Joel Miller Is Somehow Even More Badass With An Infected Stab Wound

This post contains spoilers for "The Last of Us," season 1, episode 8, "When We Are in Need."

He may have spent the whole last episode laid out on a mattress, clinging to his life, but Joel (Pedro Pascal) came roaring back to life this week on "The Last of Us." All he needs is a shot of penicillin and this guy is like Popeye the Sailor Man with a can of spinach. Joel's teenage traveling companion, Ellie (Bella Ramsey), puts a knife in his hand and leaves him to his own devices in the basement of a house as a group of unwitting cannibal cultists, led by David (Scott Shepherd), closes in. They're seeking vengeance for the man Joel killed back in episode 6, the one who stabbed him and put him out of commission as Ellie flashed back to her shopping mall memories in episode 7.

Joel manages to take out several guys, torturing two of them, but it's the first one that merited the most discussion this week from showrunners Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann on the latest episode of "The Last of Us" podcast. Host Troy Baker, who played Joel in the game and who has an onscreen role in episode 8 as David's ill-fated companion James, asked Mazin and Druckmann about Joel and his first fight as he recovers. Druckmann began by saying that Joel's swift recovery and triumph over the cultists made Halley Gross — who co-wrote "The Last of Us Part II" video game with him — laugh over how "just Joel at 10 percent is better than two of these guys at 100 percent."

'He is fighting for Ellie'

When Ellie leaves Joel clutching her knife, we don't even know if he's going to be conscious to defend himself. However, after Joel hears one of the cultists upstairs, moving a piece of furniture away from the basement door, he's able to gather his strength and dispatch his first bad guy by catching him from behind and plunging the knife into his neck. According to Craig Mazin, this adrenaline-fueled survival feat might not be possible if it were just Joel fighting for himself:

"He is fighting for Ellie. If it were just him, I think he would just be like, 'Oh, for f***'s sake, just do it. Just kill me already. I'm useless, I'm broken, I'm lying on this mattress, and I'm dying.' But the thought that Ellie might still be alive, that Ellie might need him, that is what gets him off the mattress. That's — Well, that and the penicillin, which is derived from a fungus, which I love. That's what gets him going, and [director] Ali [Abbasi] really stressed that this fight should have a sad desperation to it. That Joel is hanging — He stabs this guy and then hangs onto him because he doesn't have the strength to stand anymore. And then they both fall to the ground, and it is ugly."

While the first guy he kills can be written off as self-defense, "The Last of Us" has alluded to Joel murdering people in the past, and we see a more brutal side of him come out as he starts torturing (and killing) other tied prisoners for information on Ellie's whereabouts. The moral of the story is: don't get between Joel and Ellie.

"The Last of Us" season 1 finale airs next Sunday, March 12, 2023, on HBO and HBO Max.