The Last Of Us Production Designer Explains Why Using Victoria's Secret Was So Symbolic For Ellie

Ellie riding carousel in HBO's The Last of Us
(Image credit: HBO)

Spoilers below for anyone who hasn’t yet watched The Last of Us’ latest episode, so be warned!

HBO’s The Last of Us stepped away from adapting the core video game story to bring in the extremely important side character Riley, who was introduced and explored in the Left Behind DLC and tie-in comic book series. And while making viewers more comfortable with seeing Ellie in a more happy and emotionally vulnerable headspace, the horror drama also brought in one of the game’s most visually diverse locations: an abandoned but powered mall. The production team pulled off a masterful job in showcasing the brightly lit minutiae of consumer life circa 2003, from its fully functioning arcade to the looted Foot Locker. And one of the set designers explained why this approach, particularly the use of Victoria’s Secret, was so symbolic for Ellie’s story.

The episode, fittingly titled Left Behind, fully confirmed that Bella Ramsey’s Ellie is gay, and that she presumably would have thought it heavenly to devote the rest of her days to smooching and cuddling up with Riley. (Guest star Storm Reid doesn’t have time for naysayers who aren’t into the show’s LGBTQ+ storylines, either.) One of the episode’s biggest hints of the kiss to come — as if it wasn’t already fairly obvious anyway — came when the two teens shared some confused, if intrigued, reactions to a seemingly non-looted Victoria’s Secret store. Production designer John Paino told Variety that he and the rest of the team brought the mall setting to life with the knowledge that it would be as much of a bane to Ellie as it was a boon. In his words:

She’s fascinated with lingerie and can’t believe that people had the time for that, but it’s sad because she’s denied what is typical for us, such as understanding the bigger world outside of trying to stay alive.

For a developing gay female who had no understanding of a life before the Cordyceps outbreak made capitalism and shopping centers a moot point, stumbling across this vast array of unnecessary goods and products must have been bonkers. As a fan of video games and what they represent, Ellie was aware that arcades existed, thus her excitement about seeing and playing Mortal Kombat II for the first time. But she probably didn’t come across much written material about Victoria’s Secret and its mall-based prominence. 

As such, seeing a whole store devoted to frilly bras and panties would be both confusing and potentially arousing, albeit in the most innocent form, considering Ellie’s lack of experience. I’m sure plenty of teens and tweens have expressed awkwardness to the extremes when having to visit that particular store with a parent or older sibling, so I’d imagine Ellie would react in a similar fashion upon visiting the store during its heyday.

Riley and Ellie looking at Victoria's Secret in HBO's The Last of Us

(Image credit: HBO)

It would have been wild for The Last of Us to showcase a few former Victoria’s Secret models during its mall sequence, from new mom (for the third time) Behati Prinsloo to the somewhat still newly single Gisele Bündchen. But that might have been a little too much.

All things considered, it was already kind of surprising to see actual stores and brand names being utilized within the mall sequence, even knowing how much money and effort HBO put into the show. Paino said they brought the new location to life within an abandoned mall that still featured some details about their past existences. The team built up around 25 storefronts for Riley and Ellie to explore and walk past, and the designer said it was awesome to use official logos and play around with how to lay everything out. In particular, he called out the American Girl store as being “fun to make.”

Unfortunately, tragedy returned in full form in, fittingly enough, the Halloween store that otherwise served as another slice of Eden for Ellie and Riley. The would-be couple were attacked by a rando Runner, and both suffered bites, though we know only one of the characters was in danger of changing. Storm Reid told CinemaBlend that the episode would be a heartbreaker, and she wasn’t lying in the slightest. 

While waiting for the final two episodes of the season, which are available to stream with an HBO Max subscription, check out the randomly freaky editing error that was made in Episode 105, and remember that even decades-old lingerie can still be sexy to someone out there.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native and an Assistant Managing Editor with a focus on TV and features. His humble origin story with CinemaBlend began all the way back in the pre-streaming era, circa 2009, as a freelancing DVD reviewer and TV recapper.  Nick leapfrogged over to the small screen to cover more and more television news and interviews, eventually taking over the section for the current era and covering topics like Yellowstone, The Walking Dead and horror. Born in Louisiana and currently living in Texas — Who Dat Nation over America’s Team all day, all night — Nick spent several years in the hospitality industry, and also worked as a 911 operator. If you ever happened to hear his music or read his comics/short stories, you have his sympathy.