The Last of Us (HBO Max series)

It’s the live action adaptation of the hit video game, “The Last of Us”. This is one of those shows that had so much anticipation behind it. In that people had no idea how well it was going to turn out. On top of being another live action video game adaptation, which are often seen as pointless or inferior to the originals. But it also had people like myself questioning if this show would work. I am not exaggerating when I say that “The Last of Us” is one of the great games out there. It had complex characters, brutal action, and a story that while familiar to most people, gives it a new spin with its take on surviving a post apocalyptic world. Now that the first season is finished, how does it hold up?

The story begins in 2003, Austin Texas, where we see Joel Miller, his daughter Sarah, and his younger brother Tommy as their peaceful lives are brought to an end when a mutated fungus called Cordyceps, starts turning people into zombie-like creatures worldwide and causes human civilization to collapse. After Joel suffers the tragedy of losing Sarah during the outbreak, we timeskip to 2023 where Joel is now a hardened smuggler in Boston who is given the task of escorting a teenage girl named Ellie, who is revealed to be immune to the infection and may be the key to finding a cure. The rest of the series is this unlikely duo traveling post apocalyptic United States as they face infected monsters, dangerous survivors, and moral dilemmas in this bleak world.

As someone who has played the game and knows what to expect from this story, I was pleasantly surprised by this series. This show is the definition of how to do an adaptation right. As a fan of the original source material, I can tell a lot of effort and passion was put into this series. I was shocked at how well they played so many of these scenes. From the intense cut scenes, to the environments that I traveled through. There were so many camera shots and lines of dialogue that I immediately recognized from the original. From my perspective, I was not watching actors play these roles. I was watching the game come to life.

It also helps that not only was the directing and writing fantastic. But they also got great actors to play these characters. Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey were perfect castings for Joel and Ellie. They work so well not only with each other, but also on their own when the scene requires it. I will even say that the side characters here are also wonderful. You may even recognize many of them from other films and shows. In fact, they even got the original actors from the game to play different characters on the show. These include “Game of Thrones”, “His Dark Materials”, “True Detective”, and “The Pacific”. You can tell they chose these actors for these parts, since they have been in a lot of projects that revolve around heavy dramatic material. It shows because they are all very good at playing these roles, while also having people connect with them in a short amount of time. This can be very difficult to do, especially with characters who have different moralities 

Which is fitting because this is one of those stories where no person is completely good. Everyone including the main characters has done something horrible in this show. But what makes us stay on their side is that the series openly acknowledges that the world that is established lies in a gray area. In that you have people who have to do bad things in order to survive. In the game, you are basically mowing down scores of people and do not think much of them when you defeat them. But here, the show clearly shows how violence not only has consequences, but it also leaves you in a dark place you may never find your way out of. 

I also like how the series gives us time to delve into the survivors and enemies in this world. They actually give you time to know these people and their motivations as to why they do what they do. Keep in mind, that does not mean you have to like all of them for the things they do. In fact, you may find yourself wishing for a clicker to take some of them out by the end. But you can tell that the creators are portraying these threats as actual people. 

Despite this being the same story that I remember from the game. There were a good amount of changes that I felt kept it different enough to where I was wondering how they were going to portray certain scenes and characters. For example, there are certain episodes where we leave the main story and focus on other characters in episodes three and seven. These could have easily been written off as pointless filler since they do not focus on the main characters. But they got some fantastic actors who were given roles that conveyed so much humanity and emotion into them. Truth be told, I remember feeling devastated whenever a character did not survive, or if something terrible happened. Even though I knew what was going to happen. I still felt invested because the actors’ performances were so strong, and the episodes were placed in a dramatic and suspenseful way. The people behind this show knew what to keep the same to remain faithful to the original, while also making changes to make the narrative stronger.

Since I knew this season was going to be nine episodes, I knew that there would not be as much action as in the game. Which is understandable because while both are played on the small screen, video games and television are two different forms of storytelling. In video games, you are actively playing a part in the narrative. You are controlling these characters as they go through these dangerous locations at your own pace. While there are moments that take time to let dramatic moments sink in and get to know the characters. The enemies you face are in more abundance as this is to keep the player engaged by balancing between the story and the action.

When you are watching a television show, your actions do not play a role in the story as you are sitting back and watching these characters. On paper this can seem like a downgrade. But thankfully, the series goes for a more dramatic route with action moments sprinkled throughout. For most adaptations, this could easily come across as boring compared to the original. But it works here because the biggest strength of the source material was in the characters and story. It also feels well balanced as the pacing allows each episode to take their time, while also giving the audience what they want. Even when they least expect it. Whenever I was waiting for something scary, it was legitimately horrifying. Whenever I needed a break for some levity after something depressing, this show gives you the time to relax and enjoy these characters.

Overall, I think this show is a fantastic adaptation. It has already gotten a lot of strong reactions out of people, and it’s not hard to see why. It has great characters, a suspenseful story, and mature themes that made the game so great. 

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