The Last of Us, a Stellar Adaptation of a Bleak World

Nik Chrissanthos, Assistant Arts & Entertaintment Editor

This review will contain spoilers for both The Last of Us the video game and the show. This review will also make reference to sensitive subjects such as suicide and gore.

I had a very conventional play through of the original The Last of Us game. It came with my PlayStation 4 so I played it because I didn’t have much else to play on it. I thought the story was pretty good, and the gameplay was pretty decent. And then I thought nothing of it again until it was announced that it was going to be adapted into a show for HBO Max, I thought that was totally fine. Now that the show is finished, I can safely say it exceeded all of my expectations.

The main overarching plot of the show remains the same as the game. There is a zombie apocalypse thanks to a mutated fungus, and the lead character Joel loses his daughter as the chaos of the initial outbreak ensues. Twenty years later, an older, more bitter Joel is hired to transport a girl named Ellie across the country since she was immune to the infection and could be utilized to create a cure. The show follows the duo as they make their way across the destroyed United States. Neil Druckman, who wrote the original game and its sequel, also helped adapt the series and I feel like his influence contributes so much to how faithful of an adaptation the show was, but also how elements of the show were tweaked to enhance the narrative further which we will cover later.

Pedro Pascal as Joel, despite some initial hesitation from hardcore fans, is excellent. Despite not looking the part of Joel from the video game, he still excels at portraying Joel the character. He portrays the stubbornness and unwillingness to form new relationships really well. And fans of his from The Mandolorian will appreciate his fight scenes, as just like said show The Last of Us does not portray him as an unstoppable action man. He gets hurt a lot, but you can still say he is incredibly dangerous. Episode 8 is a great example of this, as despite having suffered a very serious stab wound in the previous episode he stops at nothing to keep Ellie safe. Speaking of which, Bella Ramsey as Ellie is also excellent. Just like Joel, she is reluctant to form new connections after everyone she knows dies on her or abandons her. But Ellie channels this with more of a tough girl, takes shit from no one exterior. They spend the entirety of episode 7 establishing Ellie’s backstory in this regard. But she also has this sense of wonder about the old world. That’s where the majority of her and Joel’s interactions come from, and they are pretty entertaining. I especially liked the book of puns, where even Joel can not help but chuckle out how stupid they are.

Other standouts from the cast include Lamar Johnson and Keivonn Woodard as Henry and Sam. The decision to make Sam deaf in the show expands their pretty standard sibling dynamic from the game dramatically. Them acting as a parallel to Joel and Ellie works really well as sort of the “bad ending” for their quest. After Sam gets infected, Henry loses everything he has left to live for so he takes his own life. Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson (who played Joel and Ellie in the game) also have somewhat prominent roles in the series which was nice to see. In the behind the scenes segment Troy Baker mentions he thought he would just end up being a clicker (type of infected) but was grateful to have a more prominent role. Troy Baker plays James, who is the right hand man to David (Scott Shepherd), the leader of a group of cannibals. And speaking of David, he also gives an excellent performance and plays well against Ellie. Ashley Johnson plays Anna, Ellie’s mother. And while it is a bit of a bummer both could not reprise their original roles, I understand why the roles were recast. I would be remiss to not mention Nick Offerman as Bill, who shares in my opinion the best episode of the series with Murray Bartlett as Frank. Their relationship is fleshed out into a romantic one (as the game left this ambiguous), and the two living together, growing old and dying beside each other was really powerful. Despite the bleak world they live in, they found true happiness.

I also want to highlight the actors who play the show’s infected, as they are consistently terrifying. I was not too thrilled about their mouth tentacle things, but otherwise they remain consistently terrifying throughout the whole show. This mirrors the game about as well as it can. Fighting is a last resort, if you see one it is best to avoid fighting them. The characters in the show have this mentality as well. There’s a great moment in episode 5 where this small army of human survivors who have been after Henry and Sam for the last two episodes corner them only to be met by a horde of the infected. The army stood no chance against them, especially when a big infected called a bloater shows up and rips a guy’s head off.

The show itself also looks gorgeous. The infected themselves are a mix of practical makeup effects and some CGI models, but for the most part I couldn’t tell the difference. There are also really pretty set pieces and locations. Jackson from episode 6 especially I thought looked really cozy, and I definitely want to live in a place like that. The only exception I could think of was the famous giraffe scene, and unfortunately the giraffe looked a bit off to me.

Despite any misgivings about casting or the stigma surrounding video game adaptations, this show absolutely delivered on the story and characters of The Last of Us while adding some extra twists in the adaptation that enhance the story rather than hinder it. It truly is astounding this show ended up as good as it is, due in no small part to the original creator’s involvement and the talent involved. It is absolutely worth watching for fans of the game, as well as people who have never played the game before. Speaking from my own experience, both my mom and my aunt who do not play video games at all were both captivated by the show.