HBO television series adaptation of The Last of Us is almost redefining television, in a way similar to how Game of Thrones did in the 2010s. How? Through pure character building and the exploration of human conditions under the worst of circumstances. We’ve seen good people survive the apocalypse through love and support in episode 3, with the heartbreaking-yet-uplifting story of Bill and Frank.
Episode 8 sees a community run by straight-up twisted people, exploring how psychological terror can also be used to survive the end of the world… until the gas runs out. Showrunner Craig Mazin, who returns to write Episode 8, “When We Are in Need,” will easily become one of TV’s most sought-after writers by the time The Last of Us wraps its first season.
While Neil Druckmann’s script for the last episode felt like it needed another pass, Mazin’s script this week doesn’t miss. He always takes his time, making the audience wonder where this is going next and asking them for patience, while he builds up this incredible setpiece that will soon become impossible to forget. It is an experience every week to watch the latest episode, and episode 8 (which just scored another viewership record) is the latest to join that party.
SPOILER-FREE GENERAL THOUGHTS
The new episode is mostly focused on the verbal and intellectual fight between Ellie and Scott Shepherd’s David, the religious leader of a small community that is struggling to get past the winter without running out of food. He seems kind and always willing to look after his people — a member of his community passed on recently, and he insists on not burying him just yet, as it’s too cold to dig, and they could freeze to death in the process. So thoughtful, isn’t he? Well…
Ellie also takes a larger role once again this week, cementing that this is her story now and that Joel is now a supporting character. He may not have died from his injury at the end of Episode 6, but in the eyes of the narrative, that was the moment when the leading-character torch was passed on to Ellie.
HBO and Bella Ramsey’s reps will have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to submitting her best work for the next Emmy season — if you thought she was good last week, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. For more specific details, let’s raise some spoiler warnings because there is a lot to discuss!
THE LAST OF US IS A STORY ABOUT PAIN & CONSEQUENCES (SPOILERS AHEAD FOR EPISODE 8)
Episode 8 brings up one of the show’s most terrifying performances so far. Taking a cue from what Melanie Lynskey did with Kathleen in episodes 4-5, Scott Shepherd plays David with a disturbing sense of calmness. During the first few scenes we spend with him, he almost seems genuine in his sense of protection over Ellie, but there are a few things that don’t quite line up with his character. He preaches the Bible and sells himself as a passionate follower of the scriptures, yet he doesn’t hesitate to steal someone else’s food. Of course, it is to protect his own community, so we let it slip right? Not for long.
His delusions of grandeur appear once again a bit later when he goes back to the town and expects cheers and thunderous applause when he brings them actual venison, but he doesn’t get that. Someone will soon pay for that, even if she doesn’t know why. This episode, once again, highlights the weight of the consequences one’s actions can bring, an endless domino effect that will affect everyone. We first saw it with episodes 4 and 5, where Henry sacrificing someone else to save his brother from cancer started a chain of events that ended with everyone dead and an endless string of infected about to storm Kansas City.
Here, Joel protecting Ellie at the end of Episode 6 causes him a near-mortal wound and ends up putting the two of them in the spotlight of this small community that wants to see them dead. This is the pain of speaking and asking for vengeance, an exploration of the human condition that The Last of Us does so well. But this domino effect will hit everyone, sooner rather than later.
David, the community’s leader, will also be put in the spotlight soon, and Ellie will see exactly what is going on. He is a cannibal pedophile, two of the most despicable adjectives we have to describe someone, and while he apologizes for it, he also fully embraces it. He’s been feeding these people lies for who-knows-how-long, and it’s all been to take advantage of them, but not in the traditional sense. The body count he’s left behind will soon catch up to him as will Ellie’s darker side.
One of the most beautiful things about this episode was the use of single lines as needle drops. Mazin’s efficient-yet-unapologetic writing is at its best here with lines, and sometimes words, that will stay with us long after the episode has concluded. Think of “venison,” “The fighting is the part I like the most,” or the biggest one of all, “It’s okay, baby girl.” Just chills.
ONLY ONE MORE EPISODE TO GO
There is a lot that will stay with us from this episode, and a lot of themes and philosophical questions to chew on for the rest of the week while we wait for the finale to air next Sunday. Joel and Ellie’s reunion was one of the most heartwarming scenes of the series, and that’s including the biggest moments from Episodes 3 and 7, and even 5 to an extent.
It is a reminder that the heart and soul of the series reside in the relationship between these two and, as someone not familiar with the story of the game, I cannot wait to see how everything that was set up in these past two of episodes will culminate in the finale. My only desire for this upcoming week is to not be spoiled online.
What did you think of Episode 8 of The Last of Us? Are you also eagerly awaiting the finale? Did you spot Troy Baker’s cameo in the new episode? (He was the actor that played Joel in the video game.) Let us know on our social media, and stay tuned for more The Last of Us content coming soon!