Hold on, baby girl, because it’s nothing but rough road from here on out.
This week’s The Last of Us is the last before the finale, and it subjects Joel and Ellie — well, mostly Ellie — to a cult of cannibals who somehow make post-apocalyptic life even tougher and scarier than it already is.
The hour is a bleak one. And if you’ve played the game on which the HBO series is based, you know there’s a good likelihood that things are about to get a lot worse. But Episode 8 also gives us the show’s take on one of the game’s most tender scenes, which is something… right? Right?! [Cries in Cordyceps]
Read on for the highlights of “When We Are in Need.” And then make sure to hear what Troy Baker, who voiced Joel in the game and who plays James in the episode, has to say about the season’s penultimate hour (and its bloody, beautiful closing moments).
HE SHALL PROVIDE | In the snowy, riverside town of Silver Lake, Colo., a man reads from a Bible inside an old steakhouse. A banner behind him proclaims “When we are in need, He shall provide.” Many of the people in the congregation are crying; we’re watching a funeral. The dead man’s daughter asks the pastor when they can bury her dad. He tells her the ground is too cold, and they’ll have to wait until the spring.
What a coincidence that after the service, the pastor — whose name is David — and his right-hand man James discuss how the community only has enough food to last another week or so. “I need to know you’re with me,” David says, and James affirms that he is, but his voice and body language suggest otherwise. They grab rifles and head out to hunt.
OH DEER | Know who else is really hungry? Ellie, who dribbles some water into a mostly out-of- it Joel’s mouth, then eats some jerky like it’s her last meal. She eyes his gun propped against the wall, leaves a little jerky on the blanket for him and whispers that she’ll be right back.
Using the tips Joel gave her, Ellie manages to take down a deer from a distance. (Side note: Is it weird I was proud of her?) But David and James come across the game before she can get to it, so she yells at them and points her gun in their direction; after they drop their weapons, at her demand, David asks for a few seconds of her time before they go.
He explains that he’s from a large group that needs food and offers to trade her for part of the meat. She lies that she’s also with a big group, then blusters through negotiating for some infection-fighting medicine. David asks James to go back to get two bottles of penicillin and a syringe, then Ellie and David sit, light a fire and wait for him to return.
IT’S A TRAP! | David suggests that she join them. “You’re inviting me to your hunger club? No thanks,” she scoffs. We learn that he’s a preacher who was a math teacher before Outbreak Day. When the Pittsburgh quarantine zone fell in 2017, he left, and on the way to where they are now, he accumulated the people he calls “our flock.”
He’s been very friendly so far, warm even, as he explains that the tough winter meant that he had to send four people to a nearby town to scavenge; only three came back. The one that didn’t “was murdered by this crazy man,” he says, still all affable-like. (“OH NO,” I write in my notes.) “And get this? That crazy man was traveling with a little girl.” (“OH NO OH NO”) “You see?” he adds, smiling in a very creepy manner, “everything happens for a reason.” And that’s when we learn that James has his gun pointed at Ellie from behind.
When she wheels around with her rifle, David tells a confused James to lower his gun and to throw her the medicine. He does. “I can protect you,” David promises as Ellie takes the antibiotics and runs. James is stymied, unable to understand why David just let her get away.
DONNER, ER, DINNER PARTY | Back at the settlement, where a totally not at all suspicious! meat-based stew is being prepared, David confirms to the group that they ran into the killer of the dead man from the top of the episode. He says when the sun is up, they’ll find Ellie and Joel’s hideout “and we’ll bring that man to justice.” The dead guy’s daughter thinks Joel and Ellie should die, too, and says so, earning her a slap to the floor from David — right in front of her mother. “I know you think you don’t have a father anymore, but the truth is Hannah you will always have a father, and you will show him respect when he’s speaking,” he says as he helps her up. Oh, man, this is weird.
AN UNFORTUNATE TURN OF EVENTS | Ellie returns and checks out Joel’s wound, which is mightily and nastily infected. She has no idea where to inject the medicine, so she kinda just puts it into the wound’s immediate area, then feels his forehead and lies down next to him on the pallet, her hand on his chest. Joel turns his face toward her slightly, but he doesn’t wake up.
The next morning, he’s not doing noticeably better; she injects him again, then goes outside just in time to see David, James and three other men coming their way. She scurries back inside — Joel is sweating, which is a good sign!, but still pretty out of it — and puts a knife in his hand. She’ll lead the men away from the house, but he’ll have to try to kill anyone who gets down to the basement. Uh, good plan and all, but Joel can barely keep his eyes open. “Do NOT fall asleep!” she yells.
Then Ellie hops on the horse and shoots at the posse as she rides away. It’s not long before James shoots the steed, which falls, and Ellie hits the ground hard. James is about to kill her — in direct disobedience of David’s orders — when David comes up and angrily orders a couple of the guys to go door-to-door, looking for Joel. “You’re so hungry for vengeance?” he sneers. “Deliver it.”
JOEL BOUNCES BACK | Those men do find Joel… and soon wish they hadn’t. I would like a taste of whatever was in those vials, because that drug plus adrenaline is enough to take Joel from “gray near-corpse on a dirty mattress” to “able to ambush a guy and stick a knife in his neck” real quick. Eventually, he’s got two of David’s men bloody and restrained with duct tape.
When the one he’s pounding on claims not to know about Ellie, Joel shoves his knife into the guy’s quad. “You focus right here, or I’ll pop your f—king kneecap off,” he threatens, getting all screamy as he presses the guy for details. We glean that Ellie is alive and at Silver Lake, which was a resort back in the day; Joel makes the guy point to it on a map. Then he kills both of them, just like that.
HOW THE SAUSAGE IS MADE | Ellie is being held in a cage-like cell in the steakhouse’s kitchen, which is where she sees a human ear on the floor underneath the butcher block. David realizes she knows so he doesn’t even try to hide the fact that his group is eating human beings, but he maintains that the decision to do so “was a last resort…What was I supposed to do? Let them starve?
He sweet-talks her, saying that she is “a natural leader” who has “a violent heart” much like his, and then there’s some exposition that makes me extremely squicked out on behalf of whoever had him as a teacher in the Before Times. Oh wait, now he’s waxing poetic about Cordyceps (“It loves”), and then he makes his pitch for her to join the cult and lead as his equal.
“Imagine the life we could build,” he coos, encouraged by her placing her hands on top of his around the bars… and then she breaks his hand. (Ha!) While he’s writhing, she grabs for his keys, but she’s unable to get them before he slams her head into the bars, bloodying her nose and calling her a little see you next Tuesday. “Let’s see what I go tell the others now,” he spits, leaving with a vague threat about how he’s going to butcher her into “tiny little pieces.” Charming.
WELL-DONE | When he returns, with James in tow, they grab her from the cell. She bites David, who pushes her onto the table and holds a butcher knife way too close for comfort. “I’m infected!” she cries, “and now, so are you.” While the men are discussing whether the bite on her arm is something to worry about or not, she gets control of the blade and puts it into James’ neck, then runs.
All the steakhouse’s doors are locked, as Ellie learns as she tries to escape. David follows, taunting her that he’s got all the keys. He’s also got the butcher knife in his hand. Ellie snags a piece of wood from the fire and hurls it at him; when she misses, the curtains nearby catch and the room starts to go up in flame.
She creeps around and gets hold of a steak knife while David spouts incel BS about how good he is and what he could’ve given her “if you’d JUST LET ME!” She charges him, stabbing him in the side, but he knocks her down and kicks her before she can reach the butcher knife he dropped. “I thought you already knew,” he says, crawling on top of her, “the fighting is the part I like the most.” Does he mean sexually? Cannibalistically? I don’t know, but heads up to the TVLine accounts payable office: Please watch for my for bill the therapy session in which I address my time thinking about the matter.
Thank GOODNESS Ellie eventually is able to get her hand on the knife, for which she has been reaching blindly, and she fits it into David like it’s his final LEGO piece. Then SHE gets on top of HIM and whales on him with it, slicing him into slimy preacher tartare.
‘IT’S OK, BABY GIRL’ | Meanwhile, Joel has arrived at the compound and found both Ellie’s backpack and some corpses strung up like holiday hams, so he knows what’s up. And he happens to be right outside the smoking steakhouse when Ellie emerges, her face splattered with blood. (Side note: This is different from the game, in which Joel finds Ellie still near David’s body and pulls her off. Baker has some interesting thoughts on this in the post-mortem.)
He reaches for her from behind and she loses her stuff, screaming and beating at him. “It’s me, it’s me,” he says softly, and though she’s definitely not OK, she realizes who he is and frenetically wraps her arms around him. “It’s OK, baby girl. I got you,” he whispers, echoing what he said to Sarah after she was shot in the series premiere. (Ack. This scene. MY HEART.) Joel looks destroyed, and Ellie is clearly in shock, as he takes his coat off and puts it around her. He’s barely keeping it together as he supports her with one arm, and they limp off together toward the river.
Now it’s your turn. What did you think of the episode? Are you ready for next week’s finale? Sound off in the comments!