You're a fucking animal.
―Ellie to David, disgusted by his people's practices.
The cannibals (also referred to as the survivors) are an antagonistic group of survivors encountered twice in The Last of Us, first at the University of Eastern Colorado and then in the town of Silver Lake. They also appear in the Colorado Mountain Plaza in Left Behind, and are mentioned in The Last of Us Part II.
The cannibals formed in the town by the Lakeside Resort in Silver Lake after the Cordyceps brain infection outbreak. The group contains men, women and children, the latter a rarity among groups outside quarantine zones and other settlements in post-apocalyptic America. At some point, David took control and made James his right-hand man. Over the next twenty years, the group's supplies dwindled until they eventually were forced to resort to cannibalism to survive, especially during harsh winters. The supplies eventually ran so low that David began sending hunting parties out far from the town to search nearby areas for any remaining supplies or survivors that they could capture and consume.
Encounters with Joel and Ellie
In the autumn of 2033, David sent some of his men to look for food at the University of Eastern Colorado, where they encountered and attempted to kill Joel Miller and Ellie Williams. However, the pair fought them off, with Joel successfully killing numerous members within the group. One cannibal managed to surprise Joel, tackling him off a ledge that led to a piece of rebar impaling his abdomen. Ellie scrambled to help him and successfully carried him to Callus, their horse, killing six more cannibals along the way.
The pair then rode away from the university towards the Colorado Mountain Plaza. However, the remaining cannibals continued the chase, tracking them down to the plaza. However, infected resided in the mall, leading the cannibals to fight their way through in their search for Ellie and the wounded Joel. Eventually, the cannibals, infected and Ellie all fought each other in the plaza square, the skirmish ending with many cannibals dying but failing to kill Ellie or locate Joel.
Having failed, the surviving men returned to their town where they informed David and James their friends were killed by "a crazy man" (Joel) and "a little girl" (Ellie).
A few months later, David and James encountered Ellie in the forest, but didn't realize who she was. They agreed to trade a bottle of penicillin and a syringe in exchange for a deer which Ellie has killed. James left to get the medicine, leaving David with Ellie. While waiting, David tried to get Ellie to open up to him, deducing she was doing this for the sake of one person, not a group like she had previously implied. After facing a large number of infected, David realized that Ellie was the girl from the university. James appeared and pointed his gun at her, only to let Ellie go when David talked him down.
A small group of the cannibals was sent to capture Ellie, finding her at the cabin where she was treating Joel, though they tried to kill her once they found out who she was. One even shot and killed Callus, Ellie and Joel's horse. Ellie was eventually caught by David and taken to their town.
Trying to convince her to join the group, David became deranged and furious when Ellie continually refused his advances and attempted to escape, injuring him out of spite and disgust for his people's cannibalistic ways.
When Joel recovered, he found a small group left at the cabins and killed all but two. He then tortured one of them to discover Ellie's location, then beat both of them to death. Joel tracked Ellie to the cannibal's town, where he finds strung-up corpses in a meat locker.
Ellie ended up escaping after killing James and tricking David into believing she had infected him with a bite. David told a woman to take the children to safety while David and the men searched for Ellie. As she eluded the group through a snowstorm, she heard them complain about David's leadership. Reaching a restaurant, she was cornered by David, managing to hide from him. The pair then engaged in a lethal game of cat and mouse, with Ellie stabbing him only for David to knock them both out. Coming to, David pinned her down. He nearly killed her, but ultimately died when Ellie hacked him to death with his own machete. Ellie then fled the town with Joel, leaving the remaining cannibals without a leader.
While traveling to Seattle, Dina suggests to Ellie that the cannibal group ran by David may have been the ones to come after and kill Joel. Ellie dismissed the suggestion though, seeing no point in guessing given Joel crossed many people during the apocalypse.
The cannibals appear to operate as a democracy. While David is their leader, his control over the group is not absolute. Several cannibals willingly disobey his orders, notably attempting to kill Ellie at the resort even though David insisted she be captured alive. They also have town meetings and remark that they vote who should be leader, indicating David was voted into his position of authority. David himself even tells Ellie that his decisions, including adding Ellie to their group, have to be agreed upon first rather than accepted at David's word.
When not under David's watch, the cannibals tend to act independently. For instance, the group at the university chose to pursue Joel and Ellie even though they didn't have to. Another group also stayed behind at the resort to continue searching for Joel even after David captured Ellie. These decisions are brought on by the group's care for one another as, in both scenarios, they pursued Joel and Ellie after the pair killed members of their group. One cannibal that attacked with a shotgun even yelled "Those are my friends you killed, asshole!". It is this loss that drove other cannibals to disobey their leader David in an effort to avenge their deaths when they found Ellie; even James contemplated killing Ellie until David ordered him not to.
Through David's dialogue, it appears the cannibals can afford to waste certain supplies (apart from food) suggesting that they have lots of equipment. While they do not use armor, they have access to weapons such as pistols, revolvers, hunting rifles, shotguns, and occasionally bows. They also use hatchets, pipes, and 2x4s as melee weapons. However, it appears better equipment, like shotguns and rifles, are only used by scavenging parties that go out hunting for food and supplies. The town watch, by comparison, has most men armed with simple revolvers. However, when Joel finally arrives, some of the watchmen have equipped melee and heavier weapons. The group which tracked Ellie down at the Mountain Plaza mostly used pistols although some used Molotov cocktails, which were highly effective against the infected present in the area.
Their leader, David, is menacing, using a machete and a revolver, as well as having a high pain tolerance in combat, resisting being stabbed three times by Ellie. He also possessed a hunting rifle, but admitted that he wasn't a good shot. He was able to handle several infected alongside Ellie, even clickers and a bloater.
The cannibals are known for their cowardly nature, fleeing from a recently-recovered Joel despite outnumbering him, preferring to take him by surprise when possible. They are similar to hunters in power but lack numbers in most cases. Much like hunters, they either fear or distrust their leader. They are, however, more diverse as they have women and children in their group,[fn 1] making the group arguably weaker since not all of the members are suitable for fighting.
However, the group is well organized and are skilled trackers, an entire search party managing to locate Ellie on at least two occasions and captured her with David's help during the second search. They could even hold their own against several infected, something most other groups have been shown to either struggle with them even the military, who were overpowered by stalkers despite being the best-equipped faction of survivors left. Their milksop character still persists despite this, as some run and hide rather than fight the infected directly, choosing to attack when the infected are a safe distance away.[fn 2] Also, while they tend to easily kill runners, they do have difficulty overpowering clickers; while they can defeat them, the latter typically kills at least one of them before such.
Despite being generally weaker than most enemies, the young Ellie struggles to combat them directly, due to her inferior size and strength. It could be argued that this is why David was so difficult to defeat even though he only had a revolver. Compare him to Joel and he could be argued as being much weaker, despite his high pain tolerance. When Ellie does engage them in melee combat, they react in a similar manner as clickers do for Joel, with them blocking her attack after two strikes and either putting her in a chokehold or punching her to the ground.
- While children are not seen in the cannibal's community, an unused file actually contains a model for a "cannibal child".
- Though they are not the first enemies shown in-game combating infected, the cannibals are the only enemies where the player can influence their encounters with them in the first game.