“The Last of Us” is Just What Television Needed

Written by Dillon Seckington, Features and Opinions Editor

When HBO announced a television adaptation of Naughty Dog’s “The Last of Us” in November 2020, many were unsure how to feel. While the game certainly had a narrative appeal and pleasing cinematic qualities, there are always those creeping thoughts that another version could ruin the spark initially created in the game. 

  However, as the show released each episode, fans and critics were blown away by the refined storytelling and contemporary thematic value that HBO’s adaptation brought to the table. From the first episode to the finalé, viewers witnessed an adaptation that stayed true to its roots within “The Last of Us” video game, while also building upon the tone, theme and ideas that made the video game a hit in the first place.

  “The Last of Us” series features nine episodes of gut-wrenching action, heartwarming storytelling and deeply enjoyable acting. We see Joel Miller, played by Pedro Pascal, and Ellie, played by Bella Ramsey, on a journey across an apocalyptic United States in hopes of saving humanity. 

  These actors are certainly based on the video game’s original characters; however, the actors have also clearly taken their own ideas and thoughts into their characters. 

  Overall, the casting in this series is incredible. On one hand, Joel’s daughter, Sarah, played by Nico Parker, makes a lasting impression in a short time to let the audience know that her character is a major theme throughout the show. 

  On the other hand, you have actors like Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett who show viewers their range once again. This, along with other production aspects of HBO’s “The Last of Us” series are what made fans fall in love with the series. 

  In the first episode of the series, titled, “When You’re Lost in the Darkness”, viewers initially see a scientist on a talk show, essentially warning the show’s viewers of the cordyceps fungi and what it is capable of. This dramatic and, frankly, frightening introduction creates a slow burn of sorts for the series. 

  The series also released a short podcast episode after every episode released. Showrunner Craig Mazin spoke of how “The Last of Us” producers created this slow burn.  

  “One of the things that the opening does is place everything also within the context of a longer time span,” said Mazin on The Last of Us Podcast. “It was important to me that this opening take place many many decades before cordyceps comes around because I like the idea that these things that come and get us don’t just show up when we need them to because we’re starting a television show.”

  This ‘slow burn’ aspect of the first episode of the series is essential. Meaning that while the show is just as jarring, unpredictable and exciting as the game is, the context of the material still needs to be presented in an intriguing way. The show did this wonderfully in “When You’re Lost in the Darkness”.

  “The Last of Us” also does a lot to comment on gender and sexual norms. 

  From the portrayal of strong female characters in both the game and the series to the series’ gripping third episode, “Long, Long Time”, “The Last of Us” combats female video game character clichés and shines a glimmering light on queerness. “Long, Long Time” is a major highlight of the series. 

  Not only does the series feature some of the most vivid storytelling in television in recent years, but its message also conversates with contemporary themes, issues and ideas. According to the New York Times, “It’s frankly remarkable that what is ostensibly an action-horror series could make time — in its third episode, no less — for an alternately heartwarming and heartbreaking short film about companionship.” 

  A huge part of the storytelling in this episode is the fact that Bill, played by Nick Offerman, and Frank, played by Murray Bartlett, are both characters from the game. However, in the show, viewers are able to see the backstory of their relationship and their struggles, all the while relating to the main timeline. 

  This use of time in the series was great for sharing multiple perspectives on the impending apocalypse. 

  Episode 8, titled “When We Are In Need”, is a climax of sorts for the series. 

  According to Troy Baker, who played Joel in the Playstation video game, on “The Last of Us Podcast,” “There’s a physicality throughout every episode that Pedro has brought to this, and this (episode 8) is a shining example of that.” In an attempt to care for Joel, Ellie is captured by a, frankly, disgusting man named David, played by Scott Sheppard. 

  This episode does just as much in conversation with themes of sexual harassment as it does for character development. 

  With another season confirmed by HBO on the way, fans have a lot to look forward to. Now that we know the series stacks up to the legacy of the original PlayStation-exclusive game, fans are left to wonder what steps, risks and accomplishments the creators of “The Last of Us” will see in the second series.