The first episode of The Last of Us Series has premiered on HBO Max giving fans a taste of how PlayStation’s big-budget cinematic first-party games can be turned into actual cinema/television (or at the very least do it better than Uncharted did).
To be honest, that was probably the biggest thing I was wondering about the series going in. The Last of Us, with its hi-resolution character models and top-notch voice acting, The Last of Us already felt like a fully told blockbuster and didn’t really need an adaptation. So now that said adaption has spread throughout HBO, does it do anything to stand out? Well, only one episode has been released so far, but yeah, it stood out quite a bit.
More Time In The World
The first episode set itself apart pretty fast with a greater focus on setting up the world. We see more of the fungi outbreak that slowly caused the collapse of civilization, from a talk show host discussing a hypothetical worst-case scenario to Joel, Tommy, and Sarah racing through the burning streets with infected sinking their teeth into their former neighbors, that worst case now being proven true.
Perhaps it’s because we’ve all sat through a viral pandemic, but hearing radio reports of the infection coming to Jakarta and people thinking “ah well it’ll never come here” as they go on with their day feels almost nostalgically naive. It builds a sense of dread knowing that’ll be the last time they’ll experience peaceful days like these. Seeing this ordinary neighborhood turn to violence and death likewise is done with a heart-pumping sense of panic, especially when it settles in that there’s no escape and solution.
20 Years Later
This course leads to the time skip to 20 years later. The zombie apocalypse has taken its toll with most of America a ruined wasteland and the remaining survivors grouped into quarantine zones run under martial law by a military that’s just barely hanging on. This is where I felt the show really stood out.
When playing The Last of Us, I didn’t actually spend too much time in the quarantine zone, as I quickly went to take Joel and Tess to get their car engine and eventually start smuggling out Ellie but here the film really takes its time to synch in what the new normal is for these people.
You see, the decrepit state of the FEDRA regime. They kill infected children via lethal injection all while calmly reassuring them good food and toys, then having their bodies burned like they were little more than garbage. You see people being executed for breaking quarantine and the overall grime and claustrophobia of the people forced to live here. It really weighs on you just how bad everything is. This is enhanced by the top-notch production value that brilliantly captures the desolate atmosphere, even the rations they use for money look crumbled and worn.
Joel and Ellie
This brings us to our leading duo, Joel Miller is contracted by the rebel group known as the Fireflies to bring a young girl named Ellie to their base because she may just hold a cure to the infection.
Pedro Pascal has shown a wide range of acting chops from The Mandolorian, to The Unbearable Weight of MAssive Talent to even Wonder Woman 1984 and he brings it here. He’s able to bring out the different sides of Joel, the mundane everyman of the beginning and the broken man of the wasteland who’ll do anything to get by. I especially liked the scene of him tossing the child’s corpses into the bomb fire. While he stoically does the job, you can see the sadness in his eyes.
As for Ellie, I actually thought she was kinda bratty but hey, I thought game Ellie was a bit bratty too when I first met her so she’s got the character down right. Bella Ramsey gives a lot of life to Ellie, portraying the character’s fiery bad attitude but still maintaining a bit of childlike wonder. There’s this great scene where she tricks Joel into telling him a radio code and her smug face was lovably cheeky. It not only showed her resourcefulness but also that she’s still a kid (kids love one-upping adults like that).
We have to watch more of the series to see their relationship evolve together but for now, it’s a good start for the both of them.
The Last of Us
I’ve mainly been going over the Last of Us TV Series as someone who played the game but I should clarify that it works perfectly well as a standalone series, in fact in some way it works better since many of its creative choices seem to be made for new-time viewers.
In a game, you’re free to explore the world as you please see for yourself how decrepit it is. In a series, however, you can’t, any of the implied cruelty needs to be shown upfront, which the show is more than happy to provide. You see the harsh reality of this world firsthand, how the normal world is ripped from them and what they now must face surviving. This is delivered perfectly through the performance of Pascal who goes the full range with Joel, capturing each aspect of the character from his best to his worst.
I’m not sure I’d say The Last of Us HBO Series is the best video game adaptation ever made but it is up there. Whether you are a fan or a newcomer, it shows the best of the game’s story in a way that feels faithful but still a unique entity in its own right.