HBO nails The Last of Us in amazing fashion



HBO has captured the essence of the video game in its series adaptation.

When people think of video games they often drum up visions of Super Mario or Fortnite, games with broad consumer appeal. But there’s a whole world of video games, unexplored by many, where rich characters and detailed worldbuilding are the hallmarks of the art form. Trying to convert games like this to the medium of television or movies can be a daunting task, which is why HBO’s The Last of Us is so notable.

It is so good that it almost redefines the genre.

So many modern video games have complex stories that can truly bring out an emotional reaction in a person. If you’ve ever read a really magnificent book and felt like you went into a completely different world while reading, you might be surprised to hear that that is exactly what happens when you play a great video game. 

That said, you have probably never heard of the agony and death that Ezio Auditore dealt with in Assassin’s Creed, or the beautiful and also heartbreaking story of Max Caulfield finding her identity in Life is Strange, or maybe even the story about an emotionally unavailable old man who decides to never let himself be vulnerable again after a traumatic event that changed his life. 

Well, that is until he meets a girl who is mature beyond her years but also loves a good dad joke. On June 14, 2013, The Last of Us was released and it quickly became a cultural phenomenon. 

The Last of Us is set in a post-apocalyptic world, which seems like it has been overdone, but it’s completely different from the stereotypical zombie apocalypse. Joel Miller and Ellie Williams are forced together to “endure and survive” in a world full of infected people.

Ellie is only 14, while Joel is 52, so there’s natural generational tension between them. One of them is frustrated by all she can’t do while the other is frustrated by what he’s lost. A major benefit to playing the game itself is that a player gets to be a part of their tremendously complex but beautiful journey and watch their relationship grow from barely controlled hostility to love and admiration.

HBO launched the television adaptation of the series on Jan. 15, and both critics and viewers have come away loving it. The Last of Us — along with The White Lotuslooks to be HBO’s next big hit, which the service needed after the end of Game of Thrones.

Bella Ramsey, known best for her role in Game of Thrones as Lady Lyanna Mormont, plays Ellie. Pedro Pascal, best known for his role in The Mandalorian, is Joel.

Casting choices should please fans of the video game. (HBO)

The show begins with a scientist from the 1960s talking about a fungal mutation that could affect humankind in the near future, clearly setting up the plot for non-gamers who have no idea what the show is about.

Then the show leaps ahead to 2003, when we meet Sarah Miller, Joel’s daughter. Nico Parker does a phenomenal job as Sarah, who has limited screen time in the pilot, but has a pivotal role to play.

There is a scene with Sarah in which she visits her neighbors, the Adlers, and a shot where you see Sarah trying to find a DVD for a movie she wants to borrow on the shelf. Out of focus over her right shoulder, you see the wheelchair-bound Nana Adler twitching, which is a sign that she has been infected. This is a scene that was not in the original game, but was jarring in the best way. 

Once humanity is infected, everything goes downhill. A surreal moment has Sarah waking up in the middle of the night to explosions and sirens and running to her father’s room and screaming, “Dad?” It’s a scene directly lifted from the game — in fact, when the game opens, you start playing as Sarah before you get to play as Joel or Ellie.

The show then skips 20 years into the future, and civilization has never recovered.  

What is excellent about the show: 

  • Ramsey as Ellie. Ellie is one of the most beloved video game characters of all time, so fans of the game were nervous that HBO would get the casting wrong. If they got Ellie wrong, then the entire show wouldn’t work. So after watching her performance, most viewers were relieved to see how perfectly Ramsey embodied the character. 
  • Gustavo Santaolalla’s soundtrack for The Last of Us game was breathtakingly beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time, so it was really nice to hear the soundtrack being played in the show as well.
  • When playing the game, you’re always on high alert because you can be attacked at any moment. It feels the same way while watching the show. 

What could use some improvement:

  • The show is basically perfect, but there are a few minor things that work less well, including the opening scene set in the ’60s because it is a bit boring and very forgettable.
  • A massive change that is concerning is the writers getting rid of spores. Spores are how most people get infected. They’re a huge part of the plot and we see Ellie breathing in spores all the time while Joel wears a mask. There’s also a scene in The Last of Us Part II in which Ellie’s mask breaks and her girlfriend Dina freaks out, which felt essential, and now will clearly not be in the cards for the show.  
  • The fungus in general, because in the game the infected progress from runner to stalker to clicker to bloater to shambler. When they reach the final stage, and the infected person has died, the fungus continues to grow, usually on a wall. In the show, we see a growth on a wall but it’s weird because that’s when they emit spores, but spores don’t exist in the show, so … strange.  

In the end, The Last of Us premiere was truly impressive, and anyone who watches it, even if they know nothing about the story, will fall in love with it. Well, except for maybe the infected.  

Episodes are released every Sunday at 9 p.m. Give it a chance.