Spoilers from the outset for this review of HBO’s adaptation of The Last Of Us.
Beneath a glorious mountain vista is the Silver Lake Resort. A furious winter storm rages, unrelenting and unforgiving. We hear a passage from Revelations 21, read by the voice of Scott Shepherd, the actor tasked with bringing one of the most despicable villains from The Last Of Us to life, David. As he later declares, he’s the shepherd among his sheep, and the first scene of the episode neatly demonstrates this line of dialogue. He walks among his people inside an old steakhouse restaurant, reading from a Bible as he struggles to maintain morale and faith with his fellow survivors. A young woman, Hannah, cries during his reading, and he consoles her. Her father was the man killed by Joel at the university, which led to Joel becoming wounded. She asks David about burying her father, a request he dismisses since the ground has frozen. After the meeting, he speaks with James (an unkempt, far from glamorous Troy Baker) about their dwindling food supplies, which may only last another two weeks.
The mood between David and James is as cold as the weather. David questions James on whether he has doubts about his leadership. James stays faithful. Word has spread through the resort that a deer was spotted a couple of miles away, and with James, David heads out to find it. Ellie tends to Joel, still wounded from the university attack, and with their supplies depleted, Ellie goes hunting. She finds a white rabbit, the same bunny famously killed by an arrow in a game cutscene. The adaptation tweaks the scene, sparing the rabbit. Ellie gives chase and trips, landing face-first into the snow. Ellie tracks and shoots a deer, the animal you spend considerable time chasing before it finally succumbs to its wounds in the game. However, Ellie fails to reach the animal first. David and James arrive instead. Unsure whether someone will claim the dead deer, the two intend to take it right before Ellie seizes them at gunpoint. Ramsey’s take on Ellie in this scene is delivered with more edge than the source material, but the dialogue is almost entirely word-for-word. Ellie’s threats to put a bullet between David’s eyes and describing James as a “buddy boy” remain the same.
With a hesitant James sent to retrieve penicillin for Ellie, David drags the deer into a derelict outbuilding, and they make a fire. David offers Ellie, who declines to give her name, a place within their group, and her guard remains up. David considers himself a preacher who discovered God after the pandemic. In a past life, curiously, he was a teacher, a little factoid entirely original to the adaptation. The teacher-turned-preacher also believes in the philosophy that everything that happens happens for a reason. He explains that some time ago, he’d sent a group of men to find supplies at the University of Eastern Colorado, and those who returned described a crazy man travelling with a teenage girl. Understanding the implication, Ellie brings her rifle up as James reappears, gun drawn. David’s insistence to give Ellie the medicine is met with a dagger stare from James, whose faith is almost definitely beginning to waver now. Ellie is presented with one final chance to join David’s group for protection but flees.
Back with Joel, Ellie gives him a dose of penicillin before resting her head on his chest. As night falls, David and James return to the camp, deer in tow. In a kitchen, as members of David’s “flock” ration out their reserves, another man enters with a tray of what he claims to be venison. His hesitance should tell you there is no way it’s venison. David assures the group that a raiding party will be sent out to find Joel and Ellie, while Hannah insists they should kill Joel for murdering her father. In response, David hits Hannah. Speaking like a father to his child, David reinforces his desire for respect whenever he talks. David has imposed an authoritarian atmosphere amongst his party. Rising from her seat, Hannah’s mother remains pliant under David’s glare, despite his actions against her daughter. After a prayer, the group begins to eat, shovelling down what we can assume is a dodgy human delicacy. Ribs, anyone?
The following day, after tending to Joel and feeding the horse (they never named it Callus, shame), Ellie catches sight of David’s group and leads them away from her hideout. She compels Joel to take a knife and urges him to wake up, informing him of the approaching group. James tracks Ellie and kills the horse, sending Ellie somersaulting to the ground. He’s prevented from killing her by David. He wants her alive while James seeks revenge, creating more tension between the two. After interrogating and killing members of David’s group, Joel learns of Ellie’s location. It’s the brutal torture-by-popping-kneecaps sequence from the source material. After waking up inside a cage, Ellie discovers to her horror, the remains of a human ear beneath a table. There’s a look of resigned acceptance from David as he sees what she sees. The venison was definitely not venison, called it. David coolly admits that his group had devolved into cannibalism, deeming it a “last resort” that only a select number of the group know about. Joel later finds decapitated bodies hanging in a resort outbuilding.
David argues that his choices were limited since his people would have starved otherwise. David says when he looks at Ellie, she reminds him of himself, praising her loyalty and intelligence, considering her a natural, and sometimes violent leader. In what might be one of the best lines created for the adaptation, David admits to being violent-hearted, a trait he believes Ellie shares. For most of his life, David had struggled with his darkness before the Cordyceps pandemic changed his worldview. He says the fungal life-form secures its future with violence in much the same way human beings do. It’s an intriguing justification, but his actions throughout the episode are no less appalling. As mentioned earlier, David compares himself to a shepherd herding his sheep and deems Ellie as his equal, someone he alludes to having a deep affection for (since he openly suggested the Cordyceps also possess the capacity for love). David tells Ellie he can call off his group from searching for Joel. Ellie appears to sway in favour of joining David, approaching the cage, which we know is a ruse to seize his keys at the right moment. David makes a chilling attempt to court Ellie into a relationship, suggesting that the two could build a future for the group, touching her hand through the cage bars.
Instead, Ellie breaks his finger and tries to go for his keys. Enraged, David utters the C word, a first for the HBO adaptation. He later returns with James and prepares to kill Ellie. She’s bitten David in the struggle and reveals her infection. She succeeds in escaping, killing James with a meat cleaver, but becomes trapped in the steakhouse restaurant. Clutching nothing more than a piece of firewood and a small knife, Ellie is hunted through the restaurant. The firewood is ill-timely thrown at David and sends the restaurant up in flames. She wounds David with the knife before becoming overpowered in a fight. His remark to Ellie that he enjoys her struggle is horrifying, and as he grabs his belt, Ellie grasps the meat cleaver and kills him. Ellie must land twenty to thirty blows on him in a panicked, hyper-violent attack. A red mist fogs the screen with each strike of the cleaver as Ramsey screams with all the fury and anger in the world. After escaping the restaurant, Joel rescues Ellie, and they retreat into the winter storm. He refers to her as his “baby girl.”
Episode 8 is definitely, from a thematic point of view, the most sinister chapter to emerge from the adaptation. Themes of religion and the grim subject of cannibalism are only outmatched by David’s warped worldview of courting a teenage girl into a relationship to build a thriving future within his group’s settlement. All of the above are stealthily written, but no amount of consideration can make these scenes any less disturbing and subdue audience unease. It is, however, what makes this episode so powerful and unforgettable.
Scott Shepherd’s teacher-to-preacher performance is uniquely different from Nolan North’s motion capture from the game. He’s as awful and repulsive as they come, but his interpretation of this unhinged cannibal is equal to the video game counterpart. Ramsey captivates with her ruthless attack on David in the final, dreadful moments of the episode. It’s another brilliant performance by the actress. Aside from religion, the episode is blessed with enchanting cinematography, a cute rabbit that lives to fight another day, and some intriguing context to David and James’s fraught friendship. Plus, Joel and the lead pipe, brutal.
If you want to read more of our The Last of Us content, you can check out our Episode 7 review here.