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The Last Of Us Season One (2023) | Review

When You’re Lost In The Darkness, Look For The Light

By Miles Stebens

With numerous cinematic adaptations of video games that left a lot to be desired, the lead-up to the airing of the first episode of HBO’s The Last Of Us adaptation was tense. Add to that the risk of disappointing the massive loyal fanbase the critically-acclaimed game has amassed over the years, and the fact that many had reservations about the casting choices for the two main characters of the franchise. The pressure was on.

Eight episodes down, and with the season finale just around the corner at the time of writing, these doubts can safely be laid to rest. There could not have been a better choice than casting Bella Ramsey as Ellie Williams and Pedro Pascal as Joel Miller. Week after week, Ramsey and Pascal, as well as the rest of the cast, knock it out of the park with their performances.

Courtesy of Liane Hentscher/HBO

The Last Of Us follows Joel and Ellie, two survivors in a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by a fungal pandemic that turns infected humans into feral zombie-like creatures. Initially reluctant, the two band together to cross the US, and their relationship blossoms into a beautiful yet heart-wrenching exploration of found family. Showrunners Neil Druckmann (co-creator of the game) and Craig Mazin wanted to ‘make an experience that really explored the unconditional love a parent feels for a child,’ a love that is not always pure because its intensity can make you dangerous and violent—especially in a world that wants to kill you. It was therefore imperative that the actors portraying that love between Joel and Ellie have good chemistry.

Ramsey and Pascal indubitably have that chemistry; the love and respect the two actors share for each other behind the camera are tangible on screen. Of course, being an adaptation, the characters are not carbon copies of their game counterparts. And they shouldn’t be. Ramsey and Pascal have taken the characters we know and love and have made them their own. A TV show gives you more space to really flesh out the characters and make them more authentic, resulting in some magnificently gut-wrenching performances of a Joel suffering from PTSD and an Ellie that is even more dangerous and terrifying.

The TV series deviates very little from the source material, with all of the iconic sequences and emotional beats intact, some of them word for word. What we do get is more information on the workings of the infectious cordyceps, especially in the cold open of the first two episodes. This is a great way to both help contextualise the story for newcomers to the franchise and keep fans on their toes: the show is not going to be a simple regurgitation of the game.

The biggest (and best) deviation from the game is the story of Bill and Frank, whom Joel and Ellie meet during their journey. In the game, Frank is already dead when we run into Bill. The show instead chose to make the subtext of the nature of their relationship explicit, and devoted an entire episode to telling their story. Even if post-apocalyptic shows are not your cup of tea, I implore you to watch this episode. There are barely any infected and you get to watch two middle-aged men fall in love and be gentle and grow old together, safe and protected and happy, while the world around them falls apart. The best possible life in a desolate world is granted to two queer people when, often, all we get is pain and devastation.

HBO’s The Last Of Us proves that with taking time, putting the budget to good use, a phenomenal cast, and passion for the source material, good video game adaptations are possible. I, for one, will be eagerly awaiting Season 2, which has already been announced and will follow the events of the sequel game.


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