There comes a point where adaptation can be too straight. The Last of Us TV series episode 8, ‘When We Are In Need’, is one example, an almost scene-for-scene re-enactment of a closing chapter in the horror game that doesn’t capture the same tension or emotional catharsis.
After ‘Left Behind’, we meet another community of The Last of Us characters, a cultish group led by David (Scott Shepherd). They’re mourning one of their own who died while out hunting, sadness that compounds their growing need for food and supplies.
Abusive and theocratic, David refuses to allow any sense that his leadership cannot handle these difficulties. James, played by original Joel voice actor Troy Baker, tells of deer spotted in nearby forestry, and a group sets out to try and shoot one.
Meanwhile, Joel and Ellie are still in a vulnerable position. Joel’s recuperating from being stabbed, while Ellie forages and hunts to keep them alive. On an expedition, she takes down some game, only to run into David and James. They have a tense negotiation, where they offer medicine if they can take the meat, and Ellie agrees.
During a conversation while waiting for James to return with penicillin for Joel, Ellie questions David on his position. He reveals he was neither religious nor in a position of authority before the Cordyceps, settling into both as the infected forced a soft reset on humanity.
Gradually, he reveals that they have more in common than might seem obvious. The man who passed from their outpost? The same one Joel killed in Colorado. David knows who Ellie is, but instead of giving chase there and then, remains good on heir deal and lets her leave.
Instead, James and David bring the fresh carcass back home to feed their kin. This kind of religious fervour has only be lightly touched on by Kathleen and FEDRA in previous episodes. David is very much the representation of Christian fundamentalism, and how it’s usually a front for raw, power-hungry narcissism.
His people aren’t happy, just like those in Kansas City weren’t happy, and the inhabitants of Boston. The Last of Us drama series demonstrates time and time again that more often than not, hierarchical power structures bow to fascism if left unfettered. Those in charge become used to that position, and routines become barricades to expression.
After eating a meal – curiously full of meat, but we’ll get to that – they head back out to find where Joel and Ellie are staying. Ellie spots them in the neighbourhood, and she gives herself up to distract from anyone finding him. She’s captured, and a few go door-to-door to get Joel.
One unfortunate gets a knife to the throat for his efforts, Joel now some way towards being fighting fit. The thriller series then cuts back to Ellie, held in a cage by David. He starts to wear her down psychologically, placing himself and the option of joining his group as some form of salvation, without whom she’ll be alone.
It’s the same fanatic playbook, about finding salvation among true believers and turning yourself over to a higher power and whatever. Scott Shepard plays the part well, sounding so calm and open. After all, what has he got to lose, it’s Ellie’s life on the line, not his, right? Part of good manipulation is controlling the emotional mood and making others rise to you, and his words leave an impression on Ellie, who doesn’t realise what’s coming.
Right after, the big penny drop of the episode happens, where Ellie notices a dismembered ear across the room. Did they cannibalise their dead!? They did, and David is unapologetic. He’s reveals what he truly worships is Cordyceps, proclaiming an understanding of violence as a means of “protecting the future”.
He wants Ellie to join him because he believes she understands the fundamental truths of their current existence more than the “sheep” of his flock. The scene is disgusting, stunningly handled by Shepard and Ramsey and directed by Ali Abbasi, who approach from the exact right angles to make you quite uncomfortable indeed.
Meanwhile, Joel’s on his way after gleaming the town’s location through the exact means you expect him to. A gradual metamorphosis has taken place over the course of the show, and we’re now seeing Joel operate in a different mode – he isn’t protecting cargo any more. This is deeper.
Joel and Ellie move in parallel from here, him trying to find where she is, she escaping David’s grasp. When they take her out to kill her, she manages to kill James and hide in the dining area. David follows spouting epithets about what life could be like and so on, all hollow.
A fire breaks out, and it all culminates in Ellie bludgeoning David to death before the flames get anywhere near him. This is where the adapted screenplay struggles, because the catharsis suffers under how quickly everything happens.
The front half of ‘When We Are In Need’ benefits from TV allowing great drama in simple dialogue. Some creative liberties to allow more of that among David’s commune would’ve created a stronger mood and sense of danger, as well as further fleshing out the world and his philosophy. HBO’s The Last of Us has undercut itself before like this, notably in Melanie Lynskey‘s Kathleen, who two episodes in and out.
The third act could’ve been an episode in itself, Ellie trying to avoid David as Joel uncovers more dark secrets about what’s keeping these people alive. Coming to the show, this was a sequence I was excited to see Craig Mazin tackle, and I can’t help but be a little disappointed by the end result.
Particularly right at the end, when Joel and Ellie reunite. There’s a small line here, where Joel calls Ellie “Baby girl”, a term he’d reserved for Sarah. In the game, it always struck me in how quickly it happens, but poignant nonetheless, because Joel’s now fully accepted his role as Ellie’s father figure, altering their relationship.
It’s still here, but doesn’t have the same weight to it because we weren’t given enough time to fully believe in the threat. The Last of Us might be one of the best PS5 games, but being great doesn’t mean it can’t be tinkered with to achieve different results that allow for the same satisfaction in new ways. I guess that’s something myself, Mazin, and Neil Druckmann disagree on.
If you want more reading, we have guides on The Last of Us cast, the Fireflies, Bloaters, and Clickers. The Last of Us is available on NOW in the UK, and HBO Max in the US.
The Last of Us episode 8 recap
Joel and Ellie’s bond strengths in a rushed feeling episode of the drama series.