|Directing||Ali Abbasi, Jeremy Webb, Craig Mazin, Neil Druckmann, Peter Hoar, Liza Johnson, Jasmila Zbanic|
|Producing||Craig Mazin, Neil Druckmann|
|Writing||Craig Mazin, Neil Druckmann|
|Starring||Pedro Pascal, Bella Ramsey, Anna Torv, Gabriel Luna, Nico Parker, Merle Dandridge, Lamar Johnson, Keivonn Woodard, Melanie Lynskey, Jeffery Pierce, Nick Offerman, Murray Bartlett, Troy Baker, Ashley Johnson|
|Genre||Action, Adventure, Drama, Horror, Sci-Fi, Thriller|
|Release Date||January 15h, 2023|
The Last of Us is an American television series created by Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann adapted from the PlayStation video game of the same name for HBO Max. The show follows a pair of survivors as they travel through post-apocalyptic America to discover a cure for a fungal infection that brought on the collapse of society. Naughty Dog’s video game was released in 2013 and was met with widespread critical praise. The game went on to win multiple awards, including “Game of the Year,” and achieved many perfect scores from game reviewers.
The game spawned a huge fanbase with a cult-like following and attracted the attention of gamers and non-gamers alike due to its intense focus on characters, relationships, and its cinematic, almost film-quality style. Its story and cinematic design make it perfect for a live-action adaptation. In 2014, a film adaptation written by Neil Druckmann, the writer and director of the game, began development. The development met with multiple challenges, including creative differences, and the production was ultimately abandoned.
In 2018, Craig Mazin, writer and director of HBO Max’s critical success Chernobyl, met with the newly established Playstation Production Studios. The studio offered him his choice of game titles to adapt into a television series. Mazin, as a huge fan of The Last of Us, convinced the studio the title would be better suited for a series rather than a feature film. Druckmann, a fan of Chernobyl, met with Mazin. The two hit it off creatively. After witnessing Mazin’s passion for the game’s story, they agreed the game was better suited for a long story series adaptation. A week after their initial meeting, both Mazin and Druckmann pitched the series to HBO Max. In March 2020, Sony announced the development of The Last of Us for HBO Max. Mazin and Druckmann were announced as series writers, executive producers, and showrunners in partnership with Sony Pictures Television and PlayStation Productions.
Throughout 2021 and 2022, the production of the adaptation of the acclaimed game was in full swing. Along with Druckmann’s involvement in the series, many other familiar names from the game’s production lent their talents to the show. Most notably, Gustavo Santaolalla returned to compose the score. Utilizing Santaolalla’s haunting and mesmerizing themes was the greatest measure of how similar in tone the series is to its original counterpart, as the game’s tone was one of many critically acclaimed attributes. Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson who provided the voices and motion capture performances for the main characters of the game appear in the series as different characters. Merle Dandridge and Jeffrey Pierce who also voiced characters in the game provided their talents to the show.
Along with several other acclaimed directors, Mazin directs an episode of the series and Druckman makes his live-action directorial debut. The casting of the main characters has always been a major focus of the series. Since the debut of the game, many names have been brought up as fan castings. It was met with a mixed reception when The Mandalorian’s Pedro Pascal and Game of Throne’s Bella Ramsey were cast as the series leads. The negative reactions stem from the actor’s lack of resemblance to the game’s characters. Druckmann’s goal was not to cast look-a-likes – the most important element of adapting the game was to keep its soul as his focus. HBO spared no expense in bringing this popular title to life. The series budget reached $10 to 15 million per episode, making The Last of Us the most expensive series in HBO’s catalog…including Game of Thrones.
The show premiered the first episode of its 9-episode season on January 15, 2023. The series was met with overwhelming critical praise from critics and audiences alike. Rotten Tomatoes rates the series with a 96% critic rating with a 90% audience score. Metacritic rates the series 84 out of 100 and declares it a must-watch. IGN rates the show at a 9 out of 10 calling it amazing. Unanimously, the audience and critic receptions of the series are phenomenal. Several publications call the show the best video game adaptation ever, which may help pave the way for a new era of game-to-film/TV adaptations. The general consensus praises the show’s writing, directing, tone, and incredible performances from Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey. The series premiere was watched by 4.7 million viewers on the first day, which is the second biggest for HBO since 2010, and over 22 million viewers over the next twelve days. Shortly after the series premiere, The Last of Us was renewed for a second season.
Spiritual Content: There is very little spiritual content in the series. However, themes of one person’s self-sacrifice for the salvation of humanity can be seen. Additionally, faith drives the main characters on their cross-country journey. One character in the series claims to be a preacher and uses the Bible to manipulate his group of survivors.
Violence: The world of The Last of Us features violent encounters. Though violence is often featured in the background, for the brief moments when violence is in the forefront, it is full of gore and grotesque imagery. The series depicts violence consisting of gun violence and shootouts, hand-to-hand combat, bludgeoning, stabbings, strangling, blood and gore, executions by gunfire and hanging, and images of suicide.
Language/Crude Humor: Many of the characters use foul language such as f**k, sh*t, b**ch, d**n, c**t, and a**. Though the aforementioned language is featured in the show, they are not used often.
Sexual Content: The show features few romantic relationships. Two episodes of its nine-episode run are dedicated to the development of two relationships. One of these episodes features the beginning, growth, and end of a homosexual relationship between two male characters. This episode features male-on-male kissing. The other features two young girls who share their romantic feelings for each other. This episode features two females kissing. There is no other romantic or sexual content in the series.
Drug/ Alcohol Use: Many of the characters in the series can be found consuming alcohol such as whisky and homemade liqueur. Smoking and the selling of prescription drugs for food tickets are also included.
Other Negative Themes: One of the main features of the series is what happens to humanity when faced with a global catastrophe. The show depicts how people fall into despair, violence, and chaos, and begin to practice unspeakable acts when governments and society collapse.
Positive Themes: The main theme of the show is love. The series explores what lengths people will go to to protect themselves from the pain of losing a loved one. The show also dives into what people will do to protect the ones they love no matter the cost, collateral damage, and pain they will cause others.
The series follows the events of a pair of survivors after a fungal infection ravages the world. In 2003, Joel (Pedro Pascal), along with his daughter Sarah (Dumbo‘s Nico Parker), live a typical life of a father and daughter. Joel owns a contracting business with his brother Tommy (Terminator Dark Fate‘s Gabriel Luna) and his daughter is a young girl who loves music and volunteers to aid her elderly neighbor.
Unbeknownst to them, the world is about to change. A fungal infection quickly begins to spread across the planet, causing people who become infected to act erratically and become zombie-like creatures. In the middle of the night, their quiet Texas town erupts into chaos. Sarah, awoken from her sleep, looks for her father who is nowhere in sight. Sarah investigates her neighbor’s house to find one of the infected gnawing at the neck of her neighbor with fungal tentacles from its mouth. Sarah is chased by the infected but is saved by her father Joel who drives up with Tommy. Joel, Sarah, and Tommy pile into their truck and speed away.
As they drive through town to escape the chaos, they are overcome by crowds of people trying to run away from the violent infected. Their truck crashes and they are separated. Joel picks up his daughter whose leg is injured. They run through the crowded streets seeking safety, but are chased by one of the infected and are saved by a soldier. Suddenly, the soldier raises his gun toward Joel and Sarah and shoots.
The series jumps 20 years into the future where the world has plunged into a post-apocalyptic shadow of what it once was. Fedra, a totalitarian military group, has set up quarantine zones (QZ) leaving the major cities abandoned and full of infected. A rebel group called the Fireflies seeks to break the stronghold of Fedra over the QZs in hopes to return democracy back to society. Joel, along with his partner Tess (Fringe‘s Anna Torv), are smugglers in the Boston QZ. They obtain supplies to sell items like medication and batteries for food rations. While Joel and Tess are on the hunt for a car battery to use to leave the QZ to find his brother whom he hasn’t heard from in weeks, they bump into an injured Marlene (The Last of Us the game’s Merle Dandridge), the leader of the Bostons Firefly group and Ellie (Bella Ramsey).
Marlene hires Joel and Tess to smuggle Ellie out of the quarantine zone to deliver her to a group of Fireflies stationed at Boston’s Capital building. Joel and Tess set out to face the war-torn world filled with all types of horrific infected to transport a 14-year girl for mysterious reasons. Throughout their journey, Joel and Ellie face their fears and anxieties and develop a father-daughter bond in the midst of horrifying infected, murderous mobs, raiders, and more.
The story will be familiar to anyone who has played the award-winning game. Though the world is familiar, enough adaptations are made to provide players of the game with a fresh take on the story. Also, viewers new to the world of The Last of Us would not need to have any exposure to the source material to enjoy the series. While Joel (Pascal) and Ellie (Ramsey) traverse the chaotic landscapes of a post-apocalyptic U.S., they face dangers around every corner. These drive these two scared individuals reluctantly ever closer together, creating an unbreakable bond.
Ramsey’s portrayal of Ellie is the heart of the show. She simultaneously embodies the sassy rebellious game version of Ellie, yet makes the character entirely her own. Her charismatic adaptation is a constant reminder of Joel’s loss and fills him with a sense of purpose that he hasn’t felt in 20 years. Ramsey showcases a breathtaking ability to shift between vulnerability and strength. She deserves a wealth of credit for taking on such a beloved character. She provides a dynamic performance from her first moment on screen to her last with Pascal’s throughout the series.
Pedro Pascal continues to prove he is one of the best at his craft working today. Pascal effortlessly steps into the worn shoes of Joel, complete with the character’s southern drawl. He perfectly portrays the brooding Joel from the game, yet also makes the character entirely his own. He carries himself with a quiet, subtle, yet capable steadiness, making him the perfect counterpart to Ellie’s infectious energy. His ability to express such powerful emotions through a simple look, glance, or slight movement on his face brings Joel’s tragedies and pain to life. Along with the two powerhouse performances from Pascal and Ramsey, the entire series is full of amazing and grounded performers such as Anna Torv as the hardened Tess, Gabriel Luna as Joel’s estranged brother, and Lamar Johnson and Keivonn Woodard as brothers Henry and Sam, with a stellar performance from Nick Offerman as the survivalist Bill. The Last of Us showcases a masterclass of amazing and heart-wrenching performances.
The first season packs a lot into its nine-episode run. Though the series is dense with story, it never feels rushed or bloated. The writing moves the story forward at a steady pace and even allows for moments to breathe. It’s within these moments where The Last of Us truly shines. Seeing epic scenes come to life pulled directly from the game is thrilling, but it is in the quiet moments and unexplored stories that the show turns into something truly special. A great example of this is the adapted story of Bill. The series took a small story told within a letter in the game, and made it into one of the most emotional hours of TV seen in the last few years.
Visually, the show is an absolute standout. The series finds beauty in the ugly. It features a world overtaken by nature. Buildings crumbling and toppling over, paint chipping, fungus veins spread across the environment, and even the dreaded clickers all have a natural beauty to them. When traveling across the country, vast vistas are captured and look like beautiful oil paintings. This is even more prevalent as the series passes through seasons. Scenes harkening back to classic westerns with Joel and Ellie on horseback, and snow which beautifully covers the landscapes during the winter months truly showcased the brilliance in design and cinematography.
Anyone familiar with the game will be surprised as to how little action there is in the series. Players of the game would recall multiple action set pieces allowing the player to experience the story. Here is the fundamental flaw most video game adaptations fail, and where The Last of Us the series excels. Games are meant to be played. Druckman and Mazin understand movies and shows are not experiential; they are meant to be viewed. Mazin and Druckmann did not abandon action or violence altogether. It’s used to tell the story of the characters and show what desperate people will do for love.
Coupled with Gustavo Santaolalla’s hunting original score, the cinematography and music work in harmony to drive the story forward with strategically placed action scenes. There are very few still camera shots throughout the series. The unsteady hand-held camera work leads to an always-on-the-move feel, pushing the story at a steady pace. When the series does showcase action, it is grounded in realism. The rare combat scenes stand out. From hoards of infected pouring into a town to one Clicker stalking its victim using sound to hunt because the fungal flora has protruded through its skull preventing them from seeing, the action leaves you at the edge of your seat. The show focuses on the aftermath or fallout of the violence rather than the violence itself. The show will put you face to face with the grotesqueness of the infected and the brutality of humanity without the structure of society. Both are equally horrific. The series focuses on the human stories within this infected and broken world to great effect.
The Last of Us is arguably the best video game to TV adaptation to date. The plot is spot on with its counterpart ripping scenes and dialogue straight from the game, yet it offers enough differences where the story visits elements, characters, and themes the game could not explore. The series is a breathtaking triumph in filmmaking and adaptation. Mazin and Druckmann successfully retell one of the most impactful stories in modern video game history and display it for a whole new audience. The series holds true to the characters and world of the source material and builds upon the world featured in the game. The show is highlighted by the outstanding performances of its two main cast members, Pascal and Ramsey. They brought to life two characters whom loyal fans of the game will adore and new viewers will fall in love with. The game took the world by storm, and now the series has become a cultural phenomenon. The story Druckmann originally told in the source material of love and loss transcends mediums. It is a story relatable to all.
The Bottom Line
The Last of Us is arguably the best video game to TV adaptation to date. The series rips scenes and dialogue straight from the game, yet revisits characters and themes the game could not explore. The series is a breathtaking triumph in filmmaking and adaption.