The Last Of Us Brings In An Actor Who's Very Familiar To Gamers

This post contains spoilers for "The Last Of Us" episode 8.

HBO's "The Last Of Us" is a show that clearly loves its source material. If you couldn't tell that by the way series co-creators Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann (the latter of whom made the video games as well) lift entire pages of dialogue straight from the game, or by listening to the official companion podcast in which they break down every filmmaking choice in detail with game actor Troy Baker, the latest episode makes it crystal clear. That's because Baker himself appears, not just in a cameo, but in a meaty (pun intended) role that's a major departure from his turn as Joel Miller in the Naughty Dog games that form the series' foundation.

In the latest episode of "The Last Of Us," Baker plays James, the doubtful right-hand man to pedophiliac, cannibalistic pastor David (Scott Shepherd). Before that, though, he voiced the role that's now being embodied by Pedro Pascal, imbuing the original Joel Miller with a deep undercurrent of pain and love that helped make the games the award-winning phenomenon they are today. Baker also provided the motion capture performance for Joel, donning a mocap suit to act out the game's action and angst on set.

Troy Baker plays David's sidekick, James

You may not recognize Baker in live-action, but anyone who's been near a video game or animated series in the last decade or two will surely recognize his voice. The actor's IMDb page lists an astoundingly prolific 399 titles (an upcoming game called "Fort Solis" is set to mark an even 400), including hundreds of roles in video games. When he's not voicing Joel, he plays Batman, The Joker, and assorted other Gotham characters in games like "Batman: Arkham Knight" and "Batman: The Enemy Within." Baker has been nominated for four BAFTAs for "The Last Of Us" and his roles in "Uncharted 4" (another Druckmann-made game in which he played Nathan Drake's older brother Samuel) and the popular 2019 apocalypse game "Death Stranding."

Baker's turn in the eighth episode of HBO's "The Last Of Us" is a far cry from deadly but loving Joel Miller: as villainous David's second in command, he's cold and calculating, attempting to talk his boss into simply killing Ellie (Bella Ramsey) instead of taking her captive. But it's also clear that, while James is in David's inner circle, he doesn't know everything about the man he follows. He may be an active participant in the cannibalism, but he seems to also be a man of misguided faith, and he's pretty clueless about ulterior motives David might have for focusing on Ellie. Regardless, James catches a meat cleaver to the face in the episode's climax, but not before Baker puts in a great, surprisingly in-depth performance in what could've been a simple cameo role.

The show gives the game's voice actors substantial roles

Druckmann and Mazin seem committed to paying homage to the game's original cast in a way that's super endearing. In addition to Baker's role, co-star Ashley Johnson, who played Ellie, is set to appear in the series finale in a rather substantial role — Ellie's own mother. Merle Dandridge, meanwhile, reprised her role from the game as Marlene, a Firefly leader who kick-starts Ellie and Joel's story when she tasks the smuggler with carrying the girl out of the QZ. Finally, Jeffrey Pierce, who played Joel's brother Tommy in the games, played another doomed right-hand man: Perry, the enforcer for Kansas City leader Kathleen (Melanie Lynskey). Not only do the voice actors get to inhabit lived-in, against-type roles in the show, but some of them also get to play out great, memorable death scenes.

Baker is a versatile actor who makes episode 8, already one of the most harrowing parts of the game, even better by quietly questioning David's most insidious impulses. In the end, though, James is terrifying too, as a mercenary sheep who will follow his shepherd into even the darkest of places. I'm glad we got to see Baker in this role, and I'm glad James didn't make it out of this hour alive. It's a death made even more satisfyingly ironic by the fact that he's killed by Ellie, the character his version of Joel loved more than anything in the game. Rest in pieces, James!

"The Last Of Us" airs on HBO and HBO Max on Sundays at 9 p.m. EST.