REVIEW: ‘The Last of Us’ Transcends Being Just a Video Game Adaptation

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The Last of Us — But Why Tho

I will be the first to admit that horror, is not my first choice for media consumption. Whether it’s books, movies, television, or video games, I have never sought the thrill of jump scares, building suspense, or creative kills. Heck, I still get skeptical of long hallways with windows thanks to Resident Evil. However, The Last of Us had me glued to the screen every Sunday night for 9 weeks straight.

Based on the award-winning 2013 video game of the same name, The Last of Us takes place in a 2023 post-apocalyptic world after an outbreak of fungal infection rampaged through the human population in 2003. The series follows Joel (Pedro Pascal) attempting to escort Ellie (Bella Ramsey), a teenager who is immune to the zombie-like fungal infection, to those who seek to find a cure and restore the world to what it once was. In their cross-country trek, the duo must fight through the elements, infected, and most frightening of all, other humans fighting for their own survival.

The Last of Us is a joint production by Sony Pictures Television, PlayStation Productions, Naughty Dog, the Mighty Mint, and Word Games. To bring the hit video game to life, the production team features the game’s writer and co-director Neil Druckmann. Druckmann is joined by Craig Mazin, creator of HBO’s Chernobyl. As a non-game player myself, seeing the creator of the massively successful game at the helm certainly unburdened me as a viewer from the shackles of expectations for a faithful video game adaptation. The story that The Last of Us tells is the one that Druckmann wants to tell and he has a wonderful cast to bring it to fruition.

The strength of The Last of Us lies firmly in its characters, the good and the bad. Pedro Pascal shines as Joel. It is no secret that Pascal has taken over Hollywood in his various father roles in recent years. However, in his role as Joel, Pascal delivers a true adaptation of what lengths individuals will go to for the people they love. Even as he begins to accept the role of a father following the loss of his daughter, Joel maintains his ruthlessness when it comes to the protection of Ellie. His decisions are far from moral, resorting to killing without question. As a viewer, some of his actions are jarring but you can’t help but root for him in those darkest moments when he is battling evil greater than himself.

Opposite Pascal is Bella Ramsey as Ellie. Ramsey, known for their role as Lyanna Mormont in Game Thrones, delivers an award-winning performance as she brings one of video game’s most notable characters to life. Even as the show remains true to lines from the video game, Ramsey brings their own take which at times is even better than the original. At only 14, Ellie has only known a world of ruin and hardship. Despite this, Ellie still finds a unique sense of optimism that even breaks through Joel’s tough exterior. As The Last of Us progresses and she learns more about the reality of the world as it is today, Ellie proves to be a survivor in her own right as she battles more than just infected on their journey.

Along the way, viewers are introduced to an array of side characters. From voice actors reprising the roles of their own characters from the video game or making appearances as other characters, video game players will be pleasantly surprised by performances from Troy Baker, Ashley Johnson, and Merle Dandridge. Meanwhile, well-known characters are elevated by performances by the likes of Anna Torv, Nick Offerman, Gabriel Luna, and Scott Sheperd. While not every performance landed for me, the great ones far outweigh the mediocre and provided a well-developed ensemble.

Very early on in The Last of Us, it is clear this world is almost devoid of the lawful good characters that are always so prevalent in this genre. Unlike its contemporaries, The Last of Us takes place two decades after the world collapsed instead of directly after the outbreak. Humanity is far from what it once was, but many have carved out communities that give some semblance of civilization despite the threat of infection. Humanity’s resilience is commendable as people show they can combat nature, but the true threat remains humanity itself.

One of the hallmarks of The Last of Us is its ability to build tension. While battles with the infected become sparse as the season progresses, the situations characters are placed in more than provide that edge-of-your-seat feeling. Even in episodes where everything is brimming with positivity and joy, the threat of something is always lingering just beyond the viewer’s perception. When every new character is introduced, it is uncertain whether or not their actions will place Joel and Ellie in danger.

Early episodes showed viewers what happened in the early days of the Cordyceps outbreak to show how the world got to be where the world is today through cold opens. Episode two, ‘Infected,’ specifically stands out as one of the best cold opens I have ever seen. We are shown how much different and scary the infected in this world are compared to zombie-like creatures in other media through intense video game-like sequences. Most of the time stealth is required to avoid the audio-drawn clickers. When the hive mind swarms are agitated, the fast-running infected make fleeing on foot nearly impossible. The grotesque bloaters rip humans apart like paper. All of which is in line with the video game. However, the series quickly diverts the larger focus squarely on the human relationships that embody this new world.

As someone who did not play the game, I cannot speak to how the game itself ends. However, after an action-packed and emotional episode, the season just ends. While we know there is a second season coming, it doesn’t help the fact that the season finale feels like just the end of another episode in a list of great episodes. In fact, I had to check to see if there was a new episode next week because this long and drawn-out quest felt unfulfilled. No cliffhanger, no speculation of what’s to come, just credits and the long wait for season two. I still thoroughly enjoyed the finale and the season as a whole, I would be lying if I didn’t feel a little deflated and just wanting to know what’s next, though. When so much time is devoted to building the world and characters, to have it just end with a simple conversation felt a bit empty.

While I found the finale for The Last of Us to be a bit unceremonious, there is no doubt that this show has changed the way people will look at the post-apocalyptic genre. Humanity, the good, bad, and ugly, has never been on display better than in The Last of Us. Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey deliver award-winning performances as they bring one of the most beloved video game duos to life wrestling with this perilous landscape. Further, the care and attention to detail by showrunners Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin have the series transcend the expectations of another video game adaptation. Instead, The Last of Us delivers some of the best moments of television in recent memory.

The Last of Us is streaming now on HBO Max.

The Last of Us
  • 9/10
    Rating - 9/10


While I found the finale for The Last of Us to be a bit unceremonious, there is no doubt that this show has changed the way people will look at the post-apocalyptic genre.

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