Joel's Love For Ellie Turns Brutal In This Week's The Last Of Us

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

At the midpoint of this week's episode of "The Last of Us," when Joel (Pedro Pascal) finally wakes up from his coma, he immediately calls for Ellie (Bella Ramsey), who is nowhere to be seen.

Earlier, while hunting for food and supplies, Ellie has an exchange with two strangers that quickly takes a turn for the worse. Fierce as ever, Ellie holds David (Scott Shepherd) and James (voice actor Troy Baker, a familiar face for any hardcore fans of the original game) at gunpoint. Ignorantly assuming she's in control of the situation, she requests that they give her medicine in exchange for the deer she hunted.

While James runs back to grab what she needs, David tries to get to know Ellie. He claims he's a preacher and leader of his own group full of women and children, survivors from a fallen Pittsburgh Quarantine Zone. In an intimidation tactic, he reveals that a group of his men on patrol were murdered recently by a man traveling with a little girl. Ellie grabs the medicine and runs back to her garage hideout to apply it to Joel's wound, but knowing that she only has a limited time until David's men come after them both, she decides to take the horse and draw them away from Joel's location.

Rising from the dead, Joel searches for Ellie in the snow and apprehends two of David's men. After tying both down, he interrogates them for Ellie's location, but this isn't a game of good cop/bad cop; Joel means business. In this scene, Joel's love for Ellie transforms into something brutal and primal.

Joel's violent edge emerges

In previous episodes, we were told plenty of times that Joel has a violent past. In her final moments, Tess (Anna Torv) sought redemption for what she and Joel had to do to survive for all of these years. Tommy (Gabriel Luna) founded the Jackson commune partly as an attempt to heal from the emotional scars left behind by his brother. When Joel and Ellie were first attacked by hunters upon arriving in Kansas City, he passively mentions that he's "been on both sides." Outside of occasional moments of self-defense, it's very rare that we see this side of Joel in the show. Since there are no gameplay sequences in this new medium, there's much less room for action sequences that demonstrate Joel's capacity as a murder machine to the audience.

Compared to Troy Baker's original portrayal of Joel, Pedro Pascal's performance has been consistently channeling a much more vulnerable side of the character. In one of Pascal's best dramatic scenes of the show so far, he begs Tommy to finish his quest and bring Ellie to the Fireflies, ruminating over his past failures to protect his loved ones. It explains why he has tried to push Ellie away: the possibility of losing another daughter would truly be his final breaking point. Joel weeps in front of his brother, something that we don't ever get to see from his game iteration at any point in the original source material.

I was skeptical at first, but looking back, restraining some of Joel's rougher edges until they violently burst out has actually proved to be a stunning adaptation choice. In this interrogation scene, Joel has everything to lose — and he'll stop at nothing to save who he loves.

Joel's love is redemptive, but also vindictive

Joel's interrogation method is a signature display of cruelty. Separating the two goons, Joel asks one man to mark Ellie's location on the map while torturing the other. Then, he switches their roles, making sure their stories match up and they're both telling the truth (In the game's sequel, this is even something Tommy and Ellie learn and attempt for themselves). Joel's interrogation quickly turns into sadism, as he kills one of the hunters despite getting the information he needs. "I believe him," says Joel, before coldly killing the other man.

We've seen Joel truly grow over the course of this season thanks to his relationship to Ellie. Despite all the emotional risks, he invites Ellie into his heart and loves her like one of his own. He lets his gruff exterior down and engages in her puns. He respects his brother's needs and lets him stay in Jackson, and he chooses to honor Tess's wish the best he can. But, in this interrogation scene, Joel's love turns into something toxic. In the same way love has redeemed Joel, it is also a cause for his regression into the dangerous man he once was.

One of the main moral questions Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann built "The Last of Us" around is "how far are you willing to go to protect someone you love?" As we approach the big finale of the series, this scene is here to show us that for a broken man like Joel, there is no limit.