Another week, another devastating episode of The Last of Us.
After wrecking us with Ellie’s (Bella Ramsey) tragic backstory, the deaths of countless characters, and Joel’s (Pedro Pascal) life-threatening injury, The Last of Us ups the ante by introducing the game’s most sinister villain: David (Scott Shepherd).
David is a charismatic preacher who leads the community of survivors in Silver Lake. Those of us who have already played the game also know he’s a violent cannibal, which is heavily hinted at and then revealed in episode 8, “When We Are in Need.” From trying to gain Ellie’s trust to brutally attacking her, David — and Shepherd’s absolutely petrifying take on him — delivers the most disturbing episode of The Last of Us yet. So disturbing, in fact, that I had to pause the episode multiple times to scream at my screen or to process my gut-wrenching dread.
Here, in chronological order, is every time The Last of Us episode 8 chilled me to my core and made me violently stressed.
When David says his people can’t bury a body because it’s too cold to dig.
Red flag number one happens right at the start of the episode when David holds a funeral for Silver Lake resident Alec, whom Joel killed at the end of episode 6. After David is finished preaching, Alec’s daughter Hannah (Sonia Maria Chirila) asks when they can bury him. According to David, they can’t bury him until the spring, as the winter has made the ground too hard for digging.
However, as someone who is familiar with the game, I was already aware that David and his community have turned to cannibalism, so this immediately set off warning bells in my head. Are they really going to store Alec’s corpse until spring? Or are they going to use it to alleviate their hunger? When it comes to implied cannibalism, we’re already on some mighty thin ice here.
When we see Joel’s infected wound.
Bella Ramsey and Pedro Pascal in “The Last of Us.”
Credit: Liane Hentscher/HBO
I never like seeing infected wounds, but when said infected wound is on the stomach of a character I’ve grown to love, then I’m definitely going to be feeling extra nauseous. That nausea is compounded by anxiety for Ellie, who has to find a way to heal her traveling companion and keep them both alive during a brutal winter. Oh, and there’s the other problem of the nearby group of very hungry survivors who might not take too kindly to finding a new mouth to feed on their turf.
When David and James find the deer Ellie shot.
Any teeny tiny sliver of hope that Ellie won’t encounter David or his henchman James (Troy Baker) shatters when they find the deer that she shot and killed. (Side note: Go, Ellie!) Despite Ellie’s putting on a brave face and threatening David and “buddy-boy over there,” we’re acutely aware of the danger she’s in.
When David reveals he knows who Ellie and Joel are.
Nothing good can ever come of a creepy man telling you, “I believe everything happens for a reason.” So when David says that to Ellie, the alarm bells that have been softly ringing throughout the episode suddenly go into overdrive. The dread builds and builds as David recounts Alec’s death from his community’s perspective, referring to his killer — whom we come to realize was Joel — as a “crazy man.” The other shoe drops with a resounding thud when David mentions that Alec’s killer was traveling with a little girl. It’s official: He’s known who Ellie is this whole time, and I am sick to my stomach. Run, Ellie! Run!
When one of David’s men claims he’s serving venison.
After the tense David-James-Ellie stand-off — which thankfully ended in Ellie getting the medicine she needs to save Joel — we return to Silver Lake for more implied cannibalism. One of David’s men brings a cook some very fresh-looking meat, and lots of it, too! When asked what it is, he takes several beats too long before answering, “Venison.” Sure, buddy.
When David and James bring the deer back to Silver Lake.
Scott Shepherd in “The Last of Us.”
Credit: Liane Hentscher/HBO
If you were still holding out hope that the mystery meat — sorry, “venison” — was, in fact, meat from Ellie’s deer, this moment sends that entire fantasy flying out the window. David and James drag the deer back into Todd’s Steakhouse, leading to the obvious question: “What meat are these people really eating?” Not deer, that’s for sure. By the way, has anyone seen Alec’s body lately?
When David hits Hannah.
The Last of Us has already given us plenty of reason not to trust David, and the horror just keeps on coming when he hits Hannah for telling him to kill Ellie and Joel. The abuse is already terrifying in itself, but things get even worse when David kneels down beside her and extends his hand. He tells Hannah that she’ll always have a father, adding, “You will show him respect when he’s speaking.” Coming from a preacher, you might expect the father to be God, but based on that last line, it seems like David is really only talking about himself. The manipulative cult leader vibes are in full effect.
When everyone eats the meat that definitely isn’t venison.
Now that The Last of Us has revealed David’s truly abusive colors, it can cut us a bit of slack, right? Wrong! That mystery meat hasn’t gone anywhere. Soon, Silver Lake’s inhabitants are shoveling what they presumably think is venison into their mouths. The scene plays out in near silence: All we hear is the frantic clattering of their silverware. It’s an eerie showcase of the community’s desperation, ushering in a creeping sense of dread.
When David and his men return to hunt Ellie and Joel.
This entire sequence is a heart attack waiting to happen. Between Ellie trying to lead all these men — who are, by the way, carrying guns — away from Joel to a still-recovering Joel realizing he needs to fight, the odds have never been more against our heroes. Then, David’s men almost shoot Ellie before he interferes. I have never been more grateful to see David…That is, until he bridal-carries an unconscious Ellie back towards Silver Lake. Get a job! Stay away from her!
When Ellie wakes up in a cage and David tries to win her over.
Being trapped in a cage is frightening enough, but being trapped in a cage while the man who put you there tries to convince you he’s some kind of hero? That might be even worse. Ellie’s predicament is made all the more nauseating by David’s attempts to manipulate her. He tells her he saved her and that he can protect her — but we’ve seen how he treats young women in his care, and no one deserves that.
When Ellie sees the severed human ear.
Any implied cannibalism throughout this episode officially becomes confirmed cannibalism once Ellie sees a severed human ear on the floor of the room where she’s held. It’s a less graphic version of her discovery in the game, where she sees James butchering a corpse right in front of her, but that doesn’t make it any less terrifying. Also terrifying? David’s calm admission that his community eats people…and that not everybody in Silver Lake knows! Feeding people their friends and family without their knowledge is about as monstrous as you can get, survival be damned.
When David compares Ellie to himself.
Scott Shepherd and Bella Ramsey in “The Last of Us.”
Credit: Liane Hentscher/HBO
The last thing you want to hear from a cannibal keeping you in a cage is, “You remind me of me.” Yet that’s exactly what David hits Ellie with. It comes across as another attempt to manipulate her to his side, as well as a threat of what he’s capable of.
“You have a violent heart, and I should know,” he tells her. “I’ve always had a violent heart, and I struggled with it for a long time.” With this, David cements himself as possibly the most dangerous person Ellie has encountered so far. By this point in the episode, my heart is already in my stomach, but would you believe that it gets worse?
When David talks about Cordyceps.
Turns out, David didn’t find truth in God after the world ended. Instead, he found it in Cordyceps — you know, the fungus that robs you of your bodily autonomy, compels you to kill those around you, and gives you an admittedly sick-looking mushroom makeover.
“What does Cordyceps do? Is it evil?” David asks Ellie. “No. It’s fruitful, it multiplies. It feeds and protects its children, and it secures its future with violence if it must. It loves.” His entire speech is tinged with frightening fanaticism, but what’s scarier is that there’s some truth in it. David’s focus on the “love” of Cordyceps calls back to the fungal kiss we saw between Tess and one of the infected in episode 2.
Scarier than even that, though, is David’s almost-hushed delivery of “It loves” towards Ellie. Between that and the charged moment after he hit Hannah, it’s becoming more and more apparent that David preys on the young women in his community.
When David puts his hand on Ellie’s cage.
The scene between David and Ellie continues with David’s sinister insistence that he and Ellie are similar. “I’m a shepherd surrounded by sheep, and all I want is an equal. A friend,” he tells her. He sees a future where he and Ellie could lead Silver Lake together, which he describes in what feels very much like a man trying to secure himself a child bride.
“Think of what we could do together, as strong as we are. We’d make this place perfect,” he continues, curling his fingers around the bars of Ellie’s cage. His predatory manipulation makes the moment Ellie reaches out to him — and the moment when he takes her hand — one of the most sickening parts of an already sickening episode.
When David changes his tune.
Lucky for us, Ellie sees right through David’s tactics. Turns out her reaching for David was a ploy to break his finger and steal his keys — and it almost works! Unfortunately, David foils her escape attempt. Seeing him take back the keys is another nail in the coffin of horror that is this episode. Ellie may deliver an all-timer line in “Tell them Ellie is the little girl who broke your fucking finger!” but David’s follow-up is a chilling reminder of who has the power here.
“How did you put it?” he says. “Tiny little pieces?”
When Joel sees the hanging bodies.
The severed ear was just an appetizer (sorry) for the main course (sorry) that is the three butchered bodies Joel discovers hanging in Silver Lake’s boat house. Honestly, the David and Ellie exchange is so distressing that I almost forgot about the cannibalism, but this gruesome sight brings it (and my cannibalism-induced nausea) roaring back.
When David and James try to kill Ellie.
Troy Baker in “The Last of Us.”
Credit: Liane Hentscher/HBO
The sequence where David and James throw Ellie on the butcher’s block is the closest she has come to death this entire episode, and that’s saying something. Ellie’s quick thinking about revealing she’s infected buys her enough time to kill James and escape, but I’d be lying if I said the thud of David’s cleaver on the table next to her ear didn’t make me jump out of my skin.
When David stalks Ellie through Todd’s steakhouse.
If you somehow still needed more proof that David is straight-up evil, look to the entirety of his showdown with Ellie in Todd’s Steakhouse. The building is burning all around him, yet all he cares about is hunting Ellie down, cleaver in hand. His sing-song-y “Ellie” and frenzied cry of “You don’t know how good I am!” will haunt my nightmares.
By far, this is the worst thing he says as he stalks her: “I’ve changed my mind. I’ve decided you do need a father. So I’m gonna keep you, and I’m gonna teach you.” Not only does this spell out horrifying consequences for Ellie, it also darkens David’s earlier altercation with Hannah. We know what he plans to do to Ellie, but what has he already done to other young women he’s told to think of him as a father?
When David and Elli face off for the last time.
The Last of Us largely avoids the threat of sexual violence towards Ellie, but that changes in this episode and especially in the final moments of Ellie’s fight with David. He pins her down as fire rages around him and tells her, “I thought you already knew. The fighting is the part I like the most.” Then, in a disturbing reminder of his speech about Cordyceps, he says, “Don’t be afraid. There’s no fear in love.”
The Last of Us thankfully doesn’t get more explicit than that, but the heavily implied threat of assault is more than enough to cement this as the most horrifying episode of the show. The very last shot of David’s face, framed by fire, positions him as an unequivocal monster, and it’s a relief when Ellie repeatedly takes a cleaver to him moments later.
When Ellie screams when Joel touches her.
While Ellie’s very bloody killing of David is a cathartic end to a despicable character, it’s also highly traumatic for her. The blood-spattered, panting, terrified Ellie we see emerging from Todd’s Steakhouse is so different from the girl we know who loves reading comics and cracking dumb jokes. Nowhere is her trauma clearer than when Joel grabs her from behind and she screams for him to get off of her. When she finally realizes it’s Joel, she is unable to speak, yet grabs onto him for dear life. Coupled with Joel’s soft “It’s okay, baby girl,” this desperate hug is one of the most heartbreaking moments The Last of Us has delivered so far. Ellie goes through hell in “When We Are in Need,” and though she’s reunited with her companion, the effects of this experience will linger on well into the future.
The Last of Us is now streaming on HBO Max.(Opens in a new tab) New episodes air every Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.