The following article contains spoilers for The Last of Us.
The fourth episode of The Last of Us had the unenviable task of following the series’ exceptional third episode, but it certainly proved to be the series’ most thrilling hour yet. It was also arguably the most “accurate” episode yet in terms of its relationship to the game. However, the episode did introduce at least one significant departure from the games in the form of Melanie Lynskey’s character, Kathleen.
Actually, Kathleen’s prominent role in an episode that included so many scenes, lines, and shots pulled directly from the game has left some fans wondering if they somehow forgot about Kathleen in The Last of Us or if she is playing an existing character under a different name.
Well, to cut right to the heart of this article, Kathleen is not in The Last of Us games. She’s an original character created for the purposes of the show. However, you can draw some very interesting connections between the Kathleen character and the lore of the larger Last of Us universe.
While there is still quite a lot we don’t know about Kathleen, the basics of her character were established pretty early on in the series’ fourth episode. She is clearly the leader (or one of the leaders) of a group of humans who have taken over Kansas City. When we meet her, she’s actively hunting for a person named Henry who she believes was responsible for her brother’s death. She also seems to be hiding an incoming wave of Clickers from her people (at least that’s what we think that gurgling pit was meant to represent). Of course, Joel and Ellie have the grave misfortune of wandering into Kathleen’s corner of the world and getting caught in the crossfire of her battles.
In the game, Joel and Ellie do get caught in a city overrun by Hunters (the common name given to a faction of survivors in The Last of Us‘ world). In The Last of Us campaign, though, that city is Pittsburgh rather than Kansas City, and, as mentioned above, the Hunters are not led by Kathleen, her friend Perry, or…well, anyone for that matter. If that group does have a leader in the game, they are not clearly identified at that point in the campaign.
As for Henry…well, we won’t skip ahead too much, but there is a character called Henry who Joel and Ellie meet during their journey through Pittsburgh. However, as there is no Kathleen in the game, Henry clearly has no connection to such a character. That means the show will obviously change elements of his story somewhat.
So why is Kathleen in the show? Well, we don’t know the full answer to that question quite yet, but Last of Us creator Neil Druckmann recently said that Kathleen helps fill a role that didn’t necessarily exist at this point in the game’s story.
“I love the idea that there aren’t just good guys and bad guys,” Druckmann says. “Everybody’s trying to survive, everybody’s trying to live life to the fullest way they can. But often, the goals are competing with each other, and that’s where the interesting things happen.”
Series co-runner Craig Mazin (who apparently came up with the Kathleen character) expanded on that point by stating that the show “didn’t have to fulfill a need that the video game had, which was to send NPCs at you…so, it was important for us to ask the question, ‘Well, why are they enemies? What do they want?’ They’re not just evil people.”
Essentially, Kathleen is there to give the Hunters (or whatever the show may eventually refer to them as) a face and a purpose that is more substantial than “kill and control.” Not only is that idea explored a bit further in The Last of Us campaigns (especially The Last of Us Part II), but it also forms the basis of The Last of Us‘ exceptional (and underrated) multiplayer mode.
See, the original version of The Last of Us included a multiplayer mode named “Factions.” In Factions, players join various groups of human survivors that are all tasked with competing for a limited number of resources on a map. It was a surprisingly deep and enjoyable multiplayer mode that also happened to greatly expand our understanding of the game’s universe. After all, that mode not only shed a little more light on the Hunters/Fireflies rivalry, but it portrayed the Hunters as a group of people with leaders, personalities, and the same desire to survive that fuels Joel and Ellie. If anything, Kathleen feels like a character that belongs in that multiplayer mode.
It’s also worth noting that the Factions multiplayer mode was the first and only time we saw female Hunters in the base Last of Us game. The campaign featured no female Hunter NPCs due to apparent technical limitations. However, The Last of Us Part 2 features quite a few female NPC enemies, so Kathleen’s presence could be partially interpreted as part of an effort to correct that oversight from the original game’s campaign and ensure that the show’s roster of human antagonists feels a bit closer to how they look in other parts of the franchise.
Interestingly enough, we recently learned that Naughty Dog is working on a new multiplayer-only Last of Us project that will reportedly expand the role of the various human factions in the franchise’s world (as well as the world itself). We don’t know much about that game, though Kathleen’s presence in the show certainly seems to emphasize the team’s interest in expanding the significance of the “other” humans in that universe.