Warning: This article contains spoilers for the "The Last of Us" Season One.
As the HBO series "The Last of Us" winds down its first season, the latest installment is drawing the ire of some viewers who are critical of the relationship between Ellie (Bella Ramsey) and Riley (Storm Reid).
In Episode Seven, titled “Left Behind,” Ellie reflects on her life after Joel (Pedro Pascal) suffers a critical injury in an extended flashback that offers insight into the pivotal moment she's bitten by one of the infected and discovers she's immune.
Like Episode Three in the series ("Long Long Time"), in which a same-sex relationship is portrayed between survivalists Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett), "Left Behind" chronicles Ellie and Riley's blossoming romance amid the zombie apocalypse.
The episode begins with Ellie frantically attempting to save Joel after he’s stabbed by a raider.
In debating whether to stay and help or leave him behind, Ellie’s friendship with her FEDRA roommate, Riley, is revealed. Riley, who had disappeared, returns to convince her friend to join the rebel Fireflies. The pair steal away to an abandoned mall where they indulge in pre-doomsday activities like riding escalators, carousels and dancing to music.
During Etta James' rendition of “I Got You Babe," the two share a sweet kiss before the seemingly inevitable happens, and they’re attacked by a zombie.
Both Episode Three and Episode Seven have led to some homophobic backlash, but Ramsey and Reid are clapping back at the criticism.
“I know people will think what they want to think,” Ramsey said in a recent GQ interview. “But they’re gonna have to get used to it.”
The "Last of Us" star, who identifies as gender fluid and nonbinary, told GQ that after being cast for the role of Ellie, she scrolled on social media for reactions and didn't have to look far to find vitriol.
"You're looking for a comment that's more painful than the last one," Ramsey said. “I’d kid myself that I was doing it in jest.”
Despite the haters, Ramsey's "not particularly anxious about it."
"If you don't want to watch the show because it has gay storylines, because it has a trans character, that's on you, and you're missing out," Ramsey said.
Reid, who also portrays Gia Bennett in the HBO series “Euphoria,” agreed, taking Ramsey’s statement one step further in a recent interview with Variety.
"I think Bella put it perfectly a couple of weeks ago: 'If you don’t like it, don’t watch,'" she told the outlet.
Reid added that with so many other things to worry about in the world, people being concerned over who other people love is "absurd" and thinks that the show's critics are outnumbered by people who appreciate it and "feel represented and seen and heard."
"So that's what matters. That's where the work comes in. And that’s when it’s appreciated, and you prioritize looking at those tweets rather than the ones that aren’t the best," she said.
Reid also spoke to Entertainment Weekly about the controversy, saying, "We are telling important stories. We're telling stories of people's experiences, and that's what I live for. That's what makes good storytelling, because we are telling stories of people who are taking up space in the world."
She also unpacked the nature of Ellie and Riley's relationship.
“We are on the tightrope of a friendship and having a crush, or is it a crush? Is it just flirtatious energy? There’s just so much that goes into the complexity of what the episode is. And furthermore, the complexity of what Ellie and Riley’s relationship is I find just so beautiful,” Reid said.
Like so many of the episodes in Season One of “The Last of Us,” Episode Seven left many viewers torn up over yet another tragic ending after both Riley and Ellie are bitten by the fungus-infected monster. Though it's not shown, it's implied that Ellie ultimately takes the life of her best friend and burgeoning love.
But as far as any controversy over their love story is concerned, Reid told EW that it's "just nonsense."
"It's 2023," she said. "If you're concerned about who I love, then I need you to get your priorities straight."