HBO’s Episode 8 of The Last of Us ruins one of the game’s best villains

Enlarge / He looks nice…


New episodes of The last of us will air every Sunday night on HBO, and Ars’ Kyle Orland (who played the games) and Andrew Cunningham (who didn’t play) will talk about it here every Monday morning. While these recaps don’t delve into every single plot point of the episode, there obviously are heavy spoilers included, so watch the episode first if you want to jump in fresh.

kyle: So far, for the most part, I think so last of us The TV show did a good job fleshing out the game’s story without really ruining the key moments. That didn’t really happen in this episode.

In the games we get a quick cut from the events of Episode 6 to Ellie chasing deer in the snow. When we first take direct control of Ellie, we don’t even know if the invisible Joel is alive or dead.

We also don’t know about the mild-mannered stranger named David, whom Ellie stumbles upon while hunting. He even seems like a plausible Joel replacement during their team’s early, accessible portions of the game.

Seeing everything from Ellie’s perspective really adds to the tension and mystery of David’s entire arc, and I feel like the show kind of ruined that pace here.

Andrew: Even without knowing how this plays out in game, I agree that this episode felt super rushed and uneven in a way that makes me even more frustrated with last week’s flashback episode. Not that last week’s episode was bad! But this arc clearly wanted another episode to breathe like the Kansas City Arc got. Instead, we need to cram all of this stuff into a single hour.

David suffers the most. It’s like the show has to red flag him to make sure viewers really don’t like him or feel bad for him, but it also makes him a cartoon character on a show where most of the antagonists already were small apartment.

We need a more interesting characterization...
Enlarge / We need a more interesting characterization…


kyle: The whole Preacher subplot is entirely new to the series as far as I can tell, as is David’s bewildering vision of a violent teenager as a partner in leading the flock. I can understand why they wanted to give cannibalism some traction, but yeah it’s a different situation where the red flags are a bit too overt.

Andrew: Yes, there are a few spots on a TV show where I’m more willing and able to suspend disbelief — like when Joel goes from lying on his back and insane with an infection to a full-on Rambo killing-spree within 45 minutes. It would take a long time to show and observe a more realistic recovery! Boring!

But I didn’t believe for even a split second that Ellie was in any danger of ganging up on this creepy fundamentalist/mushroom cultist/kid bully/cannibal, and it makes it even weirder that the final sequence between them is designed to be this big emotional show down

And besides… did this fellowship have many other people in it? Where did you go? A more organic and satisfying version might have let David’s own community see what a creep he is and turn against him, rather than a big dramatic one-on-one confrontation between David and Ellie in the world’s most combustible restaurant. It doesn’t sound like that’s how the games work, but it also sounds like the character is just handled fundamentally differently.

Just hang out...
Enlarge / Just hang out…


kyle: Not getting a resolution to what is happening to this community of people whose cult leader has now been violently killed seems like a pretty big dangling plot thread.

Here’s my main question for someone new to the game: Have you ever felt that David might just be a nice guy and someone that Ellie could rightly trust and/or lose her guard against? I feel like the game went to great lengths to push the player in that direction for a while before heel-turning, and it just didn’t work for me here. Then again, I knew some of David’s dark secrets from the start…

Andrew: I don’t think the audience should think that David could ever be a good guy. The scene where you meet him is too full of meaningful looks and ominous pauses and obvious fear on the part of the other people in the community.

The first scene where David and Ellie meet, on the other hand – I could see it! David (played by Scott Shepherd, a fairly prolific character actor who has one of those “What did I see him with?” faces) has a certain reassuring avuncular vibe. Unfortunately, we’ve already seen too many bad guy markers from him before you even found out he read To Serve Man.

That gun looks a little heavy, Ellie...
Enlarge / That gun looks a little heavy, Ellie…


kyle: Where this episode follows the games pretty closely is in that it leans more towards the “torture porn” side of the equation than any part of the story has done so far. Not that there wasn’t a lot of violence before, but watching Joel torture and kill two prisoners with no remorse, and Ellie’s own fast-hacking-and-revenge really takes it to a new level. It also lets you see both characters in a disturbing new light I think.

Andrew: Joel is clearly drawn by both his beginning acceptance of Ellie-as-a-daughter character (his “little girl” when they finally meet again is extremely charged) and his established trust-nobody view of life after the apocalypse driven. But that doesn’t make it any less uncomfortable to watch. This is an outdated reference, but it reminded me of Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer from the War On Terror era 24. Sure he tortures people, and sure he seems just a hair too excited about it, but he gets results!!

And you’re right that Ellie’s slaughter of David at the end of the episode takes a little too long to console. I’m just not sure what to make of it. Certainly, Ellie was traumatized in the way that the story could possibly need it. It’s not like David was close enough to actually betray her. Between the two, Joel and Ellie use enough violence in this episode to sour their tearful reunion a bit. This isn’t really where I wanted to go in the season finale of a show I otherwise liked the most.

kyle: There’s definitely a certain “War on Terror” mentality creeping into the narrative of decades past, sure.

Who doesn't love a good stealth range?
Enlarge / Who doesn’t love a good stealth range?


Andrew: That was where the company ended, something the series references occasionally but doesn’t pick too much. We had a 9/11 reference and a Pearl Jam album with a lot of anti-Bush stuff on it, so the US probably invaded Iraq about six months before society collapsed.

kyle: Now I’m wondering if Osama bin Laden’s lair was relatively safe from the infected. Depends on how much cordyceps infused flour they imported I guess?

Andrew: I want to learn more about how the world outside of the US is dealing with the apocalypse. Maybe we would have done that in the old days of 22-episode seasons.

kyle: Which I think has become a pretty big pacing issue with the show. New characters appeared in the games and stayed for a while, and you never quite knew when they would reappear (usually with a violent death). Here the structure means that the “here’s a new character, they’ll be dead by the end of this episode (or maybe the next)” pattern has become way too obvious…

However, all of this death has evolved towards the grand finale. Without spoiling it, I’m wondering if you even remember where Joel and Ellie are wandering to at this point and do you have any big predictions for the final episode?

Oh yes, Troy Baker is here too.
Enlarge / Oh yes, Troy Baker is here too.


Andrew: They still have to get their magical blood to some Firefly-affiliated scientists! The only thing I’m confident enough to say is that they will finally get where they want to be and the scientists will end up becoming cranks who aren’t quite on the same level.

I like to be positively surprised! Maybe the show settled into that predictable rhythm to make it extra gorgeous next week when all the scientists end up being super chilled and professional.

kyle: Do not set your expectations too high, but the bottom line The Last of Us Part One is what elevates it to the level of an All Time Great game for me, so I’m looking forward to seeing this team of actors and producers make it happen.

Andrew: It’s too late, you set my expectations too high! If I don’t like the finale, it’s your fault.

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