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HBO's The Last Of Us Ditches This Villainous Twist (And It Doesn't Totally Work)

Spoilers ahead for "The Last of Us" video game and television series.

"The Last of Us" continues its trend of subverting audience expectations with each and every episode. The show has managed to bring the story of the first game to the screen with startling accuracy, all while introducing new ideas to the series' intense mythology. Episode 8, "When We Are in Need," finally introduces the most despicable villain from the games, but does so in a way that feels much more straightforward than the original version.


In "The Last of Us Part 1," David is the leader of a group that has resorted to cannibalism to survive the brutal winter. He manages to keep up a softer facade for a while, almost convincing Ellie to trust him, but he eventually turns on her in a bloody confrontation that leaves Ellie traumatized. Although it's hard to trust anyone in the world of "The Last of Us," it's difficult to anticipate the awful acts David is capable of until it's too late. The HBO adaptation follows a different path, arguably to the story's detriment.

David's villainous turn is telegraphed from the start

In the game, players meet David at the same time Ellie does, leaving his true intentions murky. In the show, David is introduced as someone who seems to be feared by the people of his town. A young woman is shown to be afraid to ask David when she can bury her father. Shortly after, David questions the loyalty of his right-hand man, James. 


While the game shows that David's men follow his instructions with very few questions, the show gives audiences a better look at how he runs his town. Despite all of his talk of caring about the town, he definitely holds himself higher than anyone in the town. All it takes is one look at the plate of food he has in the dinner scene, which is notably much fuller than the others, to see that he's fashioned himself into a king here.

But most notably, he strikes the daughter of one the men killed by Joel, just to reinforce his authority. In the game, David's truly evil nature finally becomes clear when he physically threatens Ellie. Here, it seems like his darker proclivities are an open secret among the people he claims to protect.


Episode 8 is still strong, but the twist is missing

Overall, there's not much of a reveal here when it comes to David's true nature, which is definitely an interesting choice on the show's part. It also feels like the first real misstep of the series' attempt at adapting the game's story. Gamers get to meet David from Ellie's perspective, whereas the show introduces the character in a series of ominous scenes. Becuase of this, David immediately seems untrustworthy, which arguably lessens the impact of his eventual showdown with Ellie. When David turns vicious in the games, it's a real punch in the gut (literally). Here, he's pretty much a plain-faced villain from moment one.


The episode is still a solid adaptation, however. Bella Ramsey delivers a powerhouse performance as Ellie is truly on her own for the first time since the show began. Scott Shepherd's take on David is layered and chilling, and the growing enmity between David and Ellie is palpable. The end of the episode is harrowing, but removing the twist likewise removes a bit of the original impact of this character. The suspense feels somewhat lessened by the fact that we can sense David's wickedness almost immediately. 

Even so, HBO's "The Last of Us" found a way to present new sides to the original game's most despicable villain, which is to be commended.