One question that continues to challenge influenza A research is why some strains of virus are so devastating compared to their more mild counterparts. We approached this question from an immunological perspective, investigating the CD8(+) T cell response in a mouse model system comparing high- and low-pathological influenza virus infections. Our findings reveal that the early (day 0 to 5) viral titer was not the determining factor in the outcome of disease. Instead, increased numbers of antigen-specific CD8(+) T cells and elevated effector function on a per-cell basis were found in the low-pathological infection and correlated with reduced illness and later-time-point (day 6 to 10) viral titer. High-pathological infection was associated with increased PD-1 expression on influenza virus-specific CD8(+) T cells, and blockade of PD-L1 in vivo led to reduced virus titers and increased CD8(+) T cell numbers in high- but not low-pathological infection, though T cell functionality was not restored. These data show that high-pathological acute influenza virus infection is associated with a dysregulated CD8(+) T cell response, which is likely caused by the more highly inflamed airway microenvironment during the early days of infection. Therapeutic approaches specifically aimed at modulating innate airway inflammation may therefore promote efficient CD8(+) T cell activity. We show that during a severe influenza virus infection, one type of immune cell, the CD8 T cell, is less abundant and less functional than in a more mild infection. This dysregulated T cell phenotype correlates with a lower rate of virus clearance in the severe infection and is partially regulated by the expression of a suppressive coreceptor called PD-1. Treatment with an antibody that blocks PD-1 improves T cell functionality and increases virus clearance.