“A worthless man, a wicked man, walks about with crooked speech, winking his eyes, signaling with his feet, pointing his finger, with a twisted heart he devises evil and sows discord continually; therefore calamity will come upon him suddenly; in a moment it will be broken beyond repair.”
~ Proverbs 6:12-15
Sunday night’s episode The last of us is the best yet in HBO’s adaptation of the hit PlayStation game. It’s also as close to a direct adaptation as you can get, and comes very close to how the events unfold in the source material.
In both the game and the show, Ellie meets David (played here by Scott Shepherd) and James (played by Troy Baker, the original Joel from the game!) and gets medicine from them. Here Ellie has killed a deer that David and James want and she is holding them at gunpoint to get them to leave. David suggests bargaining with her and sends James to get penicillin. But it doesn’t take long for him to realize that she is one of the people implicated in the death of her compatriot(s). James wants to kill her, but David lets her go.
In both the game and the show, David later organizes a search party and they search for Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) the next day, eventually tracking them down and bringing Ellie back captive to their settlement, where she wakes up locked in a cage, only to discover that these are no ordinary bandits, but cannibals. Lots of little details differ throughout, but all the basics of the story remain roughly the same.
Joel manages to wake up from his daze thanks to the antibiotics and fights off his attackers by taking two prisoners before torturing them to find out where Ellie is. Once he has the information he needs, he kills them by stabbing one and killing the other with a whistle. Here we see Joel as he is in the game: Far more brutal, more violent, less prone to doubt. I think we should have seen more of this version of Joel up to this point. It would have made his confession to Tommy stronger. But I think it helps underscore how far he’s willing to go to protect Ellie, his surrogate daughter.
One of the biggest differences between the show and the game is David’s role as a preacher in the adaptation. He’s not one in the game, but he’s still the leader of this group. On the show, he slips his mask on for Ellie, revealing that he’s not even a true believer. He’s a violent and charismatic man who knows how to get what he wants. If not through persuasion and charm, then through violence and a willingness to do anything, no matter how depraved. He’s making it increasingly clear that he wants Ellie, not just as a friend or follower, not just to help guide him, but sexually. She plays into it before breaking his finger.
Small details – like his threat to chop her into tiny pieces – come straight from the game. So does the mantra “Everything happens for a reason.”
James and David come back and drag her to the butcher block when she refuses to join in and cooperate. She manages to grab the cleaver and hack James in the neck with it, killing him. She flees and David pursues her into the dining room, where she throws a burning log at him, setting the curtains on fire. (In the game, a lantern falls over).
David chases her, taunts her until she rushes him and stabs him with a kitchen knife. He knocks her to the ground and kicks her as she tries to crawl towards the cleaver. He then holds her and tells her that he likes it best when she fights back. Again, this differs from the game, which contains no explicit threats of rape. A lot is implied about David’s true intentions towards Ellie in the game, but the show makes it more obvious.
He’s over her and the room is on fire and Joel still hasn’t found them, although he did find the bodies hanging, drained of blood (near their horse’s body, which obviously wasn’t left to rot). Desperate, Ellie reaches behind her and grabs what was thrown away. She hacks David off – then jumps on him and hacks him over and over and over.
In the game, David has a machete and Ellie has her switchblade. Weapons change here, but only slightly. Almost everything else is the same.
Covered in blood, Ellie flees the burning building. Joel finds her and grabs her and she freaks out, clearly scared and traumatized. He pulls her to him. “It’s me,” he says. “It’s okay baby girl.” He pulls her into a protective embrace and they shuffle through the snow, away from this evil place and its evil men, back into the forest, into the icy expanse.
Towards the fireflies and salvation.
This was a powerful and disturbing episode. Showrunners Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann did well to stick so closely to the game this time, as it was one of the most intense and memorable clashes of the original. I think it was a mistake to split episode 6 and episode 8 with an entire flashback episode. That lost a lot of momentum, and while I liked Ellie and Riley’s story, I think it would have worked more as a series of flashbacks within Episode 7 than as a whole.
The suspense in this episode really captured the suspense and dread the game generates throughout – something I’ve argued was lacking in the last few episodes of the show. The terrifying nature of David and his men, the feeling that the whole world is frozen and inhospitable and dangerous, the desperate struggle to survive – all this combined made this the best episode of the series’ main story yet (I still love the Bill and Frank episode, but it was more of an interlude than part of the main plot).
All in all, a powerful, if deeply disturbing, episode of The last of us. In a way it really makes me believe even more that the Kathleen subplot was a mistake and that Fear – and a lot more infected! – should have played a bigger role up to this point. This episode was compelling in a way most of this season just wasn’t, at least for the first three episodes.
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previous last of us Review/reviews from me:
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