Joel (Pedro Pascal), our favourite surly scowling protagonist, has a past.
This is something that’s been clear since The Last of Us episode 1, when 2023 Joel is clearly shown to be a person not to be crossed. As the show’s progressed we’ve had more references to his actions since the cordyceps outbreak, with Joel making it clear to Ellie (Bella Ramsey) that he and Tommy (Gabriel Luna) used to be part of a fairly violent group that didn’t mind killing people if they needed to. Although Joel has always been tough and violent, though, we’ve never really seen the full extent of his ruthless side before.
Until episode 8, at least.
In The Last of Us‘ most recent instalment, a kidnapped Ellie brings Joel’s inner monster quickly to the surface. But there’s one key scene, and one moment in particular that throws back to episode 6, which really highlights this. Let’s break it down.
What happens with Joel in episode 8?
Joel starts off the episode in a barely conscious state, suffering from the stab wound he received by an assailant at the University of Eastern Colorado in episode 6. After Ellie goes out hunting and meets David (Scott Shepherd), she manages to get some penicillin to stave off the infection he’s incurred. The bad news? The man who attacked Joel and who he killed was part of David’s group, and they’re hungry for revenge.
Credit: Liane Hentscher/HBO
As the group closes in on Joel and Ellie’s hideout she tries her best to wake him, pressing a knife to his chest and telling him she’s going to draw them away. “If anybody makes it down here, you fucking kill them,” says Ellie. “You got it?”
It’s fair to say Joel takes Ellie’s advice seriously, wounding the men before tying them both up and interrogating them about Ellie’s whereabouts.
“You’re going to point to where we are, and where your resort is, and it better be the exact same spot your buddy points to,” Joel growls at the first man, shoving a map in front of him after having already stabbed him in the leg.
The man does what Joel says. At this point, armed with the information he needs, I was expecting Joel to leave the men tied up and rush off after Ellie. But he doesn’t. In a particularly violent sequence that shows just how ruthless his character can be, Joel stabs one man and bashes the other’s head in.
Joel uses the same map trick back in episode 6.
If you felt a bit of déjà vu when Joel asks the man to point at the map, it’s because he’s done it before. Back at the start of episode 6, when Joel and Ellie stumble across that older couple living in a secluded wooden cabin in the forest, Joel pulls the exact same trick.
“We’re somewhere here,” Joel tells the husband, who’s just returned from a hunt. “Exactly where? And your answer better be the same as your wife’s.”
The contrast between this scene and the one in episode 8 couldn’t be greater. In episode 6 the “interrogation” is a bit of light relief, with the elderly couple almost laughing off Joel’s attempts to be intimidating and everything ending amicably enough. It almost gives us the impression that Joel’s ruthless past is behind him.
The return of the map trick in episode 8 makes it clear this isn’t the case. Joel’s ruthless streak never really left him after all — it was just below the surface, waiting for the right set of circumstances to come out of hiding.
Ellie being kidnapped, and possibly harmed, is clearly enough to do it. The scene with the returning map trick sends a clear message that the old Joel of just a few episodes back is gone, at least for now — and the Joel that’s replaced him is the monster he briefly became after his daughter was killed, surviving at any cost.
The Last of Us is now streaming on HBO Max.(opens in a new tab) New episodes air every Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.