'The Last of Us’ episode 5 referenced a truly tragic backstory from the game

A young man and a boy walk into a dilapidated underground room with flashlights.

At this point, Easter eggs have become as synonymous with HBO's The Last of Us as they are with a Taylor Swift video.

For the lauded TV adaptation, co-creators Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann have both expanded the world of the Naughty Dog game and strategically included fan-favourite features from it, meaning both players and newcomers are constantly kept on their toes. And in the fifth episode, there's an extremely small but important reference to a character from the game called Ish that you might have missed.

Who is in the drawing in episode 5 of The Last of Us?

In episode 5, in a fleeting moment, the series sees Joel (Pedro Pascal), Henry (Lamar Johnson), Sam (Keivonn Woodard), and Ellie escaping Kathleen's militia in Kansas City through its underground tunnels, when they come across an abandoned kindergarten. We learn through their conversation that at the outbreak of the cordyceps infection, some residents moved underground instead of living in quarantine zones (QZs), and they established settlements, this one including an educational facility for children.

It's in this sombre, dilapidated room, covered in peeling murals of clouds and rainbows, that the series sneaks in two elements from the game: the collectible Savage Starlight comics Ellie and Sam love and a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment when Joel examines a hand-drawn picture of two people holding large guns.

Labelled Danny and Ish, the two figures are captioned, "Our protectors."

A film still from
The moment captured in "The Last of Us" episode 5 trailer. Credit: YouTube / HBO

The same children's drawing can be found in the game, identically labelled for these two mystery figures. Joel finds the drawing in a settlement established in the sewers underneath Pittsburgh (the show changed the location to Kansas City). As in the show, we never meet the residents of this camp (well, we might). But in the game, Joel pieces together the tragic story of this settlement through objects and notes you find not just in the kindergarten but in the broader world. And it's all about a man named Ish.

Who is Ish in The Last of Us?

The people drawn by a young settlement resident have a whole backstory in The Last of Us game, though you never meet them. YouTube channels including Midnight Morgan and Squatch Gaming have excellent breakdowns of the tragic tale of Ish, one of those drawn, who escaped the cordyceps outbreak by fleeing the chaos in his boat — a strong choice given we're unsure whether Infected can swim or not. In the game, you find Ish's boat beached near Pittsburgh, and inside, a handwritten note begins his story, which shows Ish returned to the mainland due to dwindling supplies.

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When Joel, Ellie, Henry, and Sam find an entrance to the sewers beneath Pittsburgh, they're met with a pretty dilapidated tunnel network. But there, they find another note written by Ish, which explains he'd retreated into the system as an easy-to-defend hideout to avoid both Infected and non-Infected. Through another note, we learn that while on a supply run outside the sewers, Ish met a group of people "who didn’t want to shoot me on sight" and that Ish invited them to join him underground, which it appears they did. Including children.

Here, one of the settlements Joel and Henry mention in the TV series was established, and through notes and various domestic set-ups explored in the game, we see a glimpse into a functional, relatively thriving community underground. In an effort to keep themselves safe from Infected and Hunters, the settlement’s "house rules" seen on a wall in the game are included in the show, discovered by Joel, Sam, Ellie, and Henry in the kindergarten. In the game, you encounter booby traps to deter intruders, and thanks to the hand-drawn picture, we know Ish and another resident called Danny protected the group with weapons. But it's pretty clear in both that something's gone awry in the camp.

What happened to the underground settlement?

Though the show doesn't go into this detail, the game determines the doom of the settlement as caused by a door left open, meaning Infected overran the camp.

In a chilling, blood-stained note left by a resident named Kyle, one of the first to join the settlement, it becomes clear that he and a group of children were trapped by Infected — and instead of waiting to be attacked, Kyle took matters into his own hands through an implied overdose. This is made clear through a truly upsetting discovery made by Joel in the game involving covered bodies found in a small room, and the words "they didn't suffer" scrawled on the floor. It seems the rest of the settlement were either attacked or went the same way.

A note Joel finds in a nearby house after the tunnel ordeal explains that Ish survived the attack with his friend, Susan, and a few children from the settlement. Here's what Ish's note reads in the game:

One open door. That’s all it took. One of us forgot to close a door and a horde of those monsters entered our camp. We shut them in there and wrote a warning on the outside. Susan and a couple of the kids are with me, as far as I know, we’re the only survivors…

Every part of my being just wants to give up. It’d be so easy to surrender to this world. I can’t do that though. I have too much faith in humanity. I’ve seen that we’re still capable of good. We can make it. I have to stay strong. For her. — Ish

It's a tragic backstory, artfully pieced together by Naughty Dog in the game, not with dialogue but through notes, objects, and by ultimately uncovering horrifying scenes of past violence Joel, Ellie, Sam, and Henry stumble upon in their journey. But in the show, it's but one picture that will dredge up some chilling memories for players.

The Last of Us is now streaming on HBO Max. New episodes air every Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.