This article contains spoilers for The Last of Us episode 8.
HBO’s The Last of Us is shuffling toward its season one finale, and for those who’ve played Naughty Dog’s 2013 game of the same name, you knew exactly what was coming in episode 8. Following a flashback to Ellie’s life pre-Joel in episode 7, we were back in the present for “When We Are In Need,” with showrunner Craig Mazin adapting the winter chapter of the game.
The big talking point of the latest episode is that Joel voice actor Troy Baker appears as the villainous James, with the character being massively expanded from the games. The same can be said about Scott Shepherd’s David, who gets a more thorough overhaul. For those complaining it’s another swing away from the games, David’s role in the series actually hearkens back to a storyline Naughty Dog seemingly left on the cutting room floor.
Although those in the Jackson community are well-fed, others out there in the wilderness aren’t faring as well. David and his followers have had to resort to cannibalism, although an uneasy mention of venison suggests that not everyone in his flock knows they’re eating their own dead. David’s new story reveals him as a history teacher-turned-preacher-turned-cannibal, who has out-there religious views about the Cordyceps outbreak. Instead of being your typical religious preacher, he worships the infection and its mushroom monsters as deities. Things are more subtle regarding cannibalism, and while it’s a missed opportunity that we don’t see them chopping up bodies, the idea that only David’s inner circle is in on the grim revelation is altogether more harrowing.
While video game David was also the leader of a cannibalistic group, episode eight turns him into a religious cult leader. Unlike morally gray characters like Marlene (Merle Dandridge), David is an out-and-out villain in both the game and the TV series. It fits the character well, but according to redditor u/-anne-marie- it brings things full circle to cut audio from the game. Six years ago, they dug up leaked audio files from The Last of Us and compiled all 30,000+. One particular line says, “You can’t kill me, I’m destined for so much more.”
As noted, David’s cut dialogue has religious undertones that are missing from the game. Other elements hinted that David’s preacher backstory was here long before the TV series. The game has the same banner reading, “When we are in need he will provide,” but scenes of David ranting his bible verses to his people are unique to the series. Speaking at Tampa Bay Comic-Con, North referred to David as “the shepherd of his flock,” suggesting that these religious zealot themes were in the background of the game, even if they weren’t clear.
On the game commentary, Naughty Dog’s Neil Druckmann said that David was born from the simple premise of “cannibal king,” but when North was cast, his personality grew. Similarly to Shepherd’s David, Druckmann wanted him to be charismatic enough to lull Ellie into a false sense of security. North explained in a YouTube Let’s Play that he played David as a warped father instead of a sexual deviant, however, David was reintroduced as a pedophile on HBO’s series. Before his brutal demise, he tries to assault Ellie, and also makes a reference to “liking it when they fight back,” implying it’s not the first time he’s done this to a child or woman.
Interestingly, the redditor who collated the audio writes that the David dialogue is the third cut storyline that’s found a place in the show. As well as a missing line hinting at Joel’s work in the construction industry, there’s a major mention of “tendrils.” Instead of infected blasting out toxic spores, the live-action versions are connected via a massive network of tendrils that makes them part of the same hive mind. While David’s expanded backstory makes him into an even darker villain, there are to be those who bemoan another change from the games. The thing is, it sounds like Naughty Dog has always imagined David as a sick preacher.
The Last of Us season 1 finale airs Sunday, May 12 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.