The Last of Us: Episode 8 Review

Episode 8 of HBO’s The Last of Us plunges us into new depths of depravity as a Colorado resort proves that Hell can indeed freeze over. Scott Shepherd’s David is a suitably chilling adversary for Bella Ramsey, who finds yet more layers within Ellie in an hour of television that’s hard to take your eyes off. It’s the show’s most disturbing chapter yet, and the closest we’ve come to true horror despite there not being an infected in sight.

We’ve seen glimpses throughout the series, but Episode 8 is where The Last of Us fully commits to showing us humanity’s ability to descend into barbarism. The introduction of David spearheads this; a cannibal paedophile, he really is ticking off all the things on a checklist written in Hell – traits made all the more disturbing by the reveal of his former life as a teacher. We don’t know at what point he turned into this monster but, despite his claims of empathy for the cordyceps due to their ability to connect on an emotional level, it’s clear he’s chosen to embrace the darkness and reject what humanity remains within him.

It’s a concept mirrored by the episode’s grisly end where Ellie embraces that same darkness by unleashing a cleaver over 20 times into David’s skull. It’s an alarming moment of violence framed in a stunning shot – the fire burning as Ellie takes out all of the pent-up anger and hurt from everything she’s lost on David’s progressively pulped face. It’s Ellie’s first human kill and one that comes when she thinks all is lost. It’s all too clear that what small shred of innocence still lived within her dies with him.

Despite David’s claims that he sees as part of himself in Ellie, she’s not yet fully divorced herself from the humanity that he has left behind. This is shown in the highly impactful final moments of the chapter when Joel holds her in a display that proves neither is ready to forfeit the love they’ve discovered for each other. Bella Ramsey and Pedro Pascal are once again astounding in a poignant outpouring of anger, relief, and tenderness – Joel’s panicked mutterings of “baby girl” a stark reminder of what he lost 20 years ago.

Bella Ramsey and Pedro Pascal are once again astounding in a poignant outpouring of anger, relief, and tenderness.

To an extent, Joel and David are two sides of the same coin, albeit operating at different ends of the moral spectrum. Both proxy fathers, they are determined to look after those put under their care, employing violent methods to achieve their aims. We’ve heard whispers of Joel’s questionable past throughout the series, but the way he dispatches his two hostages is the first time we see him fully step over that moral line and a crucial moment in us realising that he will do anything to keep Ellie safe. It’s a flash of brutal fury that we needed to see from Pascal’s Joel too, who on the whole has felt like a softer interpretation compared to Troy Baker’s rendition in the game. Both are equally enjoyable and nuanced in their own way, but for the payoff of this story to really land, seeing a darker side of Joel feels necessary.

That’s not to say Joel is anything approaching the horror that is David. Scott Shepherd is superb as this episode’s antagonist, reflecting the chilling, cult-like nature of the group he leads. An extra sinister string added to his bow for the show is the introduction of the preacher angle, which leads to him cutting shapes not dissimilar to The Prophet from HBO’s post-apocalyptic drama Station Eleven – another equally fascinatingly layered threat.

We know that living in this world is not easy, but feeding an oblivious young girl her own father in a stew really isn’t a sign of a good person, is it? The way the group silently eats in the cold, lifeless surroundings of the restaurant is in sharp contrast to the welcoming warmth that Joel and Ellie experienced in Jackson two episodes ago. This dinner scene provides a fascinating look into the community’s dynamic as members of David’s inner circle nervously nibble away at what they know isn’t venison. There’s a guilt present in the eyes of David’s right-hand man, James (played by Troy Baker, Joel of the original game) that suggests he isn’t 100% supportive of these methods. It’s in contrast to David who gleefully tucks into a serving much larger than anyone else’s – showing us that he’s far beyond the point of letting this barbarism play on his conscience.

Some of the imagery itself may be firmly ugly, but it’s beautifully shot.

Some of the imagery itself may be firmly ugly, but it’s beautifully shot – once again evoking picturesque westerns as well as more modern grisly horror films. The camerawork and set design does a great job of giving us a real sense of place as you can practically feel how harsh the conditions are as the wind makes snow scurry across the lake and dank backrooms drip with death. The look is supported by the sensational score – in particular, the pulsating electronic beats that soundtrack Ellie’s short-lived horseback escape, which evoke the sci-fi surges of Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch’s Blade Runner 2049 score.

Despite the episode ending in a flurry of violence as David is dispatched and Baker is butchered (leaving us only a candlestick maker short of the set) much of this chapter is dedicated to the ever-winding tension that plays out between David and Ellie. Both actors excel in getting across their character’s mistrust of one another whether at gunpoint or caged up. Ellie may have taken on the lessons she learned from Joel in terms of how to confront strangers, but she forgot Maria’s crucial words on those we place trust in being the ones who hurt us.

In the game, Ellie and David build their bond over an extended period of time as they fight off hordes of infected in a Resident Evil 4 shelter-defence homage. It is a shame to see this thrilling action scene left of the cutting room floor, but what takes its place is a fascinating conversation in which we learn more about David’s life than we ever did in the game. While the show often takes away with one hand, it does consistently provide these valuable extra moments of context with the other – further justifying itself as the fantastic adaptation it is.