The Last of Us
The Last of Us TV series is based on the critically acclaimed video game series developed by Naughty Dog and published by Sony Computer Entertainment.
Spoiler Level: A Spoiler section is included and warned beforehand.
The Last of Us Season 1 is an exceptional live-action adaptation of the critically acclaimed Playstation game. From the acting, set design, and editing, the labor of love to make this show is so apparent. It’s not perfect, but it’s close.
The Last of Us is a horror-drama about a fungal outbreak that has destroyed the entire world. Set 20 years later, this epic follows Joel Miller (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie Williams (Bella Ramsey) on their cross-country trek to meet a rebel group known as the Fireflies who hope to use Ellie’s immunity as a vaccine.
Fans (new and old) of the game developed by Naughty Dog are very particular about this story and for good reason. Joel is a man who develops a father/daughter bond 20 years after losing his kid. Ellie is this tough girl who is forced to grow up in a destroyed world. They both have no one to care about and yet they are put into a position where they have to protect each other and ultimately become each other’s family.
This HBO series has kept the same spark and this is largely due to the collective work of everyone who made this show go from concept to screen. The acting by Pascal and Rasmey is familiar for fans, but unique in their own way. The interpretation of tone and pauses in how they talk to each other compared to Episode 1 to the penultimate episode radically changes. It is done so believably that audiences are invested in this father who has found a daughter and this girl who has found a dad—even after the world ended.
Showrunners Craig Mazin (who made Chernobyl) and Neil Druckmann (co-creator of the game) found some of the best talent not just in Pascal and Ramsey, but in all supporting cast, set design, and in special effects. The ability to contrast barren cities against empty natural wonders and show some of the nastiest looking infected is a testament to everyone involved. It’s a work of art and fitting that love is felt in the creation of this show as love is the core theme.
From the romantic love of Bill and Frank (Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett) to the brotherly love of Henry and Sam (Lamar Johnson and Kevionn Woodward), love has shown its beautiful and sometimes ugly side throughout the different relationships. Its power brings audiences to the final episode and puts a controversial scenario at the forefront for Joel and Ellie.
HEAVY SPOILERS AHEAD
Several of the voice actors of the game have made appearances and it has been awesome to see them stay part of this franchise. Jeffrey Pierce (the voice of Tommy) was part of the rebel group in Kansas City, Troy Baker (voice of Joel) played James in the cult commune, and Merle Dandridge returned to reprise her character of Marlene. This leaves Ashley Johnson, the voice of Ellie, who joins the show as Ellie’s mom, Anna.
Episode 9 opens to Anna, a pregnant woman, running from infected through a wooded area as she makes her way to a house. After going upstairs and locking herself in a room, one of the infected breaks down the door and attacks. Anna manages to kill it but realizes her baby has been born in the struggle and that Anna herself has been bitten. She cuts the umbilical cord in hopes of not spreading the infection and holds her baby close. It’s beautiful and sad the way Anna looks at her child knowing she has fought to get her into this world but won’t be there to protect her. It’s poignant and this core parental emotion to protect their child is the main motivator of this episode.
The episode goes forward in time as Joel and Ellie are almost at their final destination. Joel does his best to connect with Ellie knowing the trauma she experienced from David at the cannibalist community is still a mark on her. He lets his guard down and is vulnerable with Ellie and while this helps her see the way in which Joel cares for her, what brings them closer is a group of wild giraffes that now roam freely in the city. It’s a brief moment of reflection for the two but it shows that they are forever connected.
Shortly after, they are captured by the Fireflies and separated. Marlene, who tasked Joel with getting Ellie to the group, tells Joel that Ellie is about to undergo surgery to work on making a vaccine. She does this knowing Ellie will die and Joel is forced to leave. He manages to attack the guards and shoots his way through to stop the surgery from happening. Leaving no survivors, he takes Ellie and heads back to Tommy’s. When she wakes up, he lies to her and says raiders attacked and the vaccine wasn’t going to work.
Time progresses again and Joel and Ellie are hiking to Tommy’s having small and light conversation. After mustering the courage, Ellie stops and asks Joel to swear what he is saying is true. In her eyes it is evident she knows he is going to lie but she has to know. He looks at her, lies to her again, and all she can say is, “okay.”
This episode is tasked with bringing the entire theme of the story together and it does this masterfully. From the beginning to the final scene, the journey has been riddled with violence and loss and despite all of this, two people have managed to develop a pure love that can only be shared between a parent and their child. It’s a love that is willing to doom the entire world to save one person. It’s emotional and without the work of everyone on this show and the amazing acting by Pascal and Ramsey, it could be lost in translation. Fortunately, a familiar and unique portrayal of this moment is carefully crafted closing out one of the best episodes of the season.
It’s hard to find a flaw with this show as it does so much well. However, it is not quite perfect. The source material was roughly 15 – 20 hours of gameplay and Mazin and Druckmann had to adapt and expand the story into a 9 episode season. With this unfortunately came compromises—most notably being the limited presence of the infected and minor pacing. The carefully crafted design of the infected were well adapted to the screen and their absences for most of the second half of the story felt glaringly obvious. Part of this could have stemmed from budget or figuring out how to best use the infected without feeling like a zombie-infested drama, however, if there had been more moments with them it could have elevated the show further.
This show is definitely worth checking out. Fans will be happy with the approach and audiences unaware of the story are in for an epic tale that will be an emotional journey. For a video game adaptation, The Last of Us sets a standard that will likely be referenced for years to come.
The Last of Us Season 1 Finale: A High Standard is Set
- Writing - 8/108/10
- Storyline - 9/109/10
- Acting - 10/1010/10
- Music - 10/1010/10
- Production - 10/1010/10