Now that all the episode-long flashbacks are done (hopefully), it’s time for the final, two-episode plunge towards the season finale and you can’t say that the show runners haven’t left us in an intriguing place. After all, thanks to the last episode, we now know exactly how loyal Ellie can be to her loved ones and her resolve to not leave a badly wounded Joel – despite the fact he’s begged her to – means she’s primed to have an adventure that’s no doubt going to be as heart rending and disturbing as all the others.
However, there’s an obstacle on the horizon that’s far more pertinent than a cordyceps infected ghoul or a roving gang of bandits – the fact that the episode covers a lot of ground that a certain other, zombie-stuffed, dystopian show has already covered. Can The Last Of Us rise above such familiar material to take its rightful place at the top of the heap?
Still laid up with a nasty wound in his abdomen, Joel shivers and sweats through a virulent fever as Ellie struggles to keep them both alive through a particularly unforgiving winter, she raises her hope levels after she grabs her companion’s rifle and bags herself a deer while hunting for food. However, after tracking the deer after it finally succumbs to its wound, she runs into preacher David and his hunting companion James, whom she immediately holds at gunpoint. David is the leader of a god fearing commune who is suffering hard due the the onset of this cruel winter and after some edgy bartering, Ellie manages to trade half her kill for some much needed penicillin for Joel and while James heads off to collect the medicine, David stays behind to chat to this fascinating girl.
However, as always, things are not always what they seem and David actually has a few ulterior motives hidden up his sleeve with the most pertinent one being that the man that wounded Joel (and whom he killed in return) was a member of David’s flock who have already demanded vengeance. Yet, when James returns with the penicillin (and a loaded gun), David calls him off and let’s Ellie go with the intention of tracking her down later – which he does with a small posse who are looking to settle a score.
As Ellie attempts to lead them away, she’s unaware that she’s about to have yet another crash course in experiencing what dark lengths desperate people will go to when hope (not to mention food) are in short supply and soon she’s going to find out all of David’s deepest, darkest secrets whether she wants to or not.
Can a healing (but noticably far from 100%) Joel manage to save his young, scrappy companion or has Ellie learnt enough to take matters into her own hands?
Even though I’ve tried (and failed) to largely avoid making too many comparisons between The Last Of Us and The Walking Dead, When We Are In Need makes it virtually impossible not to hold the two up side by side as the plot tackles many of the same issues Rick Grimes and company had to endure. As the episode progresses, we have a father figure stricken by serious injury while the child in their care (read: Carl Grimes) undergoes some sort of rite of passage in order to not only save them, but to mature and prove themselves in this vicious world. Elsewhere, we’re introduced to a seemingly decent commune of people (on the surface at least) who are actually led by a man with a dark past (any number of WD antagonists) and has steered them to unwittingly take extreme methods to survive, such as cannibalism (see the Terminus episodes) – even a milky eyed Infected could spot the similarities. However, the way the two shows tackle these incredibly familiar elements couldn’t be more different as The Last Of Us takes a far more subtle approach with some truly grisly plot turns.
First and foremost, the main difference is that Bella Ramsey’s Ellie is a far more interesting character than all of the younger cast members of The Walking Dead put together and this episode, twinned with the previous installment’s flashback format gives the actress plenty to work with. Be it hunting, caring for Joel, or locking squinty eyes with untrustworthy newcomers, this is the solo performance we’ve been waiting for.
It helps that she’s got a good foil to bounce off and Scott Sheppard’s unassuming David is a sobering, mature take on a stock foe. Where other shows may take a religious leader with dubious eating habits and maybe lean into the grandiose when it comes to the performance, all the worst aspects of the man’s personality are kept tantalisingly under the surface. While we’re eventually told that he’s essentially turned his flock into unwitting cannibals, we only see the act hinted at with a suspiciously meaty gruel until Joel later stumbles on what looks like Ed Gein’s pantry and the fact we don’t get a gory scene spelling everything out simply makes everything all the more insidious. Likewise, David’s motives are left open to interpretation – does he actually want to groom Ellie to help him lead or is his infatuation with the girl a sign of something far more horrific? His admittance that he respects the Cordyceps infection certainly suggests so, as does his confession that he was once a violent man and when Ellie turns down his offer (along with a broken finger for his troubles), his true nature bubbles to the surface.
Speaking of violent natures, Pedro Pascal’s Joel finally makes it off the bench after nearly two episodes of inaction to show us that his panic attack inducing fear of Ellie getting hurt is well and truly a thing of the past as he maims, tortures and outright murders his way to save his companion.
It’s to the show’s credit that it makes him slightly too late, giving Ellie the space she needs to take care of business herself, yet still have the emotional reunion we all couldn’t wait for. Watch as the two hug – it’s not as smuggler and cargo or even as friends, but instead they plainly embrace as a father and his daughter, thus cementing their relationship fully in a way that’s slowly been coming the moment Joel first agreed to take the surly teen to the Fireflies.
I mentioned in an earlier review that The Last Of Us covers the same ground as Robert Kirkman’s zombie epic, but achieves greater results in a fraction of the time (it surely would have taken The Walking Dead four seasons to achieve what this show has done in eight episodes) and this weeks episode certainly proves that by taking the standard dystopian cannibal reveal (which seems to be in every apocalyptic TV show these days) and giving it a subtle, sinister twist.
With the season finale just over the next bridge, still expect more heinous misery to come. I can’t wait.