Lamar Johnson on Henry’s Decision-Making in Shocking Episode 5

[WARNING: The following contains MAJOR spoilers for The Last of Us Season 1, Episode 5.]

HBO’s The Last of Us has become premiere television in just four episodes with standout performances from stars Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey, as well as additional cast members Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett.

With episode 5 (which premiered on February 10 ahead of Super Bowl LVII), the trend continues with a breakout performance by Lamar Johnson, who plays Henry, the older brother of Sam (Keivonn Woodard), whom we briefly meet in the preview trailer.

“I saw The Last of Us, HBO, Craig [Mazin], Neil [Druckmann], and I was like, ‘That combination is fantastic,’” Johnson told TV Insider after professing himself and his friends as fans of the original game. “The turnaround was really fast. I think I sent them the tape on Monday. By Wednesday, I got the call and the job. By Saturday, I was on a flight to Calgary.”

Henry is revealed to be the man Kathleen (played by Melanie Lynskey) is so viciously hunting down in Episode 4. She’s out for revenge for Henry selling out her brother, who led the resistance to take the Kansas City quarantine zone back from FEDRA. However, when we finally meet Henry, it doesn’t take long to realize he’s done what he’s done to protect his tiny companion, who is in dire need of medicine.

“They are just really great characters that you fall in love with and care for, and especially with the adaptation,” he says. “It lends you the space and time and pace to really kind of really get to know these people.”

Below, Johnson gives insight into episode 5 of The Last of Us, its emotional finale, and what life could have been if things had played out differently for both Henry and Sam.

Something that stood out was seeing Sam’s love for superheroes and Henry painting his face to resemble the one from his comic. How did you interpret that?

It was more so a thing of giving him reassurance that he’s capable and he’s strong enough. You got this, you know? And sort of just giving him that power. Because we’re in a predicament where we have no more food, we’re hungry. I didn’t know what we were going to do. But I knew that we couldn’t stay there. So he’s kind of looking at me to kind of give him some sort of answers, but I didn’t have answers for him. So the only answer that I had in that moment was, you know, what? I want you to feel that you got it. You are a superhero. You’re Super Sam; feel that. Understand that. Superheroes don’t die; they don’t go away, […] these guys are powerful.

Kathleen says to you, “This is what happens when you f**k with fate,” in regards to Sam. Did Kathleen have any validity in what she said? Was it Sam’s fate to die no matter what?
That’s tough because who’s to say that was his fate? You know, I think things happen in life, but who’s to say that’s your fate? […] I mean, I guess you could look at it that way, given what happens in the show, especially [since] I tried my very hardest to protect him and keep him safe, down to the point where I went so far as to give a life for his life, for me to take his life by my own hand. So it’s like, I don’t know, maybe it was his fate. Maybe it wasn’t, you know, maybe it was a freak accident, you know? Who’s to know, you know? […] It all just happened so fast.

Would Sam have been better off without Henry trying to save him? Would Henry have been able to forgive himself for not trying to save him?

Yeah, Henry might have maybe not been holding [so much of that] weight on him because of his decision [to give up Kathleen’s brother.] But ultimately, I mean, he’s the sole caretaker and provider for Sam. Sam is his purpose, Sam is his reason to live. So outside of that, I don’t really think there’s anything that could have swayed that. Sam, he had leukemia; we’re living in a very harsh world where doctors don’t even necessarily exist […] So in order for me to get the cure for Sam, I had to do what I needed to do.

Would I have been able to live without getting that cure for Sam and just kind of seeing Sam deteriorate and die naturally? No, I think I think it would have drove him crazy, you know, just as shooting him and watching him die drove him crazy. I think, ultimately, Henry would not have been able to stomach living in this world without his brother.

If Henry and Sam survived and took Joel on his deal, how do you see your character’s story playing out?

I actually think that it would have been quite interesting. I think we would have seen Ellie and Sam’s relationship build and grow, as we kind of already have in that episode in that short period of time. They got really close and really connected to the point where he felt safe enough to confide in her about the fact that he was scratched. So you already see that relationship building and growing. And also with Henry and Joel, you also see that relationship kind of grow because it’s a little hostile at first. Obviously, Henry is aware of what Joe is capable of, which is why he is wary. But he understood that we needed him to get out because he said, he’s like, “I can’t get out of this if it’s just me and Sam, like, I need you… I can show you the way, but I need you to clear the way” because that’s what you do.

Henry has never killed someone before. He might seem, you know, especially with Kathleen talking about how Henry’s this bad person. But ultimately, he’s never killed anyone before. So he doesn’t have that heart. And even when he’s talking about Kathleen’s brother, it affects him. And you could tell he’s kind of hurt by it, but it is what it is.

Did Henry shoot Sam off instinct, or did he know what he was doing? And after it was done, he kept asking, “What did I do?” What were the layers behind that statement?

I think starting off first, when Sam bursts out into the main area, there are so many things going on. But I think, ultimately, Henry was just confused. He didn’t really know what was going on, why Ellie’s screaming until he actually saw what was happening. And then instantly he thought Joel, because of what I was talking about. Henry understands what Joel was capable of. So he automatically just thought, Joel, gun. So he grabbed the gun. And luckily, he got there before Joel. Right. So I think, in that moment, he was more-so confused, but he understood what he needed to do. Like Sam’s gone. And also, I don’t even think Henry knows that Ellie is immune. So for him, he had to act fast because he could have infected Ellie as well. And you know, he ended up shooting him, but instantly as soon as he does it, he instantly regrets it. And what washes over him is very layered. There are a lot of emotions that are happening, but if I had to choose one, I would just say shock. […] He was emotional. He regrets it.

And when he had that line, “What did I do?” Yeah, I think he’s really reflecting on the entire moment in that instance, and he’s like, “What did I do?” He’s pointing a gun at Joel and pushing the energy toward him. But ultimately, he’s talking about himself. […] Henry was his purpose. He had no purpose without Sam, so he had no world to live in. And he’s going to join his brother.

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