We are nearing the end of The Last of Us' first season.
After last week's episode further established Ellie's motivations, episode eight - "When We Are In Need" - brings us back to the present day, and Joel and Ellie's ongoing plight to find the Fireflies.
This episode stays remarkably faithful to its source material while continuing to put a spotlight on character development, and as always leaves plenty to discuss. Without further ado, let's crack on.
THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR BOTH THE SHOW AND THE GAME SERIES IT IS BASED ON. PLEASE READ ON AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION.
Episode eight begins showing the snow covered landscapes of America, while a character we have not met before reads Revelation 21 to a group of survivors. This is David, the main antagonist of the game's Winter chapter, who holds the same role here.
David leads a group of survivors, doing what they can in this post-cordyceps world. While in the game there is an implication David and this group are devout Christians, in the show it is very much a clear cut theme. In fact, David in the show reminds me of Far Cry 5's Joseph Seed: a megalomaniac and a preacher, clearly unhinged with his devoutness.
Not that we see this side of David at first. When we first meet him, he comes across as a caring and well meaning leader.
It transpires that David's Bible reading is part of a wake of sorts, where the group is mourning one of their own. A young girl sits with her mother throughout the reading, and when she cries out David stops and acknowledges her. He comforts her.
However, when she asks when they can bury her father, David tells her the ground is too cold and they will have to wait until spring. If you have played the game, you will have noticed the lie in David's words. If you have not, this may seem like a reasonable excuse for not burying a body during the harsh winter.
Following the wake, David steps out of the diner it was being held at, and speaks to one of his men, James.
James is of course played by Troy Baker, who portrayed Joel in both The Last of Us Part 1 and 2. His character here is also present in the game, though not as fleshed out. In Baker's own words, "[co-creators] Neil [Druckmann] and Craig [Mazin] were kind enough to kind of put some meat on the bones" of James' character.
James tells David that the group is running out of food, but that some other men believed they saw some deer in the woods nearby. David then questions James' loyalty to him, stating he noticed doubt and a loss of faith. James assures David he is with him, and the two prepare to go hunting.
This is all background context that we do not get to see in the game, as we are tied to Ellie and Joel's characters throughout the story.
The scene then cuts to Ellie and Joel. Joel is still recovering from the injury he sustained at the university in episode six. While Ellie has done the best she can with the provisions she has, the duo are short on food. This spurs Ellie to take Joel's rifle and head out into the wilderness in search of sustenance.
As in the game, Ellie comes across a white rabbit. Unlike in the game, however, the rabbit scarpers, and Ellie falls on her face while in pursuit. She then notices a deer, and shoots it (although she does not kill it). Ellie then pursues the injured deer, and here she comes across David and James.
In both the show and the game, Ellie immediately has her guard up when she meets the two men. Despite their seemingly good intentions, Ellie does not disclose her name, and lies about being part of a bigger group.
From here on in, the rest of this episode remains largely faithful to the game (although, there are no infected to fight. As with the rest of the series so far, the vast majority of intense sections and set pieces from the game involving Clickers and the like are missing, with the show instead focusing on character development).
As in the game, Ellie agrees she will split the share of deer meat for medicine. She needs those antibiotics for Joel. David then sends James - who Ellie refers to as "Buddy Boy" - back to their base to get the required medication, leaving Ellie alone with David.
David and Ellie then retire to a nearby building for shelter and warmth while they await James' return.
Here, however, things take a darker turn. The two share some general chatter, where David talks about how he used to be a teacher, but he found his faith in God after the outbreak began. He also mentions leaving the Pittsburgh QZ (a little Easter egg for fans of the game). During this conversation, David reveals to Ellie that one of his men was recently killed by "this crazy man... [who was] travelling with a little girl".
Remember that wake earlier? Yes, that chap that Joel killed at the university was one of David's men, and the father of the crying girl from the episode's opening.
"I believe everything happens for a reason," David tells Ellie, as James returns and points his gun at Ellie, clearly ready to kill her and avenge his fallen friend.
Once again, The Last of Us makes us question who is 'good' and who is 'bad'. As with Kathleen from episodes four and five, at least at this point in the episode, viewers are left to wonder about the moral alignment of the characters in this world.
David stops James from shooting Ellie, and allows her to leave with the antibiotics. She flees into the woods and returns to Joel, where she administers the medication. In the show, she is much more anxious about doing this than in the game, but ultimately she does what needs to be done. She then cuddles into Joel, a touching moment to show how close the two have become since the start of their journey.
We then cut back to David's followers. They are preparing a meal for their group, and are told the meat they are eating is venison. It is a far cry from the energised and bright community of Jackson a couple of episodes ago. Meanwhile, there is clearly more to the meat than what many of David's followers are bing told, given the odd pause David's man gives when asked what the meat is by the lady preparing it.
Spoiler, it is not animal meat but human meat. Even though I knew this from playing the game, this bit still gave me goosebumps and it was uncomfortable to watch everyone tucking into their meal.
This scene also gives us the first look at David's more sadistic side. When he reveals to the group that he had come across Ellie when he was out hunting, the young girl from earlier says they should kill both Ellie and Joel. David, who up until this point in the show had been portrayed as 'caring', hits the girl in front of everyone and berates her for interrupting him. The cracks are showing.
Now, this next bit confused me a bit in both the game and the show.
As we see in both instances, David gives Ellie medication for Joel despite knowing that he killed one of his men. However, after this, David then takes a group of his men and follows Ellie's tracks back to where she is taking care of Joel in order to kill him. Why give away precious resources, especially in this world where everything is scarce, to a man you ultimately want dead?
Perhaps, in the show, David was shamed by the girl's outcry during the meal and felt he needed to save face in front of his followers - after all, he did question James' loyalty earlier. Or, David's want to kill Joel himself outweighs any concern for his men further down the line, so this was an easy way to track him down. Either way, I still found this an odd change in pace for David.
Regardless, when Ellie is alerted to David's presence, she leaves Joel with a knife to defend himself (he is barely conscious) and takes the horse to draw the men away from his location. As in the game, however, Ellie's horse is shot dead and she is ultimately captured by David and his men. James wants to kill her, and nearly does, but once again, David stops James from doing this.
Joel, meanwhile, has become lucid enough to hide from David's men. He manages to stab and kill one, before incapacitating two others. Hurrah for antibiotics! He takes the two injured but alive men hostage, and can be seen torturing one in front of the other. It is a pretty brutal scene, as it is in the game.
You may recall a couple of weeks ago I mentioned that Joel asked Marlon to show him "exactly" where he and Ellie were on a map and that the "answer better be the same as [his] wife's". Joel uses this tactic again with David's followers, presenting them with a map and demanding they tell him Ellie's location. This time, however, he is much, much, more aggressive, and once he gets the information he needs he brutally kills both men. This shows the lengths he will now go to to protect Ellie.
As for Ellie, she comes to inside a cell (or cage, as she calls it). As she is trying to find a way to escape she notices something disturbing - the remains of a human ear beneath a large chopping block. Cannibalism confirmed.
The game was more graphic with this reveal, and showed James actually butchering a human body when Ellie woke up.
David comes to talk to Ellie, confirming that only a few of his followers are aware of the cannibalism. He calls it a "last resort", and that he feels shame for his actions. He then talks to Ellie about survival and how she reminds him of himself. She is a natural leader, smart, loyal... and violent.
"You have a violent heart, and I should know. I've always had a violent heart and I struggled with it for a long time. But then the world ended as I was shown the truth," David says to Ellie.
I liked this inclusion, as I feel it paves the way for the Ellie we see in The Last of Us Part 2. In general, I have found the show has done a better job of highlighting this darker side to Ellie, and will perhaps make her actions in the upcoming season less of a shock for those new to the story.
Something else that David says here stood out to me. He talks about cordyceps in a rather reverent way, saying he sees it as "fruitful", not evil. "It feeds and protects its children and it secures its future with violence if it must. It loves," David says.
I have mentioned before that the showrunners have seemed to want to show a different side to the cordyceps, with the 'kiss' in episode two and Ellie's killing of an infected in episode three. This feels like another instance of this, although it also adds to David's unhinged grasp on life.
David believes Ellie can "handle this" information like the others can't. They need God and heaven. "I am a shepherd surrounded by sheep and all I want is an equal, a friend... think of what we could do together," David tells Ellie.
Given that he is talking to a 14 year old, this feels like grooming to me, and at first it seems like it is working. Ellie appears to soften to David's words, and holds his hands (as in the game).
Our girl still has it though, and she soon breaks his fingers in a bid to grab his keys. This enrages David, and he leaves the room with Ellie calling after him "Tell [your followers] Ellie is the little girl that broke your fucking finger!" Up until this point, she had not let David know her name. David, angered, implies he will now kill and eat her.
David returns with James, as in the game, and the two men pin Ellie down on a butcher's block ready to dice her up. Ellie bites David and tells him she is infected, and so he now is as well. When the men are distracted looking at her bite mark, Ellie grabs the cleaver and plunges it into James' neck, killing him. Bye bye, Troy!
Ellie then flees from David and runs into the diner (Todd's, just like in the game). She throws a burning stick at David when he pursues her, causing the diner to catch alight. The two then continue their game of 'cat and mouse' around the tables.
"No one infected fights this hard to stay alive," David calls to Ellie. "I've decided you do need a father, so I am going to keep you and I am going to teach you."
Ellie eventually manages to get a non-fatal stab in, but is overpowered by David. He then leans fully into his sadistic side, and tells her the fighting is his favourite bit as he pins her down to the floor. It is an uncomfortable watch.
As in the game, however, Ellie manages to reach for the meat cleaver that had fallen to the floor, and she proceeds to slaughter David in a blind rage. While we do not see the damage she inflicts on David, it is traumatic viewing and a pivotal moment for Ellie. In the show's canon, James and David are her first human kills, and this one in particular is a horrific and harrowing one.
Joel, meanwhile, has made his way to the resort where David's followers have been staying. He finds Ellie's bag, their dead horse, and human corpses being hung like meat in an abattoir.
He finally finds Ellie, who has managed to make her way out of the burning diner. She is in shock after what has happened (understandably). When she and Joel are reunited, Joel calms her, telling Ellie it is "ok, baby girl. I got you". Another moment to show how much Joel has come to care for Ellie, as "baby girl" is what he called his daughter Sarah.
The two then make their way away from David's and back out into the wild as the credits roll.
I have to say, while this episode was very good, it did feel a bit rushed, especially towards the end. A lot was packed into a relatively short space of time, and I would have appreciated an extra 10 minutes or so to fully show the impact of David's death on Ellie and Joel. I also wish Joel had found Ellie inside the diner, and seen the damage she had done.
Maybe I am starting to feel some of the impact from the show has gone. We have come to expect death, now. I know this is in keeping with the game, but perhaps the extra gameplay time between the cutscenes made the death feel less like an episodic inevitability?
I also have to wonder about what will happen to the rest of David's followers now. I know this is not our concern, as we are following the story of Joel and Ellie. However, they did not seem like 'bad' people, and yet they clearly need a leader (David refers to them as sheep, and this really is what they are) and now do not have one.
We only have one episode left of The Last of Us, and I hope that next week the show takes a bit more time to focus on the key narrative beats. Like I said, I really did enjoy episode eight - as always the actors each did an incredible job further bringing The Last of Us' characters to life - but it does feel a bit like the showrunners are now trying to rush the story a bit to tie everything up before the finale. I will be more than happy to be proved wrong, however.