The Last of Us
HBO MAX / SKY ATLANTIC (2023)
Created by Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann
Starring: Pedro Pascal, Bella Ramsey, Gabriel Luna, Anna Torv, Nico Parker, Murray Bartlett, Nick Offerman, Melanie Lynskey, Storm Reid, Merle Dandridge, Jeffrey Pierce, Lamar Johnson, Keivonn Woodard, Graham Greene, Elaine Miles, Ashley Johnson
Video game adaptations are generally mediocre to downright abysmal. Occasionally a surprise is sprung and we receive a decent adaptation, but the bar certainly isn’t high. Enter The Last of Us. Not content with being one the most awarded games of all time, The Last of Us decided to make a play for the title of best video game adaptation of all time - and it wins. HBO’s nine episode series stays true to Neil Druckmann and Naughty Dog’s stellar game narrative, taking the best of that story whilst imbuing interesting and fresh deviations along the way to deliver an extraordinarily strong season of television.
Miraculously, Druckmann, alongside series co-creator Craig Mazin (Chernobyl), manage to capture and recreate the magic of the story a second time around by ensuring the series remains focused on the characters throughout. The temptation must have been there to focus on the horror aspects, but Joel and Ellie remain at the forefront of the story - as well they should. Pedro Pascal wonderfully depicts the grizzled and tortured Joel, whilst Ramsay confidently portrays the toughness, vulnerability, and heart that is so synonymous with Ellie. Together, they work. Gabriel Luna, Anna Torv, and Nico Parker all impress in supporting roles but it's Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett that combine to deliver an astonishing episode of television in episode three - it’s genuinely superb and adds texture and layers to characters and stories that I never knew we needed. As a whole, the world of The Last of Us is also recreated and realised with a keen eye to detail, the respect shown to the source material should act as a template for other shows and IPs to follow. Iconic moments and locations are recreated from the game and everything just feels right. For me, the most interesting aspect is how newcomers to the story will react to the series, how they will absorb the in-world references and the sheer amount of story that is on offer. It’s certainly strong enough to stand on its own two feet and structured to allow for enough exposition to be presented before diving into the core story. Veterans of the franchise will know what to expect from the story, the major beats are still present, but when the direction does differ, thankfully the new additions and deviations actually add to the story as opposed to detract, and, whilst the game’s story is excellent, certain creative choices here work better for this format. Whilst the story wisely focuses on the characters opposed to the horror, let’s not pretend that The Last of Us does not carry a real sense of dread, atmosphere, stakes, and tragedy. The Infected/Clickers carry a genuine threat and when it’s their turn to come out and play, they are terrifying - especially considering their cleverly amended origin - and the world itself, because it is so well realised, just carries a sense of danger at every turn. As a fan of the games, and now the series, I am keeping everything crossed that the story continues with an adaptation of the magnificent The Last of Us Part 2, but, for now, I’m happy to report that The Last of Us is a sweeping success. It’s astonishing.
January 10th 2023