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The Last of Us' Lamar Johnson Breaks Down the Season's Most Devastating Scene Yet

Henry and Sam brought more tears than Bill and Frank

Kat Moon

[Warning: The following contains spoilers from The Last of Us Episode 5. Read at your own risk!] 

When Lamar Johnson watches The Last of Us Episode 5 this week, it will be the Canadian actor's first time seeing "Endure and Survive" in its final and completed form. Of course, Johnson knows everything that happens in the HBO's post-apocalyptic drama's fifth episode: He plays Henry, who along with his younger brother Sam (Keivonn Woodard), joins Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) during their brief time in Kansas City. But Johnson has not seen the end product. "I don't know how they cut things or what they used and what they didn't use, but I actually would rather that," he told TV Guide. First and foremost, Johnson is a fan of The Last of Us. "When the time comes to watch it, all put together with sound and everything, I'll have that experience," he said. "I sit down and I watch this as a fan."

Years ago, Johnson played Naughty Dog's The Last of Us video game. He loved it and said the decision was a "no-brainer" to get involved when he received an email with "The Last of Us" in the subject line. "Knowing the story from the game, the idea of me being a part of the adaptation — especially with HBO, and hearing that Craig Mazin is behind it, Neil Druckmann," Johnson recalled, "I jumped at the opportunity." 

When Johnson played The Last of Us for the first time, the actor was struck by Henry and Sam's story — by their brotherly love and by seeing Black characters in the game. And representation in television is front of mind as Johnson waits for Episode 5's premiere. The release date is particularly special, as it falls on his mother's birthday weekend. He smiled as he shared his plans to watch "Endure and Survive" with his family. "I don't know how much of a birthday present that is for my mom," Johnson laughed. "The end of the episode's a little…" Spoiler alert: Episode 5 ends tragically. "But my mom, she's such a big supporter of everything that I do and she's just a big fan of the show already," Johnson continued. "She's hooked already."

Just like with the earlier episodes, "Endure and Survive" has some deviations from the game. For one, Sam is deaf — and portrayed by a deaf actor. Sam and Henry communicate in ASL, as they hide from Kathleen (Melanie Lynskey), a revolutionary leader hell-bent on capturing the brothers for revenge. "I didn't know I would have to learn sign until getting the job," Johnson said. "When I read the scripts and the episode, I was like, 'Wow, OK, this is going to be a challenge." But the actor said HBO provided the resources he needed, and it was paramount to him to authentically portray Henry and Sam's communication. "I had a director of ASL, I had a translator, and I had people in my corner at all times to help me out," Johnson shared.

The actor spoke to TV Guide about learning ASL for the role, filming the devastating ending for Henry and Sam, and running from the Infected — and that Bloater — in the epic action scene.

What appealed to you most about playing Henry?
Lamar Johnson: What drew me to the character was the relationship that he has with his brother, it's so very special even in the game — and I think the opportunity to do that with the show. But also there's a new element with him being deaf. And me having to learn sign and really having to communicate without words, and the additional layer that that adds to our relationship.

What was the process like of learning ASL?
Johnson: I started taking lessons as soon as possible. Leading up to and even during filming I would be training, and I'd be working on my sign so that it can feel as organic as possible. Especially with Keivonn — Sam, being deaf in real life — I really wanted that communication to feel organic and authentic.

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How long did that process take between you starting lessons and filming?
Johnson: From when I started training to the first day of shooting, it was less than a week. The entire process was quite quick, if I'm being honest. I had sent in a tape on Monday, by the Wednesday I got the call, Saturday I was on a plane. And then I was in rehearsals and I believe that Wednesday was my first day of working, so it was a pretty fast turnaround. A month and a half in, I was sort of naturally communicating and Keivonn and I had a really, really great bond.

When we first hear about Henry, it's from Kathleen's perspective. We learn that he sold out Kathleen's brother to get medicine for Sam. Where do you find Henry on the morality spectrum considering his actions?
Johnson: Of course it's a very tough moral decision to make, but when you're living in a world like The Last of Us, it's really about survival and being as close [to] the people that you love as possible — because you never know what's going to happen. So me making that decision to save my brother, it was obviously a tough decision. But would I make that again? Yes, if it meant to protect my brother and to save his life, because he's what I live for. He's truly what I live for. Both mom and dad are gone, so he's the only family that I have and the only person that I truly, truly know. I was willing to do whatever it took in order for me to make sure that he was protected and that he was safe.

Keivonn Woodard, Lamar Johnson, The Last of Us

Keivonn Woodard, Lamar Johnson, The Last of Us


Their bond is so visible. And I have to ask about the final scene. What was going on in Henry's mind when he saw Sam attack Ellie?
Johnson: It's tough, especially after going through everything that they already went through — having to sell out Kathleen's brother, to save, and protect him. He's finally safe, and we meet Joel and Ellie, and we go on this journey and then finally, when it finally feels like it's safe, and we're good to go, and we made some new friends, it all comes crumbling down. It's a really tough pill to swallow for him. He's in shock. He's in disbelief. He doesn't know how to process any of this information. There's also a little bit of guilt too, because obviously, for him, being the protective brother that he is, maybe there could have been a way for him to prevent this from happening. I think there's a multitude of things that I was thinking about in that moment. It was a wash of emotions for Henry in that moment seeing his brother that way, and ultimately being the one that kills him.

I think you can see a lot of those emotions on your face, and then the shock wears off and he realizes what he's done. What drives him to pull the trigger on himself?
Johnson: If I could say, what motivates him to want to make that decision is, Sam is all he lives for. That's truly the only thing he cares about in this world. And that's what's keeping him going. And when Sam is gone, who does he have to live for? This world is already tough as it is. Losing someone that you've sacrificed so much for, it's tough to see them gone. I think in that moment, he just would rather not exist in the environment. He also believes in a higher power, and he believes that, in this moment, he wants to join his brother. He wanted to join his brother, he couldn't live and stomach the idea and the fact of living without him after everything he's already sacrificed to keep him safe. I think at that moment, he also tells himself, I think it's my time as well.

Can you talk more about him believing in a higher power? Is his faith something he developed throughout his life?
Johnson: I'm to the assumption that they've been religious growing up, mother and father kind of injected that into them and believing in something bigger than yourself to give you purpose. And I believe that both Henry and Sam truly believed in a higher power and a purpose that is greater than themselves. So I think in that moment, all of those things kind of processed for him and I think when he finally made that decision, or when it clicked for him, he was like, okay, you know, what? This is the time that I'm going to join my brother. I believe he believes that we will be in heaven together and living a life that we don't have to struggle so much. 

Lamar Johnson, The Last of Us

Lamar Johnson, The Last of Us


At that point, would anything that Joel or Ellie have said or done helped him change his mind?
Johnson: No, in that moment, I don't think anyone could have said anything to him. Especially in that moment, with all the emotion so high, I don't think there's anything anyone could have said to him to maybe sway him otherwise, or kind of change the outcome of his decision. He killed and shot his brother, he saw his brother's body just laying on the floor. That's tough for anyone to live with. I also commend Joel for being able to stomach literally holding his daughter in his arms. And I commend him but you see what that has done to him, right? It's really hardened him and it's jaded him in many ways. and I don't think Henry would want to live his life that way, sort of being emotionless and hardened.

What was it like filming that scene?
Johnson: It was a really tough scene. Everybody knew what we were jumping into, so the energy was pretty somber. But once again, very grateful for Pedro because he also created some levity in moments as well that were very much needed on set. And I really appreciate that. Because it's really heavy material that we're working with so to be able to at least have some moments to kind of be like [sighs], okay, let's breathe a little bit was great. I think everybody was very much invested into the scene and was there to give their best. I definitely know I tried my best to portray truth in that moment and feel those emotions that Henry was going through.

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It was incredible. I also have to ask about the big invasion of the Infected that happens at the end of Episode 5. What was it like filming that scene?
Johnson: With this show, there were so many practical effects so a lot of what you're seeing is actually there. They blew up cars, blew up houses. Even when the car sinks, all of that actually happened. When [the Infected were] coming out of the floor, there were maybe 70 extras all in makeup, that was very much real. Watching all that happen and all the stunts and all this choreographing with the cameras running through, us being under the car, all of that stuff was real. We didn't actually need to react to something that wasn't there, because it was actually there. 

You can tell that they truly cared about the makeup, and these Clickers and the Infected and the Bloater, they really, really cared about these characters and bringing them to life in such a real way. 

At one point, Henry shows himself and tries to negotiate with Kathleen. Was he prepared to sacrifice himself so that Sam could escape? 
Johnson: Yeah, he was ready to make that decision to give himself up if that meant to protect Sam. All that mattered to him was Sam. So if that meant giving up myself, in order for him to have that freedom, especially [after] bonding, having that relationship with Ellie, also seeing how Ellie and Sam have connected. In that moment when I look at Ellie, I trust that if anything were to happen to me that she would make sure that Sam is good in some way, shape, or form. In that moment, I really trusted her to hold it down.

Keivonn Woodard, The Last of Us

Keivonn Woodard, The Last of Us


Would you say his trust is more in Ellie than in Joel?
Johnson: There was a crazy dynamic between me and Sam, and Joel and Ellie. And I saw that protective nature that Joel possesses that I possess for Sam, so I felt comfortable to make that decision and be like, you know what, if I'm gone, I at least feel comfortable to — I think they're probably the only people that I've met that I can even remotely feel justified in making that decision. I think I felt secure in that moment and also, it's either me or all of us. 

I was taking notes as I was watching and every time Ellie and Sam had a bonding moment, my heart was so happy.
Johnson: You know what, I'm sure Henry and Joel felt that same way when they observed it. They're like, wow. I'm pretty sure he hasn't seen Ellie that way before, and I haven't really seen Sam — I mean, he's a child in this world. There's not a lot of children. So the fact that he's seeing adults all the time, to have someone closer to his age that you can relate to and bond with, that was a really beautiful thing to see.

I'm sure many viewers will also feel like their hearts are ripped out from this episode. What do you have to say to fans who were hoping for Henry and Sam to continue on this journey with Joel and Ellie but whose hopes were crushed?
Johnson: What I would say is I think there's still more story. There's still more beautiful relationships that are to be had. With Sam and Henry, I think they showed up to showcase what this world is for maybe a brother, sibling kind of dynamic, and what that feels like and another exploration of love. Because I feel like this show, even though we're in a world and in an environment that is so harsh, there's a really big underlying message of love that is through every single story. So if we're able to make you feel anything, and also to make you feel our connection, the love that we have for each other, I think [that] is very powerful. 

The Last of Us Season 1 continues Sundays at 9/8c on HBO. Episodes will also stream on HBO Max.