One of the most anticipated characters in the game makes his debut. We have seen ruthless leaders led by vengeance in the form of Kathleen, and we have seen thriving communities with Maria, but now we have David (Scott Shepherd). He is calm, struggling and preaches to his flock in the harsh winter. Struggling to feed his community, David enlists James (Troy Baker) to track down some venison, but as fate would have it, he crosses paths with Ellie (Bella Ramsey) who needs antibiotics for Joel (Pedro Pascal).
The entire ski lodge arc is covered in this episode with minimal interaction from Joel but plenty from Ellie and David. They have an interesting dynamic with David being very interested in Ellie and championing for her to remain alive throughout the episode. David is first presented as caring, likable, and very charming. Scott Shepherd does a perfect job of showcasing the many layers David hides and slowly reveals as his true nature comes to the surface. We do not get any infected in this episode; instead, David starts to earn Ellie’s trust by opening up about his past as a teacher and his struggles. The change is subtle, as he reveals to Ellie about a “Crazy Man” that killed one of his men. This moment is the only moment that falls a little flat following on from how quick Joel was injured in episode 6. It doesn’t warrant the manhunt David had authorised for Joel, but that is tweaked to match the series. Instead, it adds to David’s need for control and respect. When that is broken, we see the real David. He remains calm, and composed, but, in a dangerous mix, allows his violent side to the surface.
Similar to the rest of the series, the characters and story make this an exceptional episode. Not only is David a layered and fantastic character that is exquisitely performed, but the subtle moments between him and the other characters pack punches. Particularly that of James. Troy Baker is not only a master of his voice, having voiced Joel in The Last of Us games, but he adds more to James by adding a simple look than most actors. James hesitates with David. There is respect there, but mostly fear. It seems that he is one of the few people to see and know what David is truly like, further excelling this episode into one of the best in the series.
It is no secret The Last of Us has had some pacing issues, but this episode predominantly focusing on David’s community, rectifies that. The entire episode is structured like a mini movie; we see the community and their struggles to the resolution of the episode.
The fiery climax of the episode makes for some reveals that were cleverly hinted at and foreshadowed in the build-up. Most being venison and David’s true nature and his obsession with finding Ellie and wanting her at his side. He laments how the two have the same violent heart but the undertone of it is much more sadistic, specially when it comes to fruition. There is one moment in the culmination of the episode that is distributing. It is similar to the game, but with the tweaks made to David, it creates for a more menacing twist.
In this episode, we have mostly seen David as calm, and reasonable, but the nuanced performance is excelled by Scott Shepherd, who will undoubtedly earn awards for this role. Another stand out performer is, again, Bella Ramsey particularly at the end of the episode when they deliver a heartened and heavy performance and while the focus of the episode is David and his community, Pedro Pascal will leave people in awe in yet another iconic and brutal Joel moment lifted perfectly from the game.
This episode’s MVC goes to David. He drives the episode, delivers a superb faultless performance, particularly when we see his true nature, when he laments about the cordyceps and his admiration for them. Scott Shepherd and the direction of the character make for a layered and sinister character that is a perfect balance of charming and dangerous.