Episode 8 of HBO’s The Last of Us brings in some of the more unsettling tropes of the post-apocalyptic genre.
This is a recap and review of The Last of Us episode 8. Spoilers to follow!
The Last of Us Episode 8 Shows The Power of Survival
We begin in a snowbound town with a man, David (Scott Shepard), reciting Christian scripture. A girl begins to cry, and after he comforts her, she asks, “When can we bury him?” to which he replies that her father (as this is now revealed to be a funeral) will be buried in the spring.
After the service, David asks another man James (Troy Baker – who voiced Joel in the game!), about their rations, and he replies they have a maximum of two weeks left. David gets James to reassert his loyalty to him, then takes him hunting. At this point, we presume he means for deer or small game.
Back with Ellie and Joel, the latter’s wound appears septic, and he won’t drink or eat. Ellie looks to the gun, then tells Joel she’ll be right back. She heads into the woods. She then proceeds to make the worst attempt at hunting ever, but she soon comes across a deer. She sights and hits it, but it takes off.
The dead deer is found by David and James. She finds them with the animal and tells them to drop their rifles, which they do. They attempt to barter with her, and she says James can get medicine from their community to trade for half the deer. David convinces her to let him start a fire, and she commands him to drag the deer with him.
As interested as I was in the game David was playing, I was concerned about how long they were letting the deer sit without dressing it. The meat would be getting so gamey, and letting it cool increases bacteria in the carcass. Gross!
As the deer spoils, they discuss David’s religious beliefs and his backstory (he had been a teacher in Pittsburg before the apocalypse, and now he was a preacher and the leader of his town). He also explains the father’s death at the start of the episode, revealing that the raiders who attacked Ellie and Joel in episode 6 were part of this man’s group.
James appears with penicillin and a gun. David allows her to leave with the medicine, and she abandons the deer.
She makes it to the house and, not knowing how medicine works, jabs the syringe directly into Joel’s wound. Luckily, you can inject penicillin into a few places and have it work, so this wasn’t a bad guess.
Back at David’s settlement, the cooks are making dinner, using meat a man claims is venison. The cook appears wary but accepts it. We’re led to assume that the meat is the deer from earlier, but as the community is eating, David and James arrive with the deer. I will brag that as soon as I saw that meat earlier, I assumed it was the dead man. Mainly because we hadn’t seen cannibals in the show yet, and David is … creepy.
David explains to the group that they found Ellie and Joel, and the daughter shouts that she wants to kill Ellie, but David knocks her down and tells her to respect him.
Things Take a Solid Turn
In the morning, Joel’s wound looks better, and Ellie injects him again. She heads outside to gather snow to give to the horse. On doing so, she sees a flock of birds in the air and goes scouting, finding David, James, and four more men approaching. James suggests they let Ellie alone, but David does not seem interested in that idea.
Ellie races back and gives Joel a knife, telling him to kill any men who arrive. She mounts the horse, then takes a few potshots at the men, intending for them to chase. They do. Unfortunately, James shoots the horse, throwing Ellie to the ground and concussing her.
David orders the men to drag the horse to the settlement while he carries Ellie. He tells the rest of the men to go door to door to look for Joel.
A lanky man enters the house. When he finds the basement, he discovers just a bloody mattress. Joel attacks him from behind, stabbing him in the neck. The exertion causes Joel to collapse, but he pushes himself up.
Another man with a bushy black beard arrives looking for the lanky man. Joel sneaks up on him and knocks him out. Bushy beard wakes to find Joel beating up another of David’s men tied to a chair. Joel demands to know where Ellie is, then stabs the man in the knee. Thus motivated, the man reveals the community is holed up in Silver Lake Resort, and Joel makes him show him on the map where this is. Joel then stabs the man to death. Joel also then pulls a Neegan from The Walking Dead and smashes Bushy Beard over the head.
Ellie wakes up in a cage in the settlement’s kitchens. David offers her food and tries to manipulate her into trusting him and joining his group. Ellie notices an ear in the next cage over. Given they are in a kitchen, she makes a connection I had earlier: they’re cannibals. When David brings her a bowl of stew, she accuses him of this practice. He claims it’s a last resort. He again attempts to manipulate her into joining him, this time using flattery. David also claims that he has a “violent heart” and that the Cordyceps infection was an inspiration to him. He then claims he and Ellie are similar, and he only wants a friend.
When she rejects this, he then turns to bribery, telling her he’ll order his men not to hurt Joel if she joins the community. He places his hand on hers, and she, badass that she is, breaks his finger and attempts to grab the keys. He says he’s going to tell the others what she is, and she says to tell them, “Ellie is the girl who broke your f**king finger.”
Meanwhile, Joel arrives at the resort. He finds a boathouse with the dead horse and three strung-up human bodies.
Ellie is taken from the cage by James and David and forced onto a table, where they brandish a cleaver and attempt to kill her. She reveals that she’s infected. David looks at his hand, where she had bitten him in the scuffle. As he and James stare at the scars on her arm, she grabs the cleaver off the table and buries it into James’ neck. David shoots at her, then chases her with the cleaver. She grabs a hot piece of wood from a fire and whips it, which spreads quickly.
David threatens her as the house burns around him. Ellie races towards him, stabbing him in the gut with a small knife, and he drops the cleaver. He holds her down, either attempting to kill or sexually assault her. She reaches the fallen clever and flat-out destroys him with it.
Joel shows up as she leaves the house. He puts his coat on her and leads her away.
The darkest of the season so far, this episode leapt into the doom and gloom aspects of post-apocalyptic shows, bringing in lots of the most disturbing tropes, such as controlling leaders, cannibalism, and kidnapping. Having these extreme aspects appear later in the season serves to increase the stakes for Ellie and Joel, as well as build on the idea from the last episode that Ellie’s childhood is gone. It also makes you understand why people stay in the cities ruled by FEDRA. They may be controlling and corrupt, but they keep away the cannibals, at least.
As gross as he is, David is a great character. He’s a complex villain, as we’re not sure what he really wants, even at the end. It wasn’t clear why he wanted Ellie in the commune, whether as a skilled person to bolster his inner circle, a potential second in command, a girl who could add to the community’s future (by having a kid), or something far more sinister (and nonconsensual). Perhaps it was a mix. Does he actually care about his flock, or is he just using them? Was he a killer before the Cordyceps spread, or had the apocalypse brought that out of him? Was cannibalism really a last resort? I guess we’ll never know, but these are intriguing mysteries that broaden his character rather than limit it.
Another thing about the show that I’ve appreciated overall is its restraint. Despite the violence in the episode, it’s not shock-value gore. In this regard, it’s more impactful on the viewer, as rather than being shocked or numbed by blood or guts, we are more focused on the characters’ emotions and their reactions to the violence. It’s superb, and I am so sad we’re nearing the end!
The next episode airs March 12, 2023, on HBO Max.