So far The Last of Us series has diverted from its source material in a dozen ways, some small and some major. But who would have predicted that one of the most lovely and refreshing of these changes would be a giggle? Joel (Pedro Pascal) laughing at Ellie’s (Bella Ramsey) terrible diarrhea joke represents all the way that Pascal has elevated this already outstanding character.
The giggle comes in the final moments of “Please Hold My Hand,” an episode in which Ellie helps Joel kill a man. As they lay down to sleep for the night, these two people who constantly hide behind sarcasm are surprisingly honest for once. Ellie admits that she’s killed someone before, an admission that should be especially jarring for fans of the game. It’s a revelation that shakes Joel. He tells her that no one her age should have to to experience such horror and violence and admits that killing never gets easier. So when Ellie says Joel’s name one last time before going to sleep, he’s uncharacteristically respectful.
That’s when Ellie hits him with this: “Did you know that diarrhea is hereditary?” Ellie says “It runs in your jeans.”
Initially, he turns back around and ignores her. But it isn’t long before his grumpy facade crumbles. He lets out a little giggle, which causes Ellie to giggle too. It isn’t long before both they’re laughing together. If Twitter needed more of a reason to fall in love with Pedro Pascal, it found it with Episode 4.
Both Pascal and Ramsey nail this scene. Ramsey’s unhindered, joyful, and loud laugh pairs wonderfully with Pascal’s barely-contained chuckles, making this already heart-warming scene even funnier. Also, after Pascal’s superb job hosting Saturday Night Live this weekend, it’s nice to see the sillier side of the actor on HBO.
But more than that, with every unintentional giggle, The Last of Us is showing Ellie breaking down Joel’s walls. In the game, that relationship growth happened far more gradually. As Ellie told more and more jokes from No Pun Intended: Volume Too, Joel’s groans would become more exaggerated. Later, he’d even begrudgingly admit when he thought a joke was good or if he had never heard one of them before. As you control Joel hour after hour, you notice his annoyance with Ellie become more of an act for her amusement than reality.
The Last of Us TV series doesn’t have time to tease out this relationship over multiple hours of Joel moving ladders and Ellie learning how to whistle. Instead it gave us the giggle — one clear moment where Joel likes Ellie. As they gasp for air, she’s not just cargo to him, and she’s not worth protecting only because of her age or because she reminds him of Sarah (Nico Parker). That laugh comes from his unique relationship with Ellie, terrible puns and all.
The giggle is just another example of how Pascal has expanded this beloved character. Of course Joel had some good zingers in the game. But he also had a serious case of Video Game Protagonist syndrome. He was always far more likely to give a curt one-liner or grunt than actually show his emotions. To Troy Baker’s credit — Joel’s voice actor — those stoic lines were often infused with a bit more substance than you’d expect from the average game, but gruff was always the default.
That’s not the version of Joel Pascal portrays. He still may not say much, but you can see the years of pain and terror in every hardened look save for this one moment. For once, Joel is allowed to feel joy. No wonder Pedro Pascal is daddy.