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Joel Is Not a Sweet Character Who Needs Protecting, As Proven in ‘The Last of Us’ Episode 8

Pedro Pascal as Joel grabbing Bella Ramsey as Ellie's face in 'The Last of Us' episode 8.

Joel Miller (Pedro Pascal) has gotten a bit of the “baby girl” treatment. Not in what he calls Bella Ramsey’s Ellie but in the sense that fans are in love with him and consider him one of their “soft” faves. That was until episode 8 of The Last of Us reminded us that Joel’s past isn’t just something people talk about. From the start of the season, we’ve heard tales of what Joel did before Ellie came around. How vicious he could be after the death of his daughter Sarah (Nico Parker)—but we didn’t see it in action.

It was never hidden, though. We saw how cold Joel had gotten, throwing the body of the young boy in the fires right at the start of the season. We saw glimpses of his violent past but outside of a need to fight back, we haven’t gotten to explore it that much. We just knew it was there. That was until David sent his men to kill Joel and they realized just what happens when you push Joel.

After Ellie brought back medicine for Joel to help fight off his infection, David’s people brought her back to their home. Joel wakes up ready to fight and desperate to find out what happened to Ellie. It results in him fighting off the two men left to get rid of him and tying them up to get answers about what happened to Ellie.

The violent act of Joel’s interrogation was a lot to unpack but it also was a great contrast to what happens at the end of the episode with Ellie. His anger and rage towards them is something we knew existed within Joel and so it was rough to watch but we knew he had that element to him. And it was a lot to unpack because yes, we saw Joel’s violence, but we also saw Ellie saving herself.

Ellie doesn’t need saving

Pedro Pascal as Joel walking away from David's with Bella Ramsey as Ellie.

Prior to this episode, Joel was protecting Ellie and it made fans love him. Don’t get me wrong, I still love Joel very much because I knew that this angry and rage existed in him under the surface. But he’s not someone who needs to be coddled. He’s not sweet or caring to those who have plans to hurt anyone he loves. And he showed that by brutally murdering both of David’s people who were there to hurt him.

On the one hand, yes, it is self-defense. They would have killed him. But he also could have let them go. That’s not Joel’s way, though, and it’s why he’s such a fascinating character to unpack. This violence to figure out where Ellie is is almost in vain because when he does find her, she’s already safe.

In her final battle with David, she kills him and is walking out when Joel finally reaches her. He comforts her, calls her baby girl, and we are reminded of the sweetness that also exists within Joel as a character. But he knows that Ellie took care of herself and is there to just comfort her.

The act shows us the two sides of Joel that really exist throughout the series. On the one hand, he was a sweet man who loved his daughter and was trying to keep his family afloat before the world collapsed around him. That is still part of who Joel Miller is. But on the other hand, he’s a man who lost everything he tried to protect and that violence and anger drive him. Seeing it in action was hard to watch but is also necessary to understand exactly who Joel Miller is.

(featured image: HBO)

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Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. A writer her whole life but professionally starting back in 2016 who loves all things movies, TV, and classic rock. Resident Spider-Man expert, official Leslie Knope, actually Yelena Belova. Wanda Maximoff has never done anything wrong in her life. Star Wars makes her very happy. New York writer with a passion for all things nerdy. Yes, she has a Pedro Pascal podcast. And also a Harrison Ford one.