Is it possible for game adaptations to be cursed? Some would agree. We’ve seen it plenty of times in the past with franchises such as Doom, Warcraft and even as recent as Netflix’s failed Resident Evil series. While it is difficult to get an adaptation just right and keep it true to the original material, there’s often a struggle to keep a balance between the heart, as I like to call it, and maintaining a sense of freshness. And HBO’s The Last of Us has no problem holding its own.
For those of you unfamiliar and new here, The Last of Us is based on a game of the same name developed by the company Naughty Dog. The show starts off nice and innocent with Joel Miller and his daughter Sarah waking up for birthday breakfast, with good ole Uncle Tommy even coming over to visit. Unfortunately things go downhill from there and there’s subtle hints spread throughout the beginning (sirens, tv announcements, news on the radio). Then things hit with a bang. Quite literally actually because there’s cars exploding and guns going off. After her father leaves to bail Tommy out from jail, Sarah wakes up to loud explosions outside and finds her next door neighbor’s dog scratching at the front door and crying. Turns out, the doggo managed to escape it’s home just in time as grandma turned into a fungus zombie (yes. The virus is fungal) and attacked her family. Joel and Tommy arrive just in time to take grandma out and attempt to escape the neighborhood and city. I’m not going to say what happens next. You’ll just have to watch and see for yourselves.
Now fast forward 20 years. Humans have adapted to the new world around them where democracy is a thing of the past and money has no value anymore. No internet. No television. It’s very much a dog eat dog world. Joel Miller is now doing odd jobs while searching for his brother Tommy all the while planning an escape from the safe zone he’s living in. Here is also where we meet Ellie, a foul mouthed 14 year old girl held captive by a group called Fireflies who clearly have plans for her. Her captive, Marlene, leader of the Fireflies in that area, tells her she has a “greater purpose” in their new world ravaged by a fungal infection. While Joel makes his escape in an attempt to get his hands on a car battery alongside his partner Tess, he bumps into Marlene and meets Ellie. Marlene strikes a deal with Joel in which he must smuggle Ellie out of the city and get her to a Firefly group outside the city. It’s during their escape that both Joel and Tess learn that Ellie is infected but hasn’t turned.
That was just the first episode. If all that and more happened in the premier alone, can you imagine what else they have in store for the remainder of the season? Those familiar with the game already know what’s going to happen but here’s the beauty of this particular adaptation: you don’t necessarily need knowledge of the game prior to tuning into the show. Anyone from all walks of life can watch it and still get something out of it. Having game knowledge is just a bonus. Plus it also means you get to live through all the pain and heartache again and trust me, there’s plenty of that ahead. Alongside having said knowledge and foresight, the show also manages to nail the tone of the game coupled with scenes plucked right from it as well. Fans will recognize many familiar locations as well as dialogue (which Neil Druckmann has said was taken directly from the game) so the authenticity and sticking to the original content is there. Players will be pleased with the faithfulness and newcomers will definitely enjoy the fresh feel to it.
Naturally, I have to praise the cast for their phenomenal performances. It really feels like the characters were taken right from the game placed on a television set. Papa (Pedro) Pascal, who plays our brooding post apocalyptic dad, is the perfect choice for the role, absolutely nailing the protective and determined aspect of Joel. Bella Ramsey, who plays Ellie, brings our tiny sassy heroine to life and you couldn’t have asked for anyone better to play Ellie. Though the duo only meet near the end of the first episode, I’m excited to watch their relationship blossom and grow throughout the remainder of the season. If it’s anything like the game, then we’re in for a painful but beautiful ride.
I really hope this series does well. I normally don’t have high expectations for game adaptations after being burned so many times, this one gets me excited. I love the games and I love the story that it tells and it truly is one of the greatest stories ever told in the gaming world. It’s a story about survival, love and loss, and finding family even in the darkest of times. I wish the cast and crew the best of luck and I can’t wait to see what the season brings.
The Last of Us episode one is available to stream on HBO and HBO Max.