pedro pascal as joel miller in the last of us

Liane Hentscher/HBO

Joel’s panic attacks in ‘The Last of Us’ spark a new meme format

The hardened hero of 'The Last of Us' becomes relatable.


Michelle Jaworski

Internet Culture

Posted on Feb 23, 2023

Warning: This article contains spoilers for The Last of Us episode 6, “Kin.”

By episode 6 of The Last of Us, Joel (Pedro Pascal) has grown fond of  Ellie (Bella Ramsey), the young ward with whom he’s spent several months traveling across the country to deliver her to the rebel group known as the Fireflies. But even though it takes Joel a good chunk of the episode to admit that, the offshoot of caring for someone manifested several times throughout the episode, resulting in panic attacks and a relatable new meme format.

It doesn’t take much to surmise the source of Joel’s anxiety. It first hits early in the episode after he and Ellie leave Florence and Marlon’s (Elaine Miles and Graham Greene) cabin in the Wyoming wilderness. It’s a tense situation that worked out for all parties involved—no injuries, Florence and Marlon appeared to give them helpful advice, and Florence even made soup—but it could’ve gone worse. Joel brushes off his heart racing and inability to catch his breath as a reaction to hitting the cold air when Ellie asks if he’s OK, but her reminder to him that if he dies, she’s fucked doesn’t exactly help matters.

He’s once again paralyzed with fear when a dog who can sniff out people who’ve been bitten checks Ellie (who’s been bitten twice and is immune to infection) before they’re potentially allowed entry into the Jackson commune; if the dog detects the infection, they’re dead in an instant. And later on, he has another panic attack when, after learning Tommy and Maria (Rutina Wesley) are having a baby, he sees the back of a girl’s head that reminds him of his daughter Sarah (Nico Parker), who died in his arms 20 years ago. He’s still beating himself up for failing Sarah and is terrified that he’ll do the same to Ellie.

“You think I can still handle things, but I’m not who I was,” a tearful Joel tells his brother. “I’m weak. Lately, there are these moments where the fear comes up outta nowhere, and my heart feels like it’s stopped.”

It’s a key character moment for Joel, and some fans of the game noted that his anxiety has some basis in the game. But it’s not just one conversation: It continues when Joel and Ellie argue over who will look after her on the next leg of the journey to the Fireflies located at the University of Colorado; Joel means to slip away, but he can’t help but stay in Jackson long enough to give Ellie the choice of which Miller brother should accompany her. But as is often the case, even the most emotional of scenes can be stripped of their context and turned into a meme.

A photoset featuring three different angles of Joel’s panic attacks—the top and bottom photos showing Joel clutching a pole are located outside of Florence and Marlon’s cabin while the middle photo of Joel clutching at his chest occurs after Joel learns about Tommy’s impending fatherhood—went viral. Out of context, you could interpret Pascal’s varying stances as panic or even relief, almost as if he had just escaped some entity. It’s a basic shorthand, one that doesn’t require having watched any of The Last of Us.

If you’re talking about unpleasant work tasks, it’s a near-perfect fit.

It also conveys having to psych yourself up for something you might not want to do.

Or even when inane actions irritate you.

And, like some great memes, it can also illustrate the shock of being reminded of the passage of time.

But the meme can also go full circle to comment on the fact that, with just three episodes of season 1 left, The Last of Us’ first season is nearly over. With that cliffhanger, there’s more than enough to panic about.

We crawl the web so you don’t have to.
Sign up for the Daily Dot newsletter to get the best and worst of the internet in your inbox every day.
Sign up now for free
Share this article
*First Published: Feb 23, 2023, 2:42 pm CST