Last of Us Episode 8's Most Heartbreaking Callback is Also Its Sweetest Moment
Throughout its inaugural season, The Last of Us has been steadily faithful to its multi-award-winning source material. Sticking to the source hasn’t just meant keeping chronological events in canonical order or dressing-up live-action characters exactly as they appear in the pixelated post-apocalyptic action-adventure. Sometimes the HBO show has gone so far in its uncanniness as to include near-exact horror sequences from the video game, as well as near-exact lines from its script.
And that includes two words declared warmly and without hesitation by Joel (Pedro Pascal) at the end of Last of Us Episode 8: “Baby girl.”
While that was the first time we’ve ever heard Joel refer to Ellie (Bella Ramsey) with that sweet nickname, that isn’t the first time we’ve ever heard the brusque, burly, and Texas-twanged smuggler use that designation. (Making the moment all the more precious and, simultaneously, heartbreaking.)
Just as it happens in the first part of the survival horror game, so too does it happen in Episodes 7 and 8: After spending a peaceful time enjoying the beautiful, wintry landscape of the Mountain West region of the United States, traversing snowcapped forests, giving shooting lessons, and trotting together on Callus, tragedy occurs. Joel is stabbed by a mysterious group of men near the University of Eastern Colorado, leaving Ellie desperate to find medical supplies, antibiotics, and food.
Episode 8 sees Ellie managing to trade a deer for penicillin with, unbeknownst to her, this same exact mysterious group that wounded Joel, but the cost of that trade is high. She soon winds up kidnapped by this group, a religious cult whose leaders — David (Scott Shepherd) and James (Troy Baker, the original voice actor of Joel in the game) — knowingly feed humans to their blissfully unaware followers. David locks Ellie in a small cell and tells her the truth about the cannibals, and later makes predatory, pedophilic advances toward her, indicating that he wants “his equal” at his side. Ellie attacks David, David tries to fight back, but in the end, Ellie is the victor in a brutal scene where fire blazes wildly in the background as she smashes David’s head to smithereens with a machete in pure, unadulterated rage.
Dazed and disturbed, Ellie rushes out of the burning building, only to be surprised by the sight of Joel, who seems to have made a complete recovery thanks to the penicillin. It’s in that precise moment that Joel sees Ellie’s face, contorted by confusion and trauma, and pulls her in to call her his “baby girl.”
Ellie is still too stunned to grasp the significance of that moniker, but the rest of the audience is aware that it’s an enormous act of vulnerability from Joel. The last person he ever called his “baby girl” was his daughter, Sarah (Nico Parker). This is Joel’s admission that he is grateful for Ellie saving his life, that he trusts Ellie, and most importantly, that he trusts himself to be vulnerable again and care about another person. Now that Ellie is his “baby girl,” Joel is officially her surrogate father.
The Last of Us’ central relationship has, finally, been solidified — which not only ups the stakes of Joel and Ellie’s mission higher, but also sets up the canonical climax of their journey together.
The Last of Us is available to watch now on HBO Max.