The sixth episode of HBO’s The Last of Us opens in the dead of winter, with bright white snow offering a change of scenery for the otherwise bleak and drab apocalypse the show depicts. But that’s not all that’s new — we’re introduced to a delightful couple in that snowy setting, who steal the episode with their surly charm.
The couple, played by acting luminaries Graham Greene (Dances With Wolves) and Elaine Miles (Northern Exposure), only show up for about five minutes, but they more than make the most of it. Their chemistry as Marlon and Florence is off the charts, and the ease with which they joke with each other (and with Joel and Ellie, unwanted visitors to their snowy cabin) is an absolute delight.
Joel and Ellie have stumbled upon their cabin on their way to Wyoming and are looking for directions to reach Joel’s brother, Tommy. When Marlon enters the cabin, fresh off a successful rabbit hunt, Florence silently lets him know they’re not alone, giving him a look clearly informed by their relationship. Moments like that and shared chuckles at Ellie’s teenage energy speak more than words, and successfully fill in their years of being together for the viewer.
The jokes keep coming, too, relying on their specific relationship and the ways in which they needle each other to bring a much-needed level of human connection to the show. Upon seeing Joel, Marlon asks Florence why she didn’t shoot him. Continuing to rock in her rocking chair, she deadpans, “The gun’s all the way over there. He didn’t hurt me, by the way.” Marlon says, “Yeah, I got eyes.”
Later, Joel congratulates Marlon on finding a great place to hide out during the apocalypse, but Marlon says they’ve been here since “before you were born, sonny. Get the hell away from everybody.” Florence quickly butts in with an “I didn’t want to,” prompting an exasperated sigh from Marlon that tells us this is a conversation that has happened over and over again. It’s a nice window into a different way of living than we’ve seen in most of The Last of Us, which has been full of people being cruel and selfish for the sake of “survival.” Marlon and Florence remind us there are other ways to live with each other and the world around you, something Joel and Ellie learn once again when they catch up with Tommy and the commune in Jackson, Wyoming. What you value in life is up to you, and sometimes that’s just living in the middle of nowhere with someone you love.
The pair is so far in their own safe and happy world that when Ellie brings up the Fireflies, Florence exclaims, “We get those in the summer.” Ellie responds quickly, “Not the bugs, the people.” Florence, wide-eyed, says, “There are firefly people???” before both Marlon and Florence bust out in contagious laughter. Their concerns are different and lighter than Ellie and Joel’s, something mirrored later in the episode when Ellie reads a teen’s diary from before the apocalypse.
It’s especially impressive how Greene and Miles steal the spotlight in this scene, because the strongest points of The Last of Us have been the quieter moments, when Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey are hanging out and able to do their thing as performers. They’re captivating screen presences in the show when it allows them to do that (and this episode in particular is a standout for Ramsey), but nothing can come close to what Greene and Miles are working with here as Marlon and Florence. Their tangible chemistry and easygoing, grumpy sense of humor reminded me of my grandparents, and it’s one of the only moments in the show yet where I felt like I recognized characters as real people I could encounter in our world. It’s humorous, but it resonates; it’s meaningful.
Sometimes, The Last of Us’ rapid pacing can detract from the show’s characterization, as the desire to fit the entire first game into one season of television requires them to move things along quickly. Other times, a five-minute glimpse gives you plenty. This was one of those latter times, but HBO, I’m not satisfied. Greenlight a show about Graham Greene and Elaine Miles being grumpy in the woods immediately.