel after he’s stabbed: Riley taught Ellie that we should always fight for the people we love, even in front of a certain death. And that’s what prevents Ellie from running away from Joel after he asks her to. Joel is the most important person in Ellie’s life in that moment, and she has to fight every moment until the end. Even if death will come, she just cannot leave him.