It is not easy to crack an adaptation of a beloved video game to the public when you are appeasing fans and those who aren’t familiar with the source material. Somehow, The Last of Us manages to pull off just that thanks to the partnership of showrunner Craig Mazin and game creator Neil Druckmann. These two had the daunting task of adapting the world and characters of the game as well as expanding on the original story. Luckily, they were able to bring the world of The Last of Us to life with the iconic locations from the games and replicating that same atmosphere that made the original so beloved. By taking the story through familiar territory with its plots and themes while taking it into interesting directions, The Last of Us is one of those rare shows that isn’t just a great adaptation but also an amazing television series.
Like the game, The Last of Us takes place 20 years after a fungal virus ravages the whole world and decimated the human population while also turning them into savage monsters. It follows the story of Joel (Pedro Pascal), a grieving father who has made a life in this apocalyptic world as a smuggler. Ever since the loss of his daughter during the early days of the outbreak, Joel has lost all hope and tries to make ends meet with his partner in crime Tess (Anna Torv). Things start to change for Joel once he encounters the 14-year-old Ellie (Bella Ramsey), whom he is tasked to smuggle across the country to the rebel group known as the Fireflies as she holds a new spark of hope for humanity.
What both the game and the TV series does is show the changes in human nature through the eyes of these two people who are paired up against their will. Both mediums establish the world and how horrible and beautiful the landscape is filled with dangers at every turn whether it’s a human or a monster. The series is visually shot well with the amount of detail shown from the old ruins of buildings to the dripping forest once the seasons change. The world of The Last of Us isn’t a perfect one and the show doesn’t shy away from showing that. Every corner can lead to one’s death if no one is careful in this post-apocalyptic landscape filled with the infected. Even though the mission to deliver Ellie may be a simple task, it can easily fall apart once you involve in a dangerous world filled with monsters that lurk in every corner. But the worst of it is facing the ultimate monster, humans.
At the story’s center is the developing relationship between our two leads: Joel and Ellie. These two are the complete opposites of one another as Joel is the gritty and tough adult who has given up on hope while Ellie is a wild firecracker teen ready to explore the world. Both Pascal and Ramsey give off amazing chemistry as they play off on one another with their constant bickering. Their scenes together make for some great compelling television and mirror how the game’s portrayals of these characters. What we see is how these two vulnerable human beings become dependent on one another as they share their hopes and dreams. Despite being strangers, they grow into something similar to a father-daughter type of relationship.
Pascal does a terrific job in adapting Joel to live-action by bringing both the physical and emotional depths that this character has. The scene-stealer of the show has to go to Ramsey, who wonderfully plays the young Ellie as a badass young girl and who viewers will be rooting for. The cornerstone of the game is the pairing of these two individuals, which the show does so well thanks to Pascal and Ramsey’s chemistry. Just the way they are portrayed will make viewers care for them on this journey through the whole first season.
Other than Joel and Ellie, The Last of Us adaptation also explores the backstories of the side characters from the games. Viewers will get to meet Joel’s brother Tommy (Gabriel Luna), a former Marine and Firefly member who believes there is still a place for humanity despite the planet’s turn for the worst. Other key characters from the games like Marlene (Merle Dandridge), Bill (Nick Offerman), and Henry (Lamar Johnson) are briefly explored in the next couple of episodes. We’ll also be introduced to some original characters, not from the games like Kathleen (Melanie Lynskey), who plays a rebel leader in Kansas City. These are a few of the characters that viewers will get to meet during Joel and Ellie’s cross-country journey who all have some baggage with them that will keep them engaged.
Overall, The Last of Us makes great use of the source material and expands on it to create a fantastic adaptation. What makes the adaptation work is the characters and their complexities within this post-apocalyptic world that the games have created so well. The story is also well-paced and emotionally gripping to its core, making for some incredible scenes with our characters as they interact with other people and the world around them. The scope is large but it is focused thanks to the cast and the fascinating landscape that takes over the screen. Both Druckmann and Mazin have crafted a beautiful piece of work that highlights the game’s story and made it more impactful and wholesome. The Last of Us is an adaptation that works well on television, pleasing fans of the games while also making it thrillingly engaging for a new audience.
The Last of Us premieres on January 15 on HBO and HBO Max.