With Joel (Pedro Pascal) on a knife’s edge, Ellie (Bella Ramsey) will need to find some medicine and fast. However, medicine means humans, and their last encounter left Joel with a knife in the gut. Yet, a marauding man may be the least of their worries. There are far more dangerous things that lurk in the forest. Directed by Ali Abbasi, we get into another dark corner of the apocalypse.

The Recap – The Last of Us – Episode 8 – “When We Are In Need”

In an icy town, David (Scott Sheperd) preaches to a group huddled together. When a young girl, Hannah, starts crying, the preacher kneels beside her and recites scripture. It appears that Hannah’s father passed away, but the ground is too cold to bury him.

James meets David (Troy Baker) outside, and the camp is running out of food. When James voices some in the group seeing deer, they get ready for a hunt. However, David hears some hesitation in James’ voice, and they acknowledge the last six months have been hard.

Ellie continues to care for Joel, but he remains weak. With food running out, Ellie looks up and sees the rifle. She tells Joel to sit tight and leaves the house to hunt. In the woods, she sees a deer. She hits it, but the deer runs.

In the snow, David and James found have found the deer. Before they can steal it, Ellie comes and threatens to shoot them. David offers a trade – half a deer for any supplies Ellie needs. She barters for medicine, and James returns to pick up the penicillin.

David offers to start a fire while they wait. As they warm up, David tries to get information out of Ellie. He offers to have her join their group and admits he’s a preacher. When Ellie mocks him for believing in God, David admits he found religion after the apocalypse. He left Pittsburgh after the QZ fell. His group started there, and they continued to pick up more in their group until they stopped in Colorado.

Ellie says they had to run out of luck sometime. David turns the idea of luck around on her, saying that four of his men went looking for supplies. While three returned, the fourth man was killed by a man traveling with a girl. Ellie immediately straightens up, but James snuck up on her. David has James lower the gun and throw the medicine to Ellie.

She runs off through the forest and gives the penicillin to Joel, injecting it through his wound. She lays on Joel and hopes he gets better.

Back at the camp, food continues to run out. David brings in the buck with James. The rumor has already spread through the town. They know Ellie is with Joel, and Joel killed the Hannah’s father. David assures the group he will lead a group to pick up Ellie’s trail the next day, and they will bring Joel to justice. Hannah immediately tells David that he should kill Joel and Ellie. David walks over to her, slapping Hannah in the face, and reminds her that she will always “have a father.” David leads a prayer, and they eat.

Ellie gives Joel another injection and steps outside to get their horse some ice water. She hears a flick of birds take flight and realizes David and his men are near. James questions why they need to take Ellie back to camp. After all, she’ll be another mouth to feed. David stares him down.

Ellie runs from Joel to lead the men away from him. While on horseback, she shoots at the men and takes off. James kills the horse, which leads to Ellie being thrown from the saddle. The group surrounds Ellie and tells James to end it, but David fires a warning shot. With Ellie knocked out, David picks her up. They will take Ellie and the horse back to camp.

Three of David’s men search for Joel. One finds the house, but he only sees an empty bed when he goes to the basement. Joel jumps out from behind the man and kills the man in the struggle. Joel is recovering.

Ellie wakes up in the makeshift jail made by David. He begins to barter with her and offers to protect her. When she refuses, he intensifies his pitch. He needs her trust to protect her.

Two more of David’s men have come up on Joel. He takes them both captive and tortures them. Eventually, he stabs one in the knee, threatening his life. The man finally gives up the location of “Silver Lake Resort.” Joel then kills him, and when the second captive tells Joel that he will never give it up, Joel kills him. He believed the first man anyway.

Ellie attempts to escape, and as she does, she notices something in the corner. When she realizes it’s a man’s ear, she leaps back. David returns with food, but Ellie kicks the food away. She realizes that the “venison” they’ve been eating is actually people. David admits they’ve resorted to cannibalism when needed. However, he also knows that his people are weak, and in Ellie, he sees an equal.

David wants Ellie to lead with him and build a life with him. Ellie begins to bargain for Joel in exchange. When David puts his hand through the bars, Ellie grabs his hand, biting and breaking his fingers. David escapes the struggle with the keys and promises to return to chop up Ellie.

Joel reaches the settlement and finds his horse from a blood trail. He also sees the hanging bodies of those David has killed. Inside the colony, James and David grab Ellie. Before they can kill her, she tells them she’s infected. David pauses, puts down a butcher’s knife, and rolls up her sleeve. He refuses to believe it, and James thinks it looks real. Ellie grabs the butcher’s knife and stabs James in the neck, escaping despite David opening fire.

Ellie grabs a piece of the settlement’s fire, throwing it at David. The building begins to go up in flames while David hunts her. She grabs a knife from the nearby kitchen and lunges at David. She stabs him, but he knocks her to the ground. When she tries to get up, he pins her down. When he tries to rape her, she reaches the butcher’s knife and kills him, hacking at him repeatedly. She escapes outside, where she’s reunited with Joel. They walk off into the woods.

The Episode Breakdown – The Last of Us – Episode 8 – “When We Are In Need”

This was an unbelievable night for Bella Ramsey, who all but assured herself an Emmy nomination here. She’s excellent from start to finish, playing the emotion and anger of Ellie to perfection. Her final sequence with David will be the Emmy clip. Yet it’s the raw outpour of tears when Joel returns that absolutely seals the deal. This may not be enough for a win, but there’s no question she’s making that Emmy Lead Actress Drama lineup.

We also get a very strong look at “dark Joel,” who goes full Jack Bauer on David’s followers. It’s an upsetting scene but speaks to his love for Ellie. He will kill anyone for any reason if they threaten Ellie. Even a weakened version of Joel in revenge mode is nothing to trifle with.

“When We Are In Need” may also pop on its directorial and writing strength. Craig Mazin once again delivers us a theoretical antagonist, but David seems far more nefarious than others. The subtext written into the role creates an unhinged abuser. It’s clear that before he even meets Ellie, David already began abusing other women in the colony. The questions of how many he abused, and how often, are thankfully left unanswered.

David’s rule with an iron fist stands in stark contrast to Kathleen (Melanie Lynskey) from earlier in the season. This is the kind of brute force man that found power through sheer will. No matter what he needed to do, he was set to come into his best self during the apocalypse, when the rules of society collapsed. Shepherd plays the simmering anger well, throwing deadly glances at the men and women around him. He will not be questioned and setting up his backstory as a teacher plays into his rage. Many will likely miscategorize him as an incel, and while those qualities are at play, this is an ambitious man who instead cons men, women, and children into following his lead.

This is most evident in the scenes where he plays the preacher. He manipulates every phrase and speaks in platitudes. This is an easy way to sway the masses. When talking to Ellie he opens up, noting that he only found religion after the apocalypse. This man – a post-apocalyptic Elmer Gentry – knows that true power only comes from those willing to fight and take it. Religion is an easy way into the hearts and minds of those impressionable enough to follow. Like the cordyceps, he takes root in each person before controlling every aspect of their life.

Of course, the choice of cannibalism should be a difficult one for humans. After all, if you are starving, all options open up. Yet it becomes quickly apparent that David is either a poor leader or an uncaring leader. Between deer and rabbits, there were creatures in this forest. David could have sent his men out for more frequent hunting raids. Yet that would spur on someone else’s glory, something David cannot have challenged his authority. Furthermore, if he believes his people should be slaughtered like animals, then he can eat them like animals. The jump is not a far one for someone as sociopathic as this character. David is, pound for pound, the most upsetting character we’ve met to date.

Shepheard may actually be too good in this role. With showy guest stars strewn throughout the season, Shepheard is unlikely to get the Emmy nomination. Yet at the same time, he stuns at every turn. He plays David as one of the most balanced human beings I’ve seen on television. At any moment, you expect him to actually turn and be the good guy. He is anything but. A wonderful turn in stark contrast to Ramsey, the two are magnificent when paired against each other.

Alan’s Rating: 9/10

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