HBO’s The Last of Us is a hit that rarely misses.
In 2013 the game studio Naughty Dog released The Last of Us. The game was a departure from the studio’s jovial action-adventure Uncharted series. Unlike Uncharted, The Last of Us was carried with dark undertones, horror, and survival elements. As time goes by the esteem this game garners has only grown, and today has solidified itself as a landmark game that is still stylised by PlayStation first party titles. A sequel was released in 2020 taking place after the events of the first game. Lastly a remake of the first game was released last year bringing the game up to scuff with modern gameplay and graphics in anticipation for the HBO show.
Since the launch of the game The Last of Us had been in the process of being developed into a feature film with Sam Raimi at the helm. Many video game properties were stuck in development hell finding it difficult to take an interactive property into a passive form of entertainment. The floodgates seem to be opening for video game adaptations now that HBO’s The Last of Us has given a workable blueprint to exploring an adaptation. Through standalone episodes and expanding on the world’s mythology HBO has made The Last of Us a unique television event that no longer belongs with gamers, but to everyone.
The Last of Us starts off with an interview from 1968 with a scientist talking about how he believes fungi is potentially much more worse than a virus or flu if there was to ever be a pandemic. The story then cuts to the day of the outbreak in 2003. Joel (Pedro Pascal), brother Tommy (Gabriel Luna) and Joel’s daughter Sarah (Nico Parker), experience their last normal day letting us get a glimpse into their life. The day unfolds with things happening in the background that show things are not right, much like how Shaun of the Dead reveals the zombies to the audience unbeknownst to protagonist Shaun. Once nightfall hits everyone is consumed by the chaos. Joel, Tommy, and Sarah leave their homes immediately for an escape as they experience the terror of this “zombie” outbreak. Not everyone survives the night as (Redacted) dies in a shocking scene that is also a revelation of how gone society is.
Twenty years later and we’re in 2023. The world didn’t recover, it’s barely surviving. The government is corrupt, and fighting with a resistance group called the Fireflies. Joel is changed, his humour is gone, and his occupation is smuggling. Between the infighting Joel has made a steady living for government rations. After a smuggling deal goes wrong Joel finds himself forced to smuggle the teen girl Ellie (Bella Ramsey) for the Fireflies to another town. The episode ends with another reveal that will answer what Ellie’s importance is to the Fireflies. The two will journey across the country over the span of a year to smuggle Ellie to her destination, between raiders and zombies this will not be easy. This is just the beginning of the journey and what an adventure it will be.
The high point of the season comes from the stand alone story of Bill and Frank found in episode three. Joel and Ellie bookend the episode to fit the story into the overarching narrative. The episode chronicles Bill (Nick Offerman), a conspiracy and survivalist hermit, and Frank (Murray Bartlett) who finds haven in Bill’s Town come to live in this world post outbreak. It is one of the most moving episodes of television that will bring tears to your eyes. It’s an episode that shows us why these people choose to live in a world filled with fear and destruction. The answer is love, and the fact that these two can share that for twenty years is why life is worth fighting for. If there was an episode you wanted to show off to someone uninterested in the show, put this episode on and this will have them invested.
HBO has always been particularly good with standalone episodes. By using them in The Last of Us reveals how we can learn more about the world and leave the confines of the game in favour of new material. After the reception to the Bill and Frank episode I’m sure HBO is looking into a spin-off show that can look at new characters and stories in the world. The thing about Joel and Ellie is it’s just one small story in this world, and there are so many more that can be explored in other characters if they can find an interesting narrative thread worthy of a spin-off.
The greatest weakness of The Last of Us is that we don’t get to spend enough time with Joel and Ellie together. The game has one of the greatest bonds and as Joel we would do anything for these two characters because we share so much time together. In HBO’s The Last of Us we spend small bursts with the two characters together. Two episodes of the nine are stand alone episodes, one has Joel out of commission, the first episode barely has Ellie in it. Overall, there are like five episodes where there is any time for the two characters to bond, but I don’t know if that’s enough time to earn the emotional payoff to come in the next season.
The Last of Us season one is a show well executed. I wouldn’t say it is one of the greatest shows ever, not even close, but it’s fun event television. The show will not replace my enjoyment or my continued replays of the game in the future. It’s nice knowing that the story and characters are breaking outside the sphere of gaming and into the greater pop culture. I fear the wait for season two will be a couple of years away, so you have time to experience the two games in the mean time. If you are yet to experience it, The Last of Us is a must watch.
Check out my review for The Last of Us: Part 1 HERE