Features, Games

The Last of Us: Why David Is The Greatest Character of This Generation

David The Last Of Us Nolan North

[The following is a frank discussion of The Last of Us game, its characters and story, as such expect spoilers]

Going into The Last of Us I expected to be disappointed, the game was so hyped pre-launch and then all these 9/10 reviews rolled out, simply put; I thought there was bandwagon jumping afoot. Like every one of my generation in our teens we went through the whole ‘Counter-Culture’ thing, we wanted to rebel in our own little ways so we turned our backs on anything liked by the masses. Obviously that’s immature and stupid reasoning and each decision should be made by the individual, my main reason for expecting disappointment arose from the ‘Too good to be true’ mentality. When a game gets those kind of scores it sets expectations quite high and the want for your own expectations to be met is a natural thing.

When asked what I thought of The Last of Us I initially say I really enjoyed it, but then need to qualify that statement by saying it wasn’t a perfect game or perfect story. To start let’s talk about the gameplay; throughout most of the game I really enjoyed the experience, the world and its mechanics worked really well. Combat was engaging and well-built, many times I was pinned down with no ammo and no hope only to go on a rampage with a lead pipe and survive. It was this kind of visceral experience that I wanted from the game, I wanted to be sucked in and lose myself for a few hours. The problem came with the pseudo ‘puzzles’, about 15 times in the game you were required to do a puzzle that was no more than find a crate and drag it to wall or truck. This broke flow and though interesting once or twice, especially with planks being used as bridges, it just grew to be a tiresome affair that added nothing to the experience.

Last of Us Screen Shot Beautiful David Mist Fog Lead Pipe Bloater

For those reading this that haven’t played the game, and don’t care about the massive spoilers in this piece, the story follows a plot seen in literature and film for a long time, but not usually featuring all these fungal zombies. Joel is a man, who thanks to the start of a plague that destroys the brain, has lost his daughter and direction in life. 20 years after the outbreak he, through a long chain of events, is tasked with getting Ellie, a 14-year-old girl, across half the country to a university where an underground group of rebels believe they can cure the disease. The reason for this? well Ellie got bitten by an infected creep, rather than doing the cliché thing of dying or turning into one of them she chose to be immune. After three-quarters of the game the unlikely duo have been through a lot; ambushes, traps and falling buildings did nothing but bring the duo closer together. At the university the pair discover The Fireflies, the rebels of this story, have moved on to a Hospital in another city, deciding they are going to push on across the country, in what is the most depressing road trip ever, they start their journey. Unfortunately things don’t go to plan and a well placed tackle from a raider sends Joel plummeting over a railing and down 3 floors only to land safely and comfortably, apart from a pole going his spleen. [fade to black]

When the game pulls out of its black screen nose dive we are shown Ellie, hunting alone in the woods, the player is left to fear the worst, she spots a deer and charges head first for the blood. After going all Hunger Games and placing three arrows in the deer it runs off and you go to find your dinner, only to bump into one of the greatest written characters of this generation, David.

 Ellie Last of Us Hunting Snow Winter David

David is the leader of a group of survivors that bumps into Ellie while out hunting. His demeanor is that of a friends dad, someone you can trust and his appearance doesn’t instantly make you on edge. Ellie and David are left alone in a shack, after taking his rifle Ellie agrees to sit with him, before long the horde of infected are at the windows and David draws a gun to save Ellie. This is the first reason David is brilliant, he carries two guns; the first he gladly handed over to Ellie to give her the sense of power, but he isn’t stupid. In this post apocalyptic world you can’t trust anyone, but he wants to trust this 14-year-old girl, he protects her and through the course of a long battle with the enemies she relaxes around him. They sit at a campfire and discuss how much luck played a part in their survival, David philosophised:

“You see, I believe that everything happens for a reason.”

Slowly but surely over the next few minutes the brilliant reveal is made, the men who Ellie and Joel took out at the university were part of his group, just out looking for food. The reveal that Ellie and Joel are the monsters that they think they are hunting is fascinating. Instantly you question your role, as the player, in what has come out. Ellie realising she may be screwed goes on the attack, only to find David’s cohort James has a gun trained on her, rather than seek revenge David lets Ellie go, showing compassion and intelligence. He brushes off what has happened attributing it to her just being a kid.

Ellie get’s back to an ill Joel before seeing David’s group of survivors haven’t taken kindly to him letting her go and start searching for her. To save this child’s life David finds her first and knocks her unconscious and takes her prisoner. Locked in a cage with no chance of escape David explains that he is just trying to help her, he can explain to the others that she is only a child and knows no better. Ellie being a petulant child refuses to eat the food he provides and breaks his finger. David tries again and again to reach this child and help her but she wont accept. It’s hinted, and then rather explicitly said, that David and his group have resorted to human flesh during this winter to avoid starvation. The broken finger is the final straw and David decides to end Ellie. Up until this point David has the calm voice of an uncle, there’s no anger at the accusations or hostility being thrown his way. He tries to reach out and support a young girl he found in the woods alone in the midst of winter, his only flaw, at this stage, is that he picked the wrong girl to try to look out for.

Nolan North Voice Drake Nathan Last of Us David

Winter lasts for a couple of hours for the player, and in that time we see a man go from a caring potential new father figure to someone who has been push too far. Winter ends with Ellie in a burning restaurant being hunted by David, she’s broken the man, he tries to brutally murder her and when she’s incapacitated he kicks and strangles her. Remember this is a 14-year-old girl, a girl that he saved a number of times just hours earlier, he wanted her to be set free, when that didn’t work he tries to get her included in his band of survivors and at no point does Ellie do anything to help her cause.

David’s arc is real, the actions of a man already on the edge because of the world around him being tormented and abused by a 14-year-old girl with an attitude problem. His portrayal is nailed by an actor I usually have issues with, but seeing his name in the final credits I had to think to myself ‘Bravo Nolan North’. There are many parts of the story where there was shock or tension, but none affected me quite like Winter and David’s descent into madness at the hand of the player and the game’s ‘hero’.

Last of Us Ellie Joel Violent Fight Screen Shot

I was saying at the start of this piece that the story could have done with a heavy-handed edit. The entire arc with Bill in the town o’ traps could have been cut in my opinion, it was only interesting for a tiny bit of character development, but on the most part it was redundant. There were other characters that were met along the way but none stuck with me like David.

 

David

David’s introduction was after a particular strong story telling moment, Joel was presumed dead or dying and all hope had fallen in the story just a short time previously. David was an example of me getting sucked in to the game, you’re encouraged to kill all people and not question it, David started as a real person, concerned for the safety of this young girl alone in the woods, protecting her when things went south. I know by the end he was a psychopath but for the longest part I was loving the character and his philosophy, he had the story and emotional arc that many people would go through in that scenario, he is the most real character in a cast of believable avatars.

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Ruaidhri

Big-Boss of PixelBedlam.co.uk
Ruaidhri has been writing for a number of sites over the past few years, spewing his vitriol and love in equal measures on all topics from Video Games to Film and Board Games to Geek Culture. He started PixelBedlam in September of 2012. Follow him on Twitter!

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13 Comments

  1. Not quite that benevolent

    Good article but I’m not sure I agree with all of it. When the raiders come to the house where Ellie is hiding Joel you can hear them say that she’s she’s not to be harmed and that she’s David’s ‘newest pet’ so David has sent them there. David and his crew are a bunch of cannibals which is shown in a meat locker room with bodies hanging down and Joel finds a manifest which shows the weight of ‘meat’ of each group that they have killed off. Not at all the noble character which you are describing as above – having said that, great voice acting and dialogue.

    • spideynut71

      Yeah…I viewed David more as ‘The Governor’ from ‘The Walking Dead’. His charm and compassion is more of a facade; in reality, he’s a madman who lost his humanity long ago.

    • ALKi1234

      He wanted her for a sex toy of some sort….so yeah he got what he deserved.

    • lt.dan

      Yeah, agree with you. Well written, but he overlooked some major plot points. He also forgot to mention the fact the David was more of the creepy uncle. What I mean by that is they made it pretty clear that David’s feelings for Ellie were a bit more than platonic.

      • sillybastid

        bingo

  2. Max

    He sounds like Trey Parker

  3. DamionWayne

    Nice article, but it is off a little. David was revealed to have ulterior motives very soon after you meet him. He was the one who ordered the group to track the girl. You must have missed that.

    I also disagree with some of your opinions, but they are opinions, not fact. I think the “puzzles” were welcome because they gave the player the opportunity to listen to some banter between the characters and to remind the player that you can’t do this by yourself.

    I think Bill’s section was actually pretty great. If you read all of the artifacts, you find out he was homosexual and his lover hated him in the end and killed himself because he couldn’t stand Bill’s paranoid ways. That was great imo. The only character in the game that kills himself, not because he’s cornered, but because he has grown to hate his lover. Crazy stuff.

    • Hank Moody

      I must of missed the homosexual part, where did it explain/state Bill was gay? Thanks

  4. Escopablobar

    David does indeed benefit from great characterization and is one of this generation’s biggest twists — I didn’t see it coming at all. He sucked me in with that paternal caring guise. I let my guard down to that very last moment. But alas he was a cunning psychopath with sexually predacious and ‘pedophilloic’ underpinnings.

    So I have to disagree with your appraisal of Ellie. She was not unjustified in rejecting his advances. The guy was sick. Maybe I misunderstood what you wrote but to suggest that Ellie was the start of his descent into depraved insanity is a bit incorrect. I argue that he was already bat-sh*t crazy and that Ellie only acted as a catalyst — severing whatever tenuous understanding he may have had of what is socially acceptable behavior.

  5. datdude

    I disagree with the author. Someone who eats human flesh, kills with impunity, and enjoys the company of little girls has nothing in their character to admire. There is nothing great about David whatsoever. He’s a brutal opportunist living in a brutal world. I think Ellie is the best character in The Last of Us and I don’t think
    it’s even close. That little girl is awesome. She’s tough, smart,
    brave, funny, and loyal. There is absolutely nothing in her character
    not to like or admire. Ellie is one of the best characters in gaming,
    male or female.

  6. DarthDiggler

    Not done reading yet but I have to comment on this…

    The problem came with the pseudo ‘puzzles’, about 15 times in the game
    you were required to do a puzzle that was no more than find a crate and
    drag it to wall or truck. This broke flow and though interesting once or
    twice, especially with planks being used as bridges, it just grew to be
    a tiresome affair that added nothing to the experience.

    The whole point of the puzzles were to break up the action. Otherwise the game would have just been one body bag encounter to the next. It helped to pace things better and build anticipation.

  7. DyranLK

    I can understand what kind of message the article is trying to convey (the title isn’t exactly subtle, after all) and I genuinely respect the writer’s attempt to relay it (or else I wouldn’t be respecting my own) but I disagree with his interpretation of the story and its characters’ roles. This is just my opinion, of course, but because I believe strongly in it I’m probably going to speaking like it’s fact for a little bit. And it’s nothing really big, just something I felt deserved some pointing out.

    That is, the overall role of the characters (and — at several points — settings) as a whole; they’re all supposed to represent a different dynamic of survival. This, in turn, is supposed to act upon Joel’s and Ellie’s relationship and serve as the catalyst that drives the development of that relationship (and, as a result, those two characters) by altering motivations here and manipulating emotions there in a way that would allow us to see Joel and Ellie grow while set against the backdrop of a ravaged, dog-eat-dog world.

    The reason Bill is so important is because his character (and his town) portrays what it would be like to survive alone. A life where he sustains himself and only himself with his own resources and without the burden of other people getting in the way. In other words, this would be Joel if brought down to the extreme. Bill fears attachment so much that he goes to the ends of the earth (or at least his town) to ensure that he can live without it. And he does. And after losing the one individual he was closest to to the infection, he seems more determined to keep it that way.

    The reason Henry and Sam are so important is because they’re the precise opposite. They’re almost like mirrors of Joel and Ellie, accept they’ve actually known each other all their life and share a genuinely developed bond that Joel and Ellie currently lack at their time of meeting. Then Sam gets infected, and Henry is forced to put him down. This event breaks Henry; he cared so much for his own brother that he had made him an extension of himself, to the point where if only he survived, then what was the point? In other words, this would be Joel if he was brought to the other extreme — it’s what would happen if his own relationship with Ellie somehow grew into a bond so strong that he wouldn’t be able to look at her as someone expendable anymore, but rather, as a person with a life worth living. For Joel, this entire journey was maddening. All he wanted was to get away from Ellie — he wanted to stop protecting her, stop shooting down hundreds of men just because of her, stop fighting for her just because she was supposed to be kept alive and keep dropping her jaw at every unknown landmark and asking questions of what life was like before — to him, it was a given. It was a life-or-death situation, and as he’s trained himself for the past two decades, when confronted with such a dilemma you must always try to fight your way out until you can live a little longer. Ellie flipped everything and it confused the guy. Joel was a man stuck with a choice that he knew he had to make, but wasn’t given the opportunity to permanently decide until it was too late. Once he was finally given the chance to walk away, he knew he couldn’t. He knew he shouldn’t be having those feelings. And he knew where those feelings would lead.

    But it wasn’t about him, anymore. After his argument with Ellie in the ranch house and his own personal reflection on the way back to Tommy’s village, he couldn’t just ignore it — Ellie was now a person to him, a person with a life not just worth living, but worth fighting for.

    The reason Tommy and his dam was so important was because they represented family — and the passion and indispensable warmth within family that nothing else could ever really substitute. Not hope, not even yourself, really — family, in truth, blurs the line between good and evil because it carves its own path. A path in which you’re fighting for both yourself and the ones around you. An ambiguous path.

    And the reason David and his cannibal community is so important is because they show just how far some people would push themselves to go in order to protect that family — and what exactly the purpose of developing a relationship with people means to begin with.

    For Joel, it meant sacrificing all of mankind.

    And that, in turn, is only one element of the story that is brought to life by its precise use of narrative and characterization.

    Is David a well-written character? Yes. Is he the greatest character of this generation? Well, I can’t say for sure about that — after all, he might’ve just been the contributor in the development of one.

  8. IBone

    I actually never once trusted David, I was just thinking of him as a crazy person with a weird crush on Ellie. When he finally “went crazy” as you put it, I just figured that was his true character coming out and he had finally dropped the act.

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