We’re here at last, the penultimate episode of The Last of Us. It’s felt like it has flown by in what has been a whirlwind series so far. With that said, have you seen Episode 8 of The Last of Us? Let me know in the comments below.
In the PS4 and subsequent PS5 remake, the Winter section was a tough and brutal stretch of the story that cemented Ellie’s and Joel’s relationship insofar as the violence they would commit to protect one another. Despite being flawed, Episode 8 is still a difficult and sobering watch that ties Joel and Ellie’s bond in blood.
The penultimate episode of the series finds Ellie still watching over an injured Joel. However, this is disturbed when she finds two strangers from a nearby improvised community who are attempting to steal her food. After a tense standoff, the three agree that in exchange for some medicine, the pair can take half of her food. However, the leader of the community, David (Scott Shephard), may have other plans for the young girl.
In what has been a fantastically consistent and exceptional show so far felt like it took a step down this week. Part of this comes from the rushed approach to the story and elements where the active experience of the video game trumped the inherent passivity of the medium.
The choice of distilling several hours-long sections into less than an hour of television, the story loses something in translation. Part of this comes from the gameplay being quite impactful in what they were saying about the character. For example, the final confrontation between David and Ellie was a terrifying experience that aligns the player with Ellie’s fear. But in the show, it plays like a sped third-act sequence from a slasher movie.
The same could be said about the portrayal of David. While the character fits within the grand scheme of the show’s theme of how leaders within insurgent groups function, I think they overegged the pudding on him. Part of this does come from the mentioned rushed approach, which goes from 0-60 on the ultimate reveal. At the same time, there’s a lot revealed about David that feels like it muddies the water on what they’re trying to say about him.
He’s someone who starts as a Maths teacher, whose very logic-based, finds religion but has darker tendencies, is willing to do unspeakable things to keep his community alive, and ultimately fakes his belief to keep order. I suppose you could take all that and interpret him as someone who perpetuates a cycle of abuse and evil (within a religious context in a post-apocalyptic setting). But that feels like quite a stretch and quite a cliché in what has felt like a nuanced show so far. I think I prefer the simplicity of the character in the game whose more predatory predilections were confined to subtext rather than overt declaration.
But for what it’s worth, the performances of the episode provide some semblance of emotion that filled this section of the video game. In particular, Bella Ramsey was a force of nature in her completely dangerous edge as someone who could commit violence within a heartbeat. Pedro Pascal was incredible in conveying a subtle sense of quiet desperation. And it was great to see Troy Baker (the actor for Joel in the videogame) in a supporting turn that illustrated so much in the flickers of eye movements and still moments of contemplation.