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The Last of Us ep 8.png

'The Last Of Us' Recap: Mystery Meat, It's What's For Dinner!

By Tori Preston | TV | March 6, 2023 |

By Tori Preston | TV | March 6, 2023 |

The Last of Us ep 8.png

In case you haven’t realized it by now, humans are the real monsters. In The Last of Us, sure, but also in pretty much every other piece of zombie fiction, too — not to mention reality, where people are just edging out “gators” in the monster category thanks to war, bigotry, and global warming. If I had to point to what sets The Last of Us apart with its not-so-revolutionary take, I think episode eight, “When We Are In Need,” offers a succinct example. In this episode, Ellie and Joel encounter another new group of survivors, and long, meaningful glances combined with close-ups of meat lead to the inevitable reveal that they’re — GASP! — cannibals. And yet, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone calling this the “cannibalism episode” because that reveal barely registers. It’s one of the least monstrous things that went down this week. Episode eight is the episode where Ellie saves both Joel and herself. It’s the “Ellie gets kidnapped by a creepy preacher who wants to make her his child bride” episode. It’s the one where Ellie beat a dude’s face in, and we cheered because watching her become a monster herself was the better outcome. It’s the trauma episode, thank you very much — and that’s saying something in a show where the nicest thing that has happened so far was a suicide pact. Eating people barely scratches the surface of the real horrors people are capable of.

So why did I lead with a title teasing the cannibalism? Well, funny story. Sometimes I look up what Google search terms are associated with a show, so I can make sure I answer them in my recaps (see Dustin, I do try this whole SEO thing for you). This week, it turned out that a lot of people searched for… venison. So this is where I tell you that venison is deer meat, hence why David and James were so interested in the deer that Ellie shot. They only ate people as a last resort, when they ran out of other meat! Specifically, they ate people like Alec, the dude Joel killed at the end of episode six, only to realize he’d also been shivved. Alec was a member of David’s group, and “Alec” was also a Google Search term, so I’ve just SEO-ed the crap out of this paragraph. Let’s move on. [Publisher’s Note: Thank you!]

The episode picks up with Joel in stable-ish condition, having been stitched up by Ellie in the last episode. Unfortunately, his wound is now infected, and Ellie sets out to hunt in the hopes that feeding him will help. She tracks a deer she wounded through the woods, only to discover two men on the verge of making off with her bounty: David and James. David is the quasi-religious leader of a large group of survivors, and he’s played by Scott Shepherd, an actor who looks painfully familiar but I couldn’t place him until I realized he was Lenny Belardo’s missionary buddy in The Young Pope. And if James, David’s right-hand lackey, sounds painfully familiar to you, it’s because he’s played by Troy Baker, who voiced Joel in the video games! Anyway, David offers to trade with Ellie for the deer meat (venison!), and she demands antibiotics for Joel. Smart girl.

While James heads back to their group for the medicine, David and Ellie hole up in a nearby sawmill to get out of the cold and wait. David seems, at first, like a nice, reasonable guy. He found God after the apocalypse! He’s trying to protect the women and children in his group during this harsh Colorado winter! He even offers to let Ellie join them, but mostly he takes all of Ellie’s snark and f-bombs in stride. He is, frankly, too nice, so it doesn’t come as a huge shock when the other shoe finally drops: The raiders that Joel and Ellie encountered at the University of Eastern Colorado were a part of David’s group. David knows that a crazy man, traveling with a young girl, killed one of their men (named Alec) — and now he knows that crazy man is injured, since Ellie was so desperate for medicine. “Everything happens for a reason,” David says of their serendipitous encounter. Still, David stays true to his word and lets Ellie go with the penicillin.

Ellie manages to get a couple of doses into Joel before she realizes she’s been tracked by David’s group, so she leaves Joel behind with a knife in his dazed grasp and attempts to lead the scouts away. David has two goals — killing Joel and capturing Ellie alive — but Ellie’s safety is the priority over their revenge, to the frustration of his men. Even the argument that she’s just another mouth to feed doesn’t seem to phase David, and we know it’s not just him being a kindly paternal figure because we also saw him slap Alec’s young daughter in the face! So if his concern for Ellie seems to be bordering on obsession then just wait ‘cuz it’s about to get weird…

After shooting Ellie’s horse and knocking her unconscious, David carries Ellie back to the kitchen of the steakhouse he uses as a communal gathering hall, where she notices a tell-tale human ear on the floor. He admits about the cannibalism, then opens up to her about how much potential she sees in her as a leader and how they both have violent hearts. His life changed when the world ended, not because he found God but because he found Cordyceps, which he argues is basically the epitome of “be fruitful and multiply.” It may spread violently, but it does so out of self-preservation. It doesn’t act out of hate but out of love.

(It’s also at this point that David admits he’s been using the whole Bible-thumping schtick to soothe the others, but he can be honest with Ellie because “They need a Father. You don’t.” This is extra funny because we literally just saw Joel wake up and violently torture some of David’s men to get Ellie’s location, so we know Papa Bear is coming!)

It all tips into the super-skeevy when David places his hand over Ellie’s on the bars of her cage. The penny drops for us at the same time as Ellie utters a soft “Ohhhhh” because duh, David doesn’t just want her as a partner and a confidante. He wants her as some kind of mate. And she’s smart enough to play into it, laying her other hand on top of his … and then breaking his finger. From here the rest of the episode goes by in a rush, as David decides to kill Ellie, only to get distracted when she bites him and reveals she’s infected — and now so is he. The confusion over what to do with a person who is infected but totally fine, and whom they definitely shouldn’t eat for health reasons, gives Ellie a chance to stab James in the neck and make a run for it with David in determined pursuit. Ellie sneaks around the now-burning dining room looking for an escape, and for a while you might think Joel will arrive from the cold in time to rescue her, but no. David has changed his mind again, you see, and he doesn’t want to kill her anymore. He wants to teach her, to dominate her, and it’s somehow even worse. She seizes the opportunity to stab David, then he throws her to the ground and climbs on top of her, and she…

She grabs his meat cleaver and bashes his skull in, over and over and over again. She loses herself to the violence. Then she walks out of that steakhouse and that’s when Joel finds her, bloody and stunned. He grabs her and she fights back until she recognizes him, then she falls into his arms and he calls her “baby-girl” just like he used to call Sarah.

In the game, this sequence is undoubtedly the most traumatic thing Ellie experiences, but that’s because her flashback with Riley happens in a DLC separate from the game. In the show, I was surprised by how much impact this episode still had, despite it coming on the heels of Ellie’s infection and the loss of her first love. The fact that “Left Behind” had the restraint not to show Riley turn, or reveal how Ellie handled it, made a huge difference because it still gave this episode room to be the worst thing we see Ellie go through.

So Ellie saved Joel’s life — from the stabbing, from the infection, and even bought him enough time to survive David’s scouts. Then she saved herself from several fates worse than death. And in an episode where they both committed the worst, most violent acts we’ve seen from them thus far (Joel nearly popping someone’s kneecap off, Ellie destroying David), they also finally showed the kind of tenderness together we’ve been waiting for. It can only mean one thing…

Next week is the season finale. Get ready.