After yet another heartbreaking love story, this time via Ellie flashback, The Last of Us returns to the present during a long and hard winter. Ellie is trying to nurse Joel back to health while also acquiring enough food for the two of them. They’ll soon find that they will have more to worry about besides the bitter cold.
The episode opens with a group of survivors who are led by a religious and charismatic figure named David (Scott Shepherd). Things are dire and they only have their faith to keep them going despite depleted resources and losses to the flock. It’s the search for food that brings them into contact with our protagonists.
The initial crossing of paths demonstrates how much Ellie has grown on The Last of Us. She is still as foul mouthed as ever, but there is a mature presence about her. Taking a page out of Joel’s playbook, she approaches David and his right-hand man James (played by the original Joel, Troy Baker), with a calm but firm demeanor. You believe the authority and command in her voice. Yet she is open to negotiations and is able to spin the situation to her benefit eventually obtaining antibiotics.
David, and by extension his flock, are a mixed bag when it comes to villains. Their dark secret isn’t anything new to the zombie genre, however the reveal is much more enjoyable than the video game. It’s not as overt to help play up Ellie’s shock and terror when she finds out. There’s something disturbing finding a small remnant, especially with what The Last of Us chooses to leave behind, to learn their proclivities.
For his part, Shepherd delivers chilling dialog during David’s first interactions with Ellie. The moment he reveals he knows who she and Joel are sends a tingle up your spine. It’s a shame that he turns one note into stereotypical unhinged bad guy. There are glimpses of his sadistic behavior when he slaps a young child that questions his leadership, but The Last of Us had to make him more perverse with his infatuation with Ellie. Other than shock factor, it doesn’t add anything more to the story.
Similarly, the religious angle, which is a change from the source material, doesn’t pay off. Particularly because the group isn’t that pious. They are hell bent on revenge and are deep down like any other group of raiders. You’ll do whatever it takes to survive in the apocalypse, but it all rings hollow when you recite scripture and act sanctimonious. David’s people seem more to tolerate the holier than though attitude, and the narrative could have benefited from playing their growing dissatisfaction towards their leader.
You wouldn’t want to be on Joel’s bad side in The Last of Us. He is a man on a mission once he discovers Ellie is missing, and his actions might make you feel uncomfortable. He has an extreme yet cool kill while still recovering but we see more of that darker side of his from the past. The interrogation is a call back to the opening of “Kin“, but he lacks the level headedness and compassion he had with the Native American couple. These are the desperate actions of not someone fulfilling a friend’s last wish, but of a father searching for his daughter.
The final act sees the confrontation between Ellie and Dave. It’s tense and instinctual as our young hero does everything she can to survive a much larger assailant. Her primal actions are jarring for someone so young and the trauma will surely affect her. At least the reunion with Joel and the comfort he creates provides a bright spot to the ending. Hopefully the warm embrace and being called “baby girl” can bring Ellie back from the edge.
Episode eight is one of the harder ones to watch with its overly violent nature and disturbing themes, but the emotional reunification of its leads offers a ray of hope.
New episodes of The Last of Us air Sundays on HBO.
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