The Last of Us Episode 8 review: A horrifying thrill ride

Ellie in The Last of Us Episode 8HBO

The Last of Us Episode 8 is a total knockout, bringing the game’s scariest villain to life with a complex, brilliant performance by Scott Shepherd and Bella Ramsey at the peak of her powers.

The winter winds bring nothing but horror in The Last of Us, but none of it comes from the Infected. In Episode 6, Joel was stabbed in Colorado, leaving him immobile and Ellie on her own.

After Episode 7 took a breather to tell the Left Behind story, this chapter picks the pace up dramatically, pitting Ellie against a charismatic, terrifying adversary; gamers may think they’re ready, but the show adds surprising depth to his wickedness.

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Some people are still resisting Ramsey as Ellie – let them have their pettiness, because you’d have to be wilfully dense to not see that she isn’t playing Ellie, she is Ellie.

The Last of Us Episode 8: Meet David

“Revelation 21: And then I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.”

These are the first words of Episode 8, spoken by David (Scott Shepherd), the preacher of Silver Lake, a resort-turned-town. As his congregation bow their heads in prayer, a young girl sobs: she’s the daughter of the man Joel was forced to kill at the university.

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“There shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away,” he tells her, hoping it’ll be a balm for her grief. Her concerns are more immediate. “When can we bury him?” She weeps, but David says they can’t bury him until the spring, when the ground is softer.

Outside, David talks with James (Troy Baker), his right-hand man and closest confidant. James tells him the town has two weeks before they run out of food, and there might be some wild deer in the hills. David detects some doubt in James; not of the deer, but of him as a leader. He assures him he’s “with him”, and all is well – but there’s an unsettling undercurrent to their conversation. Shepherd’s soft cadence is difficult to read – or perhaps it’s just because I know the truth of his being.

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The Last of Us Episode 8: A fateful meeting

Elsewhere, Ellie tends to Joel’s stab wound, sown up but still gnarly. She has another problem: they’re down to crumbs, so she heads out with Joel’s rifle to hunt. Watching Ellie trek through the snow is enough to make me want to start the game from scratch just to reach the winter chapter, and another credit to the show’s production values; the authenticity of her surroundings really lends itself to the immersion of the series.

She shoots a deer, but fails to kill it. It runs away and eventually lands at the feet of David and James, whom Ellie holds at gunpoint. James is a turned-head away from pulling the trigger, but David is incredibly calm. He offers to get her the medicine she needs for Joel in exchange for half of the animal, so he can feed his village’s residents.

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David and Ellie in The Last of Us Episode 8HBO

While James circles back to get the meds, Ellie hesitantly agrees to take shelter in a nearby hut with David. He tries to learn more about her, but she’s (rightfully) guarded. “I’m a decent man,” he stresses – and I believed him, amazingly, so Shepherd has done wonders with the character.

David explains that he’s the village’s preacher, and he was chosen by the people to be their leader. However, he wasn’t always religious, instead finding God “after the apocalypse, which is either the best time or the worst time to find him… hard to say.”

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He used to be a teacher of kids around Ellie’s age, which speaks to how natural he is with her. “So, you went from teacher to preacher because it f*cking rhymes?” Ellie asks. He brushes off her cynicism with a smile, and goes onto explain how he ended up with his “flock” after the Pittsburgh QZ fell in 2017 as a result of the warring between FEDRA and the Fireflies. It was a small group at first, but they picked up others along the way, and have been repeatedly forced to move elsewhere because of raiders.

“Your luck will run out sooner or later,” Ellie says. “Luck? No, there’s no such thing as luck. I believe everything happens for a reason,” he tells her, preceding a major reveal.

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“We didn’t expect this winner to be so cruel. Nothing will grow. Game’s been hard to find. So I sent four of our people to a nearby town to scavenge what they could, and only three of them came back. And the one that didn’t was a father. He had a daughter just like you, and her dad was taken from her. Turns out he was murdered by this crazy man and get this, that crazy man was traveling with a little girl. You see, everything happens for a reason.”

Ellie’s eyes widen in panic, but David has no plans on hurting her. James has his gun pointed straight at her head, but David tells him to hand over the medicine and let her go. “I know you’re not with a group, you won’t survive for long out there – I can protect you,” he tells her, but she runs away into the trees. She quickly injects Joel with the penicillin, before cuddling in for warmth. It’s the smallest touch, but the way Pascal moves his head ever-so-slightly towards Ellie is what really seals the moment.

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The Last of Us Episode 8: David goes on the hunt

Back in the village, food is being prepared for the locals. When a man brings out a tray of fresh red meat, a woman asks what it is. “Venison,” he replies after a suspicious pause. In the main hall, David and James return with the deer and confirm the rumours: they found the girl who’s with the man who killed Alec. David says he’ll take a squad out in the morning to track her trail and “bring that man to justice.”

The young girl who lost her dad pipes up. “We should kill him, we should kill both of them,” she shouts. David walks over and smacks her across the face, and her mother doesn’t do anything. “You may think you don’t have a father, but you’ll always have a father,” he tells her, sinisterly, and after saying grace in unison, everyone eats their definitely-not-human stew.

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Both Shepherd and Mazin deserve plaudits for their handling of David. While the character’s villainous turn is shocking in the game, he’s far more compelling here; both the belt and a beacon to everyone around him, with malice that’s more calculated than vicious.

Joel and Ellie in The Last of Us Episode 8HBO

The next morning, the sun shines through the window onto Joel. His colour is healthier, his wound is starting to heal nicely, and Ellie is more comfortable with the syringe. But trouble is strolling around the corner: David, James, and other men have tracked her to their house. If they find Joel, they’ll kill him, but David wants to bring Ellie back to the village. James doesn’t want to “question his sense of mercy”, but suggests letting her go so they don’t need to feed her. “If we leave her out here, she’ll die,” David says. “Yeah, well maybe that’s God’s will,” James says, but a hard stare from David is met with instant regret on James’ face.

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Ellie takes the horse and tries to lead them away, but James brings down the horse with a bullet. He’s seconds away from killing her, but David stops him. While he carries Ellie back to the village, the rest of the team go door-to-door to try to find Joel. “You want vengeance? Deliver it,” David tells them.

One unlucky sod tiptoes into the basement, finding nothing but a bloody mattress. Joel, somehow finding the energy to spring into action, stabs him through the neck from behind and watches him gargle himself to death in his own blood. He triangle-squared that motherf*cker.

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The Last of Us Episode 8: David v Ellie

In the village, David has locked Ellie in a cage for the time being. “Let me out,” she says. “Well that’s certainly the goal,” he responds. Ellie doesn’t give him the respect he so clearly seeks, and he warns that her time with Joel is ending, and “I’m offering you a beginning.”

Do you remember that bit in Taken where Liam Neeson sticks spikes into the guy’s legs and electrocutes him? Well, The Last of Us now has its own teeth-grinding torture scene: Joel tapes two of David’s followers to a chair, puts a knife in one of their legs and threatens to “pop their f*cking kneecap off.” If that quote alone doesn’t make you hold your leg and wince, you’re harder than I am.

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He makes one of them point to their location on a map, and tells him he’ll die if their answers don’t match. He puts the knife in his mouth, and he uses the sharp edge to tell Joel where they are. Joel doesn’t even bother asking the second man, instead plunging the knife into his chest and beating the other to death with a lead pipe. These may be nasty people, but this is more of a showcase for Joel’s sadistic side than anything else.

We cut back to the cage, and David offers Ellie a meal, but she catches sight of a severed ear on the ground. The penny drops: David is a cannibal, but he claims it was a “last resort… what was I supposed to do? Let them starve, these people who put their lives in my hands… who love me?”

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David in The Last of Us Episode 8HBO

This scene is full of proper edge-of-your-seat dialogue. David tells Ellie she has a “violent heart”, just like him. He says Cordyceps isn’t evil, it’s “fruitful, it multiplies, it feeds and protects its children, and it secures its future with violence if it must… it loves.” He thinks Ellie is capable of handling herself more than anyone else in the town, and she could be his “equal.. a friend.” He even offers to order his men to let Joel go, as long as he leaves them all alone. “They follow me… and they’d follow us. Think of what we could do together,” he tells her, caressing her hand on the edge of the cage. The trembling fingers, the whispered words; it’s all overwhelmingly icky, with the clear implication that David is a paedophile, hence why he’s been so merciful to Ellie.

Ellie may be a child, but she’s not that naive: she breaks his fingers, but he grabs her head and rattles it against the cage door. “Tell them it was Ellie who broke your f*cking finger,” she shouts as he leaves, but he reminds her: “What was it you said: tiny little pieces?”

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While Joel works out the route to Silver Lake, he stumbles across the town’s food supply: three headless, human corpses hanging in a garage. Meanwhile, David and James remove Ellie from the cage and put her on the chopping block – not before Ellie bites David’s hand, after which she reveals she’s infected. She grabs the cleaver and plants it in James’ neck, before escaping into the main hall.

If you’ve played the game, you’ll know everything that happens next, as it’s a beat-for-beat recreation of its most terrifying sequence. Ellie sets the room ablaze, while David circles the room trying to find her. Without the subtext, it’d be nail-biting on its own merits, but David doesn’t want to kill her – he wants to “keep her and teach her.” You’ll watch it through your fingers, especially when he grabs hold of her and gnashes: “I thought you already knew… the fighting’s the part I like the most.”

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Ellie manages to grab the cleaver and slashes David. As he falls to the floor, she jumps on top of him and stabs him over, and over, and over again. It’s a horrid, cathartic explosion of violence that’s well-earned, and Ramsey’s performance is extraordinary. She stumbles out into the frosty air, shaken and frightened – until Joel finds her and hugs her tight. “It’s okay baby girl, I got you,” he says, putting his jacket around her. The weight of those words brought me to tears in an instant.

The Last of Us Episode 8 review score: 5/5

A thoroughly horrifying, heart-in-your-mouth TV experience, Episode 8 takes you into the depths of human nature and dares you to emerge unscathed. A start-to-finish thrill ride.

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The Last of Us Episode 9 will be available to watch on March 12 in the US and March 13 in the UK. Check out the rest of our coverage here and the trailer for the weeks ahead here.