WARNING: Spoilers for The Last of Us Episode 8
Did you forget you were watching a horror drama for a second? I got so caught up in the drama and suspense that I completely forgot about Ellie’s darkest chapter in the game. Episode 8 is one of the sickest (and best) episodes of the show.
We are introduced to a grieving town ravaged by food shortages led by a preacher named David. It is not immediately clear whether this is the same David from the game or not, so I didn’t go in assuming anything. This is one of the few times we get to see what it’s like to be on the other side of Ellie and Joel’s wake as the wife and daughter of the raider that stabbed Joel mourn his life as a father and husband, not a raider. His daughter even wishes death on the killers. Moments like these remind us that everyone on this show is a human being. Even the ones we hate.
Ellie struggles to keep Joel alive in his weakened state as she herself starves. She is forced to use the skills Joel taught her to hunt alone. After wounding a hefty buck, she comes across the body at the same time as two strange men from the above town: David and his right-hand man, James.
This gives us another near-perfect side-by-side comparison from this scene to the game.
Scott Shepherd does a terrifyingly good job at bringing the creep that is David to life. Here we get more sickening clarity. In the game he isn’t directly outed a pedophile, although it can be easily assumed. The show however, makes his vile intentions much more apparent; although they are still somewhat concealed for the majority of the episode.
Troy Baker (who mysteriously looks like if Seth Green and Benedict Cumberbatch had a secret love child in the photo below) does a good job at playing the calm-vengeful type with James. But seeing as how he played Joel in the video games, he’s had a little practice at that. It goes to show that no one is innocent, and even our "heroes" are adversaries from someone else's perspective.
Ellie tries her best to run off the men, but there are too many of them and one of them manages to shoot her off her horse and knock her unconscious. As men gathered around to kill her (showing how vengeful these starving, so-called Christians are) before David swoops in to save her for... not-so-heroic reasons.
After Ellie is taken by David, Joel manages to pull himself together enough to brutally murder one villager (in self-defense) and torture two others. His true colors show once again in the darkest performance from Pedro Pascal all season. The torture scene was almost identical to the game, too. I thought all the actors here did a great job of really making me feel the pain Joel was inflicting. It shows what Joel is truly capable of when you mess with someone he loves, regardless of him bleeding out. Pedro manages to portray menace and exhaustion at the same time, leaving me hating and loving Joel’s character just a little more. He manages to get the location of the town Ellie is in before voluntarily killing both hostages. It seems dark and cold of him, but anyone left alive and pissed off are potential threats down the line.
I’m also not fully convinced he didn't enjoy it.
As Ellie tries to get out of her cage, she notices a severed ear under a butcher's table in the room. This reveals that not only is David an abusive pedophile, but a cannibal as well. He even feeds human flesh to his flock unbeknownst to most of them. It really adds a layer of disgust the second time watching the episode, showing the incredible attention to detail the crew put into this work of art.
Ellie’s able to lean into David’s disgusting desires as she attempts to get his keys, breaking his finger and delivering one of the best lines from the game:
“Tell them Ellie is the name of the little girl.. that BROKE YOUR FUCKING FINGER!”
Meanwhile, Joel comes across Ellie’s backpack, their dead horse (R.I.P. HORSEY), and a stockpile of bodies hanging in the ice, confirming that they have for sure been eating people for sometime now. Thoughts swirl that Ellie might be dead given how the bodies are decapitated (and one is a small female like her). Joel's deepest fears are realized once again. If his new daughter wasn’t already dead, she would be if he didn’t hold on a little tighter.
Bella Ramsey embodies Ellie in these last few scenes and it really exposes her darkest side. Watching her Manipulate David into thinking she was infected (and now so was he) long enough to put a meat cleaver into James’s neck was a real (yet gruesome) treat.
She runs and hides, sometimes crouching to sneak around (just like in the game) waiting for a shot at David. She’s finally able to stab him in the ribs, but her anger is so strong that she can’t conceal her prancing screams. David gets on top of Ellie and really proves why Scott Shepherd got the roll. His performance was so good that the man may need to be investigated. I was scared for not only Ellie, but Bella Ramsey for having to experience that. Hopefully it only took a few takes. Whoever said actors don’t work lied.
Regardless of how scary David was in this scene, Ellie’s horror shines the brightest when she switches roles and manages to get on top of David... with the cleaver. As she turned him into ground beef (presumably for a later meal for the town) the whole scene is shot from David’s perspective allowing us to see just how terrifying Ellie can be.
Unlike the game where Joel stops Ellie mid clever swing, Ellie is able to grind him up just as much as she desires and doesn’t see Joel again until they cross paths outside in what is perhaps the most emotional scene of the show. Her eyes were scary to look into and her screams of pain and rage are so realistic and powerful.
When Joel sees Ellie he can tell she’s been through some shit and grabs her to hold and protect her, but Ellie is so deep into her trauma that she isn’t with her physical body for a moment and tries to shove Joel off of her too. Both Pedro Pascal’s role as the empathetic father and Bella Ramsey’s role as the hurting daughter were phenomenal and this scene didn’t just conjure up a cry from me, it conjured up the kind of cry you don’t want people seeing. The kind where you don’t expect it so you are already on the exhale and now you are gasping for breath.
The lack of infected in the last few episodes has been a little bit of a let down. This is supposedly a "zombie" show after all. However, it’s pretty easy to overlook that when the stories being produced are this good. More great performances all around and it’s even sicker the second time you watch. I am impressed with Craig Mazin’s ability to turn a full game arc into a 50 minute episode without it feeling forced or rushed. Episode 8 is damn-near flawless. Only one more episode to round off this near-perfect first season.