David frowns in The Last of Us episode 8.

About That Venison in ‘The Last of Us’ Episode 8

This article contains spoilers for The Last of Us episode 8.

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There are a lot of really upsetting developments in The Last of Us episode 8—including cannibalism. However, the first half of the episode is written to be intentionally misleading, keeping us off balance until the truth comes out. What exactly is going on at that compound in the middle of the woods? Here’s a full breakdown, if you can stomach it.

The ‘venison’ that isn’t

Early in the episode, Ellie shoots a deer, only to lose it when she flees the shack where she and David (Scott Shepherd) have been taking shelter. David and James lug the carcass back to their compound, happy that they’ve secured some food for their community.

In the kitchen at the compound, some residents are preparing dinner with canned tomatoes. It’s been a hard winter and food is running out, but then someone brings in a bin full of chopped meat. He tells the cook that it’s venison, and we assume that it’s from the deer David and James just brought home—yet for some reason, no one looks happy about it.

Then we see David and James bring in the deer, still whole and unbutchered. What’s going on here?

Well … remember that little girl’s father? The one whose neck Joel snapped back at the university, and who supposedly can’t be buried until the thaw? Yeah, that’s him in the bin—and later, in everyone’s bowls.

We don’t get confirmation that that’s what happening, though, until Ellie spots a human ear lying on the floor of the kitchen where she’s caged. Ellie puts it together and confronts David, who admits that the community is surviving on the meat of people who have died.

Is it the cannibalism that makes David evil?

Hoo boy, this is complicated. David is definitely evil, as we see in the climax of the episode. David is also eating people. But it’s the dead of winter, and his community is in danger of starving to death. As we’ve seen in other disaster stories, both real and fictional, people can be driven to extreme lengths when they’re trying to survive.

It’s David’s attitude toward what they’re doing, though, that’s morally noxious. At first, when Ellie confronts him, he paints it as a matter of necessity, saying, “you think it doesn’t shame me?”

A few moments later, though, he seems to embrace it, claiming that he has a “violent heart,” and that he’s inspired by the way Cordyceps “feeds and protects its children, and secures its future through violence, if it must.” David has rationalized away his own humanity by telling himself that there’s a spiritual dimension to his violence. But there isn’t. David and the others are engaging in an unspeakably disgusting practice, and the fact that he’s okay with it demonstrates his moral rot.

Thanks goodness Ellie and Joel make it out of that compound, literally burning it to the ground. David might see himself as born again, but his soul is one that won’t be saved.

(featured image: HBO Max)

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Julia Glassman
Julia Glassman (she/her) holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and has been covering feminism and media since 2007. As a staff writer for The Mary Sue, Julia covers Marvel movies, folk horror, sci fi and fantasy, film and TV, comics, and all things witchy. Under the pen name Asa West, she's the author of the popular zine 'Five Principles of Green Witchcraft' (Gods & Radicals Press). You can check out more of her writing at <a href="https://juliaglassman.carrd.co/">https://juliaglassman.carrd.co/.</a>