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Limited Series [Season One]

Aired On: HBO

Release Date: 01/15/23
Action. Adventure. Drama.

"After a global pandemic destroys civilization, a hardened survivor takes charge of a 14-year-old girl who may be humanity's last hope."


After nine long emotionally devastating and punishing weeks of television, HBO’s adaptation of The Last of Us has finally finished its first season. Back in its premiere in January, we highly recommended the show as it was starting out - it was an incredibly promising start to the adaptation, and was incredibly excited to see how Mazin and Druckmann were going to cross this story over to a different medium. Videogame adaptations have had a bad rep, yes, however, I think we’ve been making an improvement with them lately because people who actually love and understand video games thoroughly are in charge of these projects and bring along people who are passionate to bring this story to more people. The Last Of Us may be setting a new standard for video game adaptations as it further expands ideas from the games that really do feel at home in television. Mazin and Druckmann see many opportunities to take many steps further with key themes and characters from the game. It’s an incredibly rich and emotionally punishing post-apocalyptic drama, and as someone who has loved this game since release in 2013, it felt like experiencing the story for the first time again.


I want to say that even this should satisfy even the most die hard of The Last of Us fans, it isn’t perfect. There are some big and daring changes Mazin and Druckmann make in this telling of the story - some decisions I think work better in the show than in the game, and of course, vice versa. Of course, this is something you’re going to get with any adaptation - but, it still feels at times the key moments of The Last of Us story experience are lost in translation. Perhaps it wouldn’t be an issue for the non-gamer audience, but at times, I didn’t feel like I was able to breathe in the setting like I was able to in the game. Perhaps one of the reasons I walked away with “Kin” as one of my favorite episodes this season was because of the change of narrative weight the city of Jackson holds in this story. Ellie has more room to actually explore here and it shows a brighter side to humanity than she’s honestly ever seen in her life, it’s an honest improvement to a segment I honestly feel is my least favorite part of the game.


Then there’s the not so good part of it such as in episode 4 and 5. With the exception of the Cul-Du-Sac set piece at the end of episode 5, I don’t exactly feel Kansas City was as well explored as it could have been. It was nice to see the aftermath of the rebellion of a FEDRA outpost, but I feel like there were many missed opportunities to really integrate the central conflict into the setting like the game does. That’s why I love the Cul-Du-Sac set piece at the end of episode 5 where it shows that the conflict becomes more intense when the setting becomes really important - almost like a character itself. I also feel episode 3 also lacks exploration - though we get some exposition to the world and how it got to the way it was, I wish we explored Bill and Frank’s town more. At times it felt a bit restricted to just their front lawn, and though I found “Long, Long, Time” to be an incredibly powerful episode, I do feel like the show missed an opportunity to integrate their story into Joel and Ellie’s. Frank isn’t even alive in the game, it would have been awesome to Murray Bartlet and Nick Offerman as lovers as they ALSO help Joel and Ellie through the town to get a car. It’s a beautiful episode with a frustrating footnote that at worst just feels a bit saccharine.


Perhaps this is the battle of the show being a post apocalyptic survival action show or a post apocalyptic survival drama. Episode 2 and 5 do give a perfect blend of that action and drama. Showing the horrors and consequences of those horrors, but also the desperation of these characters and how they respond to the horrifying situations they face. It’s all super powerful, but I do feel like the show holds back in its horror, at least in the later episodes.I honestly was a massive fan of the pre-outbreak cold opens with the talk show in episode 1 and the talk show in episode 2. Both provided fascinating insight and ecological twist on the ‘zombie’ idea(or infected, whatever). There’s many cool and horrifying aspects the show goes into about these infected, even though it’s an incredibly exaggerated portrayal of cordyceps infecting humans, the classic identity of the infected blends flawlessly to TV. So much of the design is faithful, and it was so satisfying to see them brought to life. I just wish there were more of them. For a show of this kind, episodes severely lacked these infected mushroom monsters when I felt they were narratively appropriate. Notably episodes 6, 8, and 9 just barely feature any infected. It’s here again, where I feel like it doesn’t exactly know how to incorporate proper elements into its setting. I would love to see Joel and Ellie fight more infected, but it just feels so lacking in the survival horror element of it all.


Thankfully, there isn’t a weak spot in the cast, and the main two, Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey really bring unique charm to these characters that separate and humbly respect the performances of Ashley Johnson and Troy Baker in the video games. Pascal separates from Baker as a man coming to terms with his aging body, and with a second chance given to him which frightens him to his core. That fear turns into more fear that his body will fail him and in turn failing Ellie. Bella Ramsey proves to be an incredibly intelligent actress with her turn as Ellie - there are moments caught that aren’t quite possible to catch with video games, and with Ramsey these moments are super subtle and impactful. Whether it’s a rage in her eye, the blood on her face, the spark in her smile, or the music in her laugh, she captures the spirit, but in an entirely different key and tempo than Johnson’s iconic performance. It isn’t one that attempts to outshine, but to complement and enhance.


Despite my complaints with how some of the show used its setting and use of infected, this adaptation really relied on one thing, the relationship between Joel and Ellie, and it knocks it out of the park. Not only were the actors able to capture the spirit of the characters, but they give fascinating, subtle, and physically visceral performances that compliment the game actors tremendously. Speaking of Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson, both actors do make a cameo in the adaptation as well, and both are fun and emotional performances. Johnson’s brief performance here emphasizes the themes of this story tremendously and adds a lot of power to what this is really all about.


I feel lucky to have gotten this adaptation. Long ago right when the game came out, there were already talks of there being a movie, along with Naughty Dog's other big videogame IP, Uncharted. Now, ten years later, we have adaptations of both, and it still seems like even though we’re getting great adaptations like this, movies like Uncharted seem like they aren’t exactly getting the proper care. That’s why I feel Neil; Druckmann’s close involvement is so special. Together with Craig Mazin, they are able to experiment with this incredibly powerful story in transferring it to a medium with endless possibilities. Though some parts feel more care about than others, it’s hard to think of a video game adaptation that’s been as satisfying and faithful as this. Which makes me incredibly optimistic for video game adaptations - if we put the right people in charge of these stories, these will only continue to get better and better.

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