The first season of The Last of Us is nearing its end and it’s time to bring the pain. Episode eight, “When We Are in Need,” just aired and it brought the story back to Joel and Ellie after episode six’s stabbing and episode seven’s detour into flashback. Can Ellie save Joel? How would that happen? Neither answer is what you think.
Things begin in the desolate, cold town of Silver Lake, Colorado. A preacher we’ll later learn is named David (Scott Shepard) is giving a sermon to a group of people when one of the parishioners starts crying. It’s a young woman who we learn has lost her father and wants to bury him. Unfortunately, David says, the ground is too cold.
On the surface, these seem like nice, normal people who latched onto religion in this awful, awful world. Which makes sense. David is their leader and after the sermon, he and his second-in-command James (played by Troy Baker, who voiced Joel in The Last of Us video games) talk about how the town is rapidly running out of food. David senses some doubt in James’ voice but James assures David that he’s with him no matter what. The pair decide to go hunting.
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Back with Joel and Ellie, we see that Joel’s wound is a little better after Ellie’s impromptu stitching but it’s still infected and gross. Out of food and options, she too decides to go hunting. Carrying Joel’s gun, which is way too big for her, she sets off into the woods, faceplants chasing a rabbit, then miraculously shoots a big deer.
The deer takes off and is found by none other than David and James. They know they didn’t shoot it and assume whoever did is coming for it so they decide to take it anyway. Which is when Ellie shows up and threatens them. They drop their guns and are surprised to find a young girl is the one who shot the deer. Ellie is in complete control of the situation but David is smart, resourceful, and charismatic. He knows Ellie can’t carry the deer alone so he gets her to barter. Ellie tells them she needs medicine in exchange for the deer so James goes off to get some.
That leaves Ellie and David alone to chat, as Ellie points a gun at him. We learn that David was a math teacher before the apocalypse but then he found God and started preaching. Ellie messes with him a bit but is genuinely curious about what could make someone find God in a world where so many had died and David says it’s because he realized everything happens for a reason. He begins to tell a story about a young woman who lost her father… a father who went off looking for supplies and was murdered by a man with a young girl. As we, and Ellie, put all the pieces together—the father who was killed is the man who stabbed Joel back at the college—James returns. He’s got Ellie dead to rights, but David tells him to give her the medicine and she hurries off. James can’t believe they let her go but you can see that David has a plan.
Back in Silver Lake, food is being prepped for the evening meal. Venison, obviously, since we saw them kill a deer, and everyone eats. But then, David and James return with the deer and it’s weird because we assumed everyone was eating the deer they just killed. But, in fact, they actually hadn’t returned yet. A very curious, very purposeful editing choice. David reveals to his group that they found the girl who was with the man who killed their friend, and that they will go after them in the morning. The daughter screams that they should both be killed and David hits her for not showing him respect.
At this point in the episode, it’s fairly obvious not everything is right with David, James, and these people. What started off looking fairly innocent is carrying this weight of fear with it, and it’s the moment he hits a grieving child that it sinks in. These people might seem good, but they are not. Especially not David.
Overnight, the medicine helped Joel and the wound is getting better. Ellie is feeding their horse when she realizes David, James, and several other men have tracked her to the house. She wakes up the still ailing Joel, hands him his knife, and explains that she’s going to try and lead the men away but to kill anyone that comes looking for him. Before he can even open an eye to register this, she’s off.
Ellie takes off on the horse and her plan seems to work. But James is too good of a shot and fairly quickly, he kills the horse, knocking Ellie to the ground. Against David’s wishes, James is about to kill Ellie but David stops him. He and half the group takes Ellie and the horse, and the rest are left to search for Joel. It’s not a big neighborhood, though—so again, fairly quickly, one of the men comes into the house, sees the mess, and starts to creep down toward the basement where Joel is. Or was, as he has somehow disappeared. Joel then sneaks up behind the man and kills him. Joel makes fast work of the other men too, keeping them both alive just long enough to find out where, exactly, Ellie is. Once he knows, he kills them both. A switch has turned. When Ellie is in danger, Joel is a different person.
Back in town, David has Ellie in a cage. He says he has to keep her there because he’s afraid of her and she’s a dangerous person. Say what you want about David, but the man is perceptive. Either way, he likes that about her and explains that he wants to earn her trust so she can start over with them. He leaves and Ellie notices something on the floor: a human ear.
Ohhhh, so that’s what everyone was eating. Humans! Probably the father they can’t bury! Yes, the people of Silver Lake are cannibals—though when Ellie confronts David about this, he explains that not everyone knows. He’s also not proud of it but he says he had to do what he could for his people. They count on him. This leads David to tell Ellie that he sees himself in her: a natural leader who is smart, loyal, and violent. These are things she’s heard before from her FEDRA teacher, but somehow hearing them from this psycho makes them that much more true.
David reveals that the real reason he turned to God after the apocalypse is that he saw truth in the virus. All the virus wanted to do was spread and protect its own kind, with violence when it had to. He saw a natural beauty in that. He sees something in Ellie too and explains that in her he sees an equal. Someone who can be his friend and together they can rule the galaxy like father and son. Wait, sorry, wrong franchise. But it is kind of the same pitch Darth Vader makes to Luke Skywalker: join me and we’ll run this shit. The difference being it becomes increasingly clear that David sees more than a friendship with Ellie. He sees companionship, which Ellie figures out as they touch hands so she subsequently breaks his fingers.
David has had it and tells Ellie he’s going to chop her up for food—which is when, for the first time, she reveals her name to him. “Ellie is the little girl who broke your fucking finger,” she screams, almost like she’s leveling up her anger, fear, and trauma, if that’s even possible. Quickly, David returns with James and grabs Ellie, who fights for her life, even biting David in the process. They pin her on the table, ready to chop her up when Ellie plays her ace in the hole. “I’m infected” she screams. “And now so are you.” David sees the scar on her arm but it doesn’t make sense to him. She should be dead. But that moment of hesitation is all Ellie needs. She grabs the cleaver they were going to use on her, kills James, and escapes.
As this is happening, Joel makes his way to the town. He follows the blood stains from the horse into a cabin where he finds Ellie’s things, the horse, and multiple human bodies that have been carved up for dinner. He has to find Ellie before it’s too late.
Meanwhile, Ellie escapes into a store with David hot on her heels. She throws a charred log at him and misses, but it sets the building on fire. The fire slowly builds over the course of the scene, raising not just the stakes and tension, but acting as a visual representation of Ellie’s fear and anger. David stalks her around the store. “Ellieeeeeee, Elllllieeeeee,” he calls out like he’s Freddy Krueger. But he’s frustrated too because he truly believes that he could have been good for Ellie, and could have given her good things in life. It’s clear that he’s completely unhinged so Ellie finds an opening and attacks him. He flips her over and pins her down as if he’s going to rape her while explaining that he likes the fighting. Ellie then hurts him, turns the tables, and proceeds to stab him almost two dozen times in rapid succession as Bella Ramsey screams, flames raging around her, all of which is captured in a single shot.
It’s a moment as brutal, shocking, and terrifying as we’ve seen all season but it’s more than well-earned. David was an awful human who did awful things to not just the people he claimed to love, but Ellie too. Ellie herself has also suffered—and being in this impossible, awful situation was simply too much. And because this episode provides us with all that information in such a digestible way, Ellie’s moment of pure rage and violence is completely justified.
She stumbles outside and Joel finds her. She’s on edge, shaking, a changed person. So he holds her and says “It’s okay, baby girl, I got you” and the two of them walk away with the ashes of Silver Lake behind them.
“When We Are in Need” was the ultimate “maybe the infected aren’t the evilest thing in this world” episode. It showed the terrible depths humanity can sink to in the name of self-preservation and what those kinds of actions can mean to the people around you. In this case, mostly Ellie, who has had traumatic moments before, but nothing like this vicious killing of a man who wanted to do the same to her. Ellie from Boston is no more. Now, it’s just Ellie after Silver Lake.
The Last of Us has one more episode in its first season and it debuts March 12. Click here to watch the rest.
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