Co-showrunner Craig Mazin noted on the podcast that “James is not [David’s] equal,” and you can see the power imbalance between them early on when David, the false prophet, says he senses doubt in James. This leaves James defending himself even though he’s already loyal. Mazin observed that “David challenging James’ faith” is a way for him to manipulate James and get him to seek approval before they go out hunting.
“David doesn’t really love James,” Mazin added. “David has contempt for James. David has contempt for practically every single person in that church of his.” Troy Baker took it one step further, “I would even think that, from my perspective, contempt was just a little bit too much thumb on the scale of an investment. [James] was disposable. ‘You serve a purpose for me right now.'”
If you’ve never played “The Last of Us” video game, you could be forgiven for writing James and David off as two more in a long line of faces who have been introduced on the show and then killed off soon after. While Joel is showing some chinks in his plot armor now, courtesy of a stabbing, there’s an almost procedural aspect to the way “The Last of Us” goes about this cycle of ushering other characters in and out: introduce them, kill them off, lather, rinse, repeat. Some have argued that following this formula did a disservice to James and David’s story by condensing it down too much, but Baker and Scott Shepherd are at least able to give us a good sense of their relationship in this episode before they go the way of every other guest star.
“The Last of Us” season 1 finale airs this Sunday, March 12, 2023, on HBO and HBO Max.