By Ben Konuch
“But if you can’t find a way to trust me, then yes, you are alone.”
What do you do when the person you trust more than anyone else in the world to protect you suddenly leaves you alone and vulnerable in a world desperate to tear you apart? This is the terrifying reality that Ellie has to face in episode eight of “The Last of Us,” which seeks to adapt one of the most emotional and controversial segments of the game and does so in an uncomfortable yet masterful fashion.
Joel is still struggling to recover from his injury and while he’s stabilized, the wound has become infected and winter has set in. To save both him and herself, Ellie goes out into the snow to try and hunt for food and scavenge for supplies. This is where she meets David, the leader of a nearby community.
What first seems like a tentative trust becomes growing unease as David reveals that the raiders who wounded Joel came from their community which is outraged at the death of one of their own at Joel’s hands. Despite this, David still gives Ellie the supplies she needs to survive.
This isn’t an act of goodwill, though, as his men follow Ellie back and take her captive while the rest try to find and kill Joel. Sickening revelations about David and how he’s kept his people fed are revealed as Ellie is held prisoner by a man whose intentions make him more of a monster than the infected. Meanwhile, Joel picks off the search party in a surprisingly brutal fashion and figures out where Ellie is being kept, only to arrive right after she’s had to escape and stop David on her own.
Everything in this episode clicks into place beautifully, with tense action, beautiful cinematography and some of the best performances we’ve gotten all season. Scott Shephard plays David with unsettling nuance, leaning into the persona of a “nice guy” until he’s in control of the situation and rips away his mask to show his anger and violence. He channels the charisma of a cult leader into David so that we know he’s rotten, but can almost be taken in by his soft and gentle mask.
In addition, his right-hand man James is played by Troy Baker, who voiced Joel in the videogame. Baker gives some intricate depth and nonverbal acting to a character who could have easily been a throwaway henchman.
Ellie is forced to survive on her own and we learn along with her in the hardest way possible that she has what it takes to endure and survive. Bella Ramsey completely dominates this episode in her portrayal of Ellie, showing the fear, uncertainty, bravery, desperation and horror of not just surviving a tragedy but keeping going after. She shows a side of her we haven’t seen before, a capacity for violence and brutality that mirrors Joel’s own in a way. For any fans who questioned Bella Ramsey’s casting as Ellie, this episode shows exactly why she was the perfect fit for Ellie.
This episode also alleviates some of my concerns about Joel’s character. When he recovers from his coma and finds out that his new daughter figure is in danger, he goes off the edge in a way we haven’t seen before. The nightmare that he told Tommy about has come true because he’s woken up from painful dreams and he’s found out he’s lost something. Not only does his response to this show Joel’s lethality in how he’s able to take out multiple raiders while still recovering from a serious wound, but it also shows how “The Last of Us” isn’t afraid to be brutal when it needs to be.
This episode shows clearly how Joel is an absolute nightmare to go up against, and while “The Last of Us” has failed to show that in earlier episodes, it’s now clear that this is on purpose. In his conversation with Tommy Joel was clear about how he’s changed, how his age has kept him back and his relationship with Ellie has given him fear, but now that he’s opening up to loving her, the side of him that he thought was lost has come back. Joel is opening up to love, but love can also be a dangerous and consuming thing if those who feel it hold onto it the wrong kind of way.
The way this episode ends is also one of the best sequences of television I’ve seen in a long time. It is a fantastic piece of character development that’s fueled by intricately crafted high emotions and ends with a shocking and heartbreaking act of warranted savagery that completely devastated Ellie.
The performances are worthy of awards in these final moments, as Pedro Pascal puts every ounce of fatherly love and compassion into Joel, and Bella Ramsey’s Ellie is completely hollow and haunted by what she’s done.
As the two leave the violence and the pain in the ashes behind them, the bond between Joel and Ellie has come together in a way that never seemed possible before – even if what brought them there will leave scars on both of them for a long time. It all comes down to what comes next, with Salt Lake City and the Fireflies and the end of their journey looming over the horizon.
I give “The Last of Us” episode eight a 10/10
“The Last of Us” is now streaming on HBO Max
Ben Konuch is a sophomore Strategic Communication student and an A&E writer for Cedars. He enjoys getting sucked into good stories, playing video games and hanging out with crazy MuKappa friends.
Images courtesy of HBO Max