REVIEW: The Last of Us – “When We Are In Need”

Scott Shepherd as ‘David’ and Bella Ramsey as ‘Ellie’ in HBO’s THE LAST OF US –PHOTO: HBO / Liane Hentscher.

The following is a recap and review of the eighth episode of HBO’s The Last of Us. Expect story spoilers.

In the eighth and penultimate episode of the first season of the HBO adaptation of the critically acclaimed video game franchise known as The Last of Us — titled When We Are In Need — Ellie (played by Bella Ramsey) encounters a group of survivors that may be more trouble than they seem. When We Are In Need was directed by Ali Abbasi (Holy Spider) and written by Craig Mazin (Chernobyl).

On the other side of the title sequence, we see the blistering cold and hear the voice of David, the leader of a group that we will be familiarized with in this episode, recite Revelations 21. At this point, he seems like a kind man trying to be kind to a young woman who is crying softly. He is wiling away her tears with the biblical passage, but at the same time he is also assuring her that the ground is too cold to bury her father, so they’ll have to wait till the spring. The show is trying to lull you into a false sense of security. This could be another decent group like Tommy’s, right? Well, about that… The priestly David then speaks to James, one of his disciples who is played by Troy Baker (the actor who voices and motion-captures Joel in the original video games), about their food shortage and whether or not they are losing faith in David, as well as about the prosperity of the group over the last six months. David is assured that James is still with him, and so they embark on a hunt to find food — the deer that have been spotted. 

Meanwhile, Ellie is caring for the bedridden and injured Joel. Their supplies are running short as well, so Ellie heads out in the dangerous cold with Joel’s rifle. She, too, will be looking for rabbits and deer, though she initially falls face-first into the snow while she is pursuing an animal (in the game, she is confident with a bow and arrow but still also carries a rifle). When she spots a lonely deer, she fires at it and it runs off. It eventually falls to the ground and dies. She isn’t first to the body, though. Instead, it is David and James who find it first and desire to take it for themselves. Naturally, there’s a bit of a stand-off between Ellie and the two adult men. Ellie appears to be doing something to her voice to sound more menacing or more adult, but it isn’t doing much frankly. When David tells her his group is large and hungry, she responds that she too is from that kind of group. The lie doesn’t convince David, who can see she’s all alone. He offers a trade, and she asks for medicine. David agrees to a deal for one-half of the deer in exchange for penicillin and a syringe, which James must go get while Ellie holds David at gunpoint. David insists to James it isn’t code for anything, but it is. Gamers will know this sequence firsthand. In the first game, after Joel is injured and presumed dead, the game cuts to Ellie hunting animals in the snow, and, yes, eventually she comes upon David and another man and asks for medicine. This is very close to the game, which, however, never really showed David’s group as being civilized as the opening suggested. 

With Ellie and David alone, David tries to interview Ellie about who she’s with and presumes it’s her dad’s rifle and her dad who is injured. He offers to create a fire inside a nearby building, and she agrees and requires him to drag the deer with them. Sitting around the fire, David offers Ellie a spot in his group. He tells her he was selected as the leader, a former math teacher, and now a preacher (just because it rhymes? Ellie jokes). That’s when the conversation gets slightly more hostile, as he tells her that the woman crying in the opening lost her father to a crazy man traveling with a little girl — that’s right, Joel and Ellie. It was their raiders who they ran into. It was them who ambushed and injured Joel. It was their man whose neck Joel snapped. “Everything happens for a reason,” David says, ordering James to lower the gun. In spite of having her surrounded, David orders James to give her the medicine. Understandably scared, she runs away and back to Joel. And, no, James, David isn’t letting her get away. Their group will be following in her footsteps. And all of this is just like in the game, although in the game David and Ellie also have to fend off a bunch of infected in a really tough sequence while they wait for the medicine. 

With Joel, Ellie injects the syringe with penicillin into Joel’s wound. Meanwhile, we see David’s group cook what they claim is ‘venison.’ As they sit and eat it, David returns with the deer and confirms the report that they’ve found the girl and intend to follow in her footsteps. The daughter of the man they’ve lost orders David to kill Joel and so he gives her a backhanded slap to the face. Moments later they say grace and eat. They all dig in hungrily but James eats more ponderously, which suggests that he knows it isn’t venison that they are devouring. 

The next morning, Ellie injects another round of penicillin into Joel’s wound. While she’s then assembling snow for the horse to eat/drink, she hears something and sees David’s group on their way to them. David wants to kill Joel and bring Ellie back with them, which James doesn’t agree with. David silently looks at James and has him stop speaking. Meanwhile, Ellie runs back to Joel and tells him what’s happening. He’s still not ready to move. So, she leaves him and rides off on horseback hoping to draw them away from Joel. It works. They chase her in a sequence that is similar to the game but much shorter. James shoots and kills her horse, and Ellie falls to the ground. Standing over her, James is commanded by someone to kill her, but again David orders them to stop. David carries Ellie with him and orders a couple of them to go with him back to their group while the rest stay and search for Joel. Joel hears them coming, manages to get up, and he then stabs one of them in the neck slowly killing them. It’s hard for Joel, who is in better shape than before but still in pain. Like in the game, Joel has to fight his way out of town and back to Ellie. We see him interrogate and torture two men and use the same map tactic that he used on the elderly couple in the previous episode (though, of course, he didn’t hurt them). Even after being told where she is being held, Joel kills them. This is our glimpse into the dangerous Joel of the past who we’ve heard so much about, and it’s all just like in the game. 

Also, like in the game, Ellie is later seen locked up and spoken to by David. He tells her that he stopped them from killing her. He wants to protect her, he claims. When she is offered food, David notices that she’s seen a cut-off ear on the ground. That’s right people. Cannibals. David claims he’s feeding her deer meat, but how would she know? David tells her only a few of them are aware of the fact that they’re eating people as a last resort, which explains why James wasn’t as gung-ho on the grub when they were all eating earlier. David tells Ellie he is reminded of himself when he sees her. He knows she’s both smart and violent, which he is too. He says they both have violent hearts, which, to a certain extent, is true. Remember how fascinated she was by Joel protecting her? She is fascinated by that kind of power, though it must sting Ellie to be compared to David. He says they can be equals but does so in a way that’s very creepy and calls into question what exactly he means by that. She slowly walks up to him as if she’s starting to believe and trust him. When he touches her hand, she takes it and injures his finger. “Tell them Ellie is the little girl who broke your tucking finger,” she barks at him. The scene ends with David suggesting they’ll cut her into tiny pieces like she suggested they might. 

Joel is at this point slowly making his way toward the group and their ‘resort.’ He finds Ellie’s bag behind a door he’s been led to by blood. In the next room, he sees humans strung up like animals, just like in the game. It is a terrifying sight that suggests they’ve been doing this for some time. Meanwhile, David and James pull Ellie out of her cell. They’ll cut her into pieces. Just as they are about to use a meat cleaver on her, she screams that she’s infected and that now David is too, due to a fresh wound in his hand. They check her wound and it startles them. Ellie sees her moment, grabs the cleaver, and strikes James with it, thus killing the character played by the actor who voiced her father figure in the games. Interesting tongue-in-cheek type of humor from the writers (I have to say that I’m really happy with Troy Baker’s guest appearance— it’s a sizable role with a memorable final scene). She runs into the next room, but all exits are locked. David is now hunting her in this very room. This is just like in the game, as he stalks her like prey and she is trying to stay away, while a fire is burning inside of the room. David insists she must be lying about her infection — that she couldn’t possibly be so special. The disgusting predator that he is, he says he won’t kill her but instead be her ‘father’ and ‘teach her.’ She runs up and stabs him in the stomach. David then knocks her over, and menacingly sits over her. He grossly says she shouldn’t struggle because ‘there is no fear in love,’ and she responds by smashing his face repeatedly with a nearby machete. David is pure evil and was attempting to sexually assault Ellie right there in the burning building, but, thankfully, Ellie got ahold of a weapon with which she unleashed all of her repressed anger on him — cutting him into pieces. It is an incredibly violent scene that is very true to the source material in its gruesomeness. Shaken up, she goes outside where she is met by Joel. He comforts her and takes her away. “It’s okay, baby girl. I got you,” Joel says. It is a heavy and emotional line that suggests how he’s starting to see her as his own. You might even argue that he feels like he’s saved her, but Ellie saved herself. Ellie is forever changed by this experience. She now knows firsthand the wickedness of man. 

You might’ve gotten tired of me mentioning it above, but this episode was very much like the first game. The episode, which was directed by Holy Spider director Ali Abbasi (Holy Spider is a true crime film about a female reporter investigating a serial killer who sees himself as a holy warrior), is undoubtedly the episode of the series thus far that is the most faithful to the source material. There are show inventions such as the line about Ellie having a violent heart and the glimpses into how David’s group works, but that is about it. What they’ve chosen not to depict in the episode is a large section of the game where Ellie and David fight a horde of infected (I remember it as being quite challenging on my first go-around), as well as a couple of combat scenes between our protagonists and David’s group. Otherwise, it is entirely like the game. This is a hugely impactful section of the game because it shocks the player by making you control Ellie for the very first time (it’s also the game’s way of keeping you on the edge of your seat after Joel’s injury), but, on top of that, the scene where David is stalking Ellie is basically a boss mission.

I’m sure there will be people who are upset about how the sequence with Ellie and David against the horde of infected has been dropped here, but it is very much a video game sequence, and the previous episode established how there are barely any infected out in the punishing winter cold of Colorado. Scott Shepherd, who plays David here, should be commended for his undeniably creepy portrayal of a character who is truly reprehensible and gross. He looks more normal in the show than he did in the game, where he was voiced by Nolan North, but he is just as creepy (if not more so due to the glimpses into him as a preacher and our information about him having been a teacher). Bella Ramsey also just nails the badass confident lines that Ellie has in this section of the game. Truly, Bella Ramsey has been incredible on this show. She fully lives up to the work done by Ashley Johnson to bring this character to life, and Ramsey is proving herself to be an outrageously gifted young thespian. If, however, I am to note something that didn’t fully work for me, it would be that since the episode spends a considerable amount of time establishing the size of David’s group, it was a little bit strange that we didn’t get a scene or two explaining why no one was around when the building was burning and Joel was there to comfort Ellie — that bit right there was maybe a little bit rushed. On the whole, though, this is yet another terrific episode of The Last of Us, which has never been as faithful to the source material as it is here, but, even though it is beat-for-beat mostly like the game, it doesn’t half-ass anything. It is just as creepy, just as epic, and just as hard-hitting. An excellent penultimate episode with another remarkable and raw performance from Bella Ramsey who has never been better than she is in this outstanding video game adaptation. She ought to be given a number of awards later in the year. 


– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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