Everything happens for a reason.
Background and early life
Very little is known about David's past. At some point before the events of the game, he came to lead a group of survivors. He befriended James and the two came to trust each other.
Events of The Last of Us
Ellie first encountered David when she was hunting a deer during the winter of 2033. She was immediately cautious around him and his friend James. David offered to exchange supplies for a share of the meat from the deer that Ellie had tracked and killed. Ellie demanded antibiotics in return, threatening them with her bow if they tried anything. James left to get antibiotics at the group's settlement, and reluctantly left David alone with Ellie. David and Ellie then took refuge in a barn from the cold weather. David asked Ellie's name, but she, being cautious, didn't give it to him. Infected soon attack their shelter. David helped Ellie fight them off, complimenting her skill with a rifle. As they worked their way through the nearby buildings, fighting off several waves of infected, Ellie's attitude towards him softened slightly.
After completely clearing out the buildings, he and Ellie return to their original refuge. He discussed the philosophy that everything happens for a reason, with which Ellie disagreed. David decided to prove his theory by revealing that it was in fact his men who attacked Joel and Ellie at the university. A returning James overheard the conversation and held Ellie at gunpoint, but David demanded Ellie be given the medicine and set loose, and James reluctantly complied.
David sent his men to track Ellie with the hope that she would lead them to Joel. His men mentioned that they were under strict orders from David to keep her alive, but decided to ignore these orders when they found out from James that it was Joel who slaughtered half the raiders at the university. Overhearing their conversation, Ellie decided to lead them away from Joel, then double back to him. She rode away from David's group on horseback, then escaped on foot after her horse was shot and killed. Eventually, David himself found her, grabbed her from behind, and choked her unconscious, claiming that he was "keeping her alive."
When Ellie regained consciousness she was in a small cell. She witnessed James chopping up a corpse on a table, and discovered that David and his group were cannibals. Ellie was visibly disgusted and hostile toward David, calling him an "animal." David pleaded to Ellie that he had her best interests in mind, and offered her a place in his group. He then affectionately touched Ellie's hand. Seizing her chance, she broke David's finger and attempted to grab his keys, but David slammed her against the cell bars and threatened her life.
The next day, David and James arrived and pinned Ellie down onto the table attempting to slaughter her for food. In the struggle, Ellie bit David's hand, which only infuriated him more. Just before David struck her with a butcher knife, Ellie exclaimed she was infected and stated that David was infected too. David was initially skeptical, but Ellie insisted that he should roll up her right sleeve and see for himself. Upon finding out she was telling the truth, James became frightened but David claimed it couldn’t be real because she would have already turned. As the two men argued, Ellie seized the butcher knife with her left hand and slashed James' throat, killing him. David shot at Ellie as she ran, but hit one of the hanging bodies instead. Ellie escaped from the room with her switchblade. David organized a search party to look for Ellie and even taunted her in a demented tone as he traversed through the town.
David eventually found Ellie in an old restaurant, struggling with her as she attempted to escape from his people out the back door and commenting that she was easy to track. He knocked her down, taking her revolver, and held her at gunpoint. During their struggle a lantern had been shattered, and the fire distracted David long enough for Ellie to run and hide. As the restaurant was slowly engulfed in flames, he locked the exit and continued to taunt Ellie, telling her that she had nowhere to go and would need to take the keys from him if she wanted to leave. He stalked her throughout the restaurant, all the while mocking her and expressing his disappointment that she did not accept his offer to join the group. Ellie continued to hide among the tables of the restaurant, trying to outmaneuver David and get the keys.
After Ellie stabbed David from behind once with her switchblade, he threw her off and attempted to shoot her with his revolver, missing as she took cover. He then drew a machete and continued to stalk her, growing angrier and seemingly ignoring the bloody wound. Ellie used her small size to her advantage and managed to get behind David to stab him twice more. In the ensuing struggle, David slammed Ellie onto a table, knocking her out before he passed out as well.
David eventually regained consciousness and saw Ellie crawling towards his machete. Before she could reach it, David came behind her and kicked her repeatedly, telling her it was "okay to give up." After she refused, David kicked Ellie again, pinned her down, and grabbed her by the throat, telling her that she could "try begging." He then began choking Ellie to death but she managed to seize the machete and slash his arm. David cried out, rolling off her, allowing Ellie to get on top of him where she began to violently hack him in the face and neck, killing him. She only stopped striking his corpse when Joel found her and pulled her away.
David's actions are heavily implied to have severely affected Ellie long after his death, as she became noticeably more withdrawn, distant, and quiet, yet more determined than ever to reach the Fireflies during the Spring months, claiming that what she has done and been through to reach them "can't be for nothing."
Ellie's relationship with David was traumatizing for her. It was also rife with many ironies, for instance when David allowed Ellie to leave with the penicillin, she used it to heal Joel, who later helped Ellie kill most of David's group. Ellie also called him an "animal" despite eating the food he offered much like one in the cell. David even tried to keep Ellie alive, even though she later killed him with his own machete that he tried to kill her with.
David often talked to Ellie in a patronizing tone and treated Ellie like a child, namely when they first met, David offered to exchange supplies for a share of the meat from the deer that Ellie had tracked and killed, saying that his group needed the meat because they had many women and children to feed. He emphasized the phrase "Women and children" several times in the hopes that Ellie, being young, would naturally feel sympathy. David took advantage of her being a child by making her believe she was in control when confronting him and James, complying with Ellie's demands despite having an idea of who she is. When the infected attacked, he revealed his true colors by saving her with a hidden revolver, asserting she never had control at all; he was just sizing her up.
Similar to Joel, he viewed himself as Ellie's protector, saving her from a clicker and captured her personally to "keep her alive". He even offered Ellie a place in his group, saying he could protect her and how he viewed her as "special". However, he was much more manipulative with her than Joel was. When Ellie reacted with rage and disgust, he tried to calm her down as though she were an irate irrational youth. He dismissed Ellie's disdain for him and touched Ellie's hand only for her to break his finger and attempt to steal his keys, causing David to lose faith towards Ellie; he no longer desired to have her join the community. Despite having once protected Ellie from infected, David was now willing to kill Ellie due to her stubborn nature.
As Ellie killed more and more of his men, including his second in command, James, David grew more fixated on her and made several attempts to kill her. He did show some guilt when he decided to try to kill Ellie. He told her he was sorry about Callus's death, (caused by his men when they shot him in an attempt to capture Ellie), although he taunted her that they would eat him, and that if she gave up, he promised he would make her death as quick and painless as possible.
However, David met his demise when he was violently hacked to death with his own machete by Ellie. Considering his violent death, his actions left a mark on Ellie, making her distant and quiet towards Joel yet more determined to reach the Fireflies.
James was implied to be David's right-hand man and was a cannibal like the rest of the group. David personally viewed the man as his friend. Unlike David, James was not seemingly as kind-hearted and does not always agree with David's decisions. Knowing that a group of David's men were killed in the University by a man and a little girl, he overheard David's conversation with Ellie about the incident and was reluctant to let Ellie leave, but complied none the less; one of the few cannibals to do so.
When James noticed Ellie waking up, he informed David straight away, having helped him secure a new "pet." James appeared to work for David at times, butchering a human corpse for him and the group. He also assisted him in their attempt to butcher Ellie, demonstrating David relied on him on several occasions to help. He even went out hunting with David, displaying a gesture of protection when Ellie threatened him.
When Ellie killed James though, David indicated sadness for his death, saying that James was just trying to do his job, and Ellie shouldn't have killed him.
Personality and traits
David did not resort to violence if he could help it. At first, he displayed concern over Ellie and did his best to help her. It is implied he cared for the people in his group and their well-being, as early on he personally hunted for food with his partner James instead of having someone else do it. He was also charismatic, leading his group and controlled people like James and Ellie without the need to be aggressive or hostile towards them; he asked and they complied. He also supported those around him, complimenting their survival capabilities, notably Ellie.
His true colors were revealed, however, when he admitted his group were the ones that Ellie and Joel fought at the University. Later, David revealed that he and his group had resorted to cannibalism, treating strangers as food rather than people. He also exercised a belief in fate, asserting "everything happens for a reason", hinting he believed his encounter with Ellie felt like destiny to him.
It is implied he had disturbing intentions for Ellie, supported by him touching Ellie's hand and calling her "special". A cannibal Joel tortured even called Ellie "David's newest pet" suggesting he captured and manipulated other teenagers beforehand.
When David tried to murder Ellie, he paced around in a hurried, slightly jerking manner and he sounded almost insane as he stalked around looking for her.
Skills and abilities
David demonstrated leadership qualities by how he was voted leader of his town and has influence on his men. However, he didn't have full control over them, as evidenced when some questioned his leadership. A small group even disobeyed his order to keep Ellie alive. However, James followed him, heeding his command to not kill Ellie despite what she had done to his friends.
David was an excellent combatant in how he killed runners and clickers with just his revolver and fists; he even managed to kill a bloater with Ellie's assistance. He was also able to use a hunting rifle, though he stated Ellie was a much better shot than him with it. He wielded a machete which he could use with lethal efficiency, being able to non-canonically kill Ellie with just one slash. David appears to be ambidextrous, as he uses both hands at different times when firing his revolver. Furthermore, his machete is at his left side, but he picks it up with his right hand.
David was also adept at stealth in how he easily tracked Ellie on multiple occasions and successfully strangled and disarmed her at the same time. He was quiet enough to not be heard and would strike out of nowhere when given a chance, making it very difficult for Ellie to stab him for a third time. He also had a high pain tolerance, only grunting when stabbed and retained the strength to pin and strangle Ellie almost to her death despite his wounds.
During Ellie's boss battle against him, David displayed a good sense of hearing, able to track Ellie in the restaurant when he heard her step on broken plates from even the very back of the room despite a fire blazing in the background. On Grounded difficulty, David will hear Ellie while crouched unless she is moving slowly; he is the only human in the game to show this behavior, as generally only infected can hear the player moving at full speed while crouched. He was quite fast, able to sprint over to Ellie in a matter of seconds and could continue doing so until he lost sight of Ellie, displaying incredible endurance.
Behind the scenes
When constructing David's character, Neil Druckmann initially named him dubbed him the "cannibal king" as the only certainties to his character were he was the group's leader. However, once actor Nolan North secured the role, Druckmann and North began to develop David's personality and characteristics. In particular, Druckmann desired the character to exude a sense of charisma that would draw people in and making him like him, directing North to "not play a bad guy, [David] has to be charismatic enough for Ellie and his people to trust him". Adding to this, they also ensured David's lines did not use any obscenities or foul language.
Another key characteristic was his dark intentions regarding Ellie. Particularly, he shows affection towards Ellie by holding her hand and initially wanting to only capture her, rather than kill her. North revealed in an interview that David had sexual intentions for Ellie, owing to the lack of females left within his community. While Druckmann remarked that David did indeed intend to rape Ellie, North remarked in an interview with IGN that David wasn't trying to "rape her, or anything like that... at first". He felt, as the actor that portrayed him, that David wanted to repopulate the Earth and would not miss an opportunity to impregnate a woman, especially one talented in survival, as few still remain. When Ellie kept refusing, Nolan also stated that David was a type of person who always tried "to get what he wants." Nolan later stated in a Let's Play for the game that he personally viewed David as a 'warped father' to contrast Joel's more loving essence to Ellie, rather than as a 'sexual deviant'. North revealed in the Q & A panel at SacAnime 2013 that in certain scenes between David and Ellie, he and actually swapped roles, with North mo-capping Ellie and Johnson mo-capping David. 
- David: "Um, name's David, this here's my friend James. We're from a larger group -- women, children. We're all very, very hungry."
- David: "I'd say we make a pretty good team."
- Ellie: "Psshh. We got lucky."
- David: "Lucky? No, no... No such thing as luck. No, you see I believe that everything happens for a reason"
- David: "Oh...you're awfully quick to judgment. Considering you and your friend killed how many men?"
- Ellie: "They didn't give us a choice."
- David: "And you think we have a choice? Is that it? You kill to survive...and so do we. We have to take care of our own. By any means necessary."
- David: "I know you're not infected. No one that's infected fights this hard to stay alive."
- David: "I knew you had heart. You know it's okay to give up. It ain't no shame in it. Huh. I guess not. Just not your style is it?"
- David: "You have no idea what I'm capable of."
- The Last of Us closing credits
- You're Going to Make It
- "Lakeside Resort"
- Name's David
- By Any Means
- I Believe Him
- It's Me
- "Bus Depot"
- The Last of Us - The Definitive Playthrough - Part 12 (Accessed 6th of May, 2020)
- The Last of Us Remastered commentary (Available within the cinematics)
- An Uncharted Twist (The Last of Us Spoilers)