Video game adaptations have been a fun glimpse into a world that I know relatively nothing about. I’ve seen the movies and that’s mostly as far as I’m exposed to in respect to that franchise. The sizzling anticipation behind ‘The Last Of Us‘ being made for television, specifically HBO was inescapable and undeniable. After the premiere, it was all anyone would talk about, even if they hadn’t seen it yet. I went to Manchester the week leading up to the premiere and it was plastered with huge billboards, posters and digital screens begging people to “look for the light”. It was a phenomenon before it was even released so naturally, I was drawn to it. In all honesty, had it not been for this site and my relentless determination to try and review every major project coming out, I would have likely skipped watching ‘The Last of Us’. These adaptations have not been particularly high on my priorities in terms of what to review but when they do come out, I try my best to get acclimated with the franchise after I’ve seen the project. It’s been very fun so far but nothing could have prepared me for how powerful this story is. It’s perhaps one of the most realistic depictions of humanity and our psyche. It’s a biting exploration of the inevitable greed and selfishness that plague us and how even in a post-apocalyptic world, the basis of love and connection is still the most powerful thing there is.
spoilers for ‘The Last Of Us‘: Season 1 and the original game are featured in this review.
‘The Last Of Us‘ is what television is made for. It is event television at its finest. Nine stunning episodes with different locations, new characters and perspectives and all perfectly poignant and intense. From the structure of the episodes to the decision of where to end it and how. This is a show that has perfect control over its story. It knows how to maximise the emotions of any character arc or episode plotline and give them the appropriate time to breathe. While Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey are the leads, the show never shies away from focusing on other characters for large chunks of an episode, dedicating it to them and looping Joel and Ellie into the mix later on. It’s really bold to lend that story to the bigger picture because it’s bigger than Joel and Ellie. The exploration of this post-apocalyptic world would have undeniably been two-dimensional had it purely focused on them and that’s why I believe this story has such a unanimous love for it because there is so much depth to it. There’s a wide range of exploratory sequences that elevate the horror and the emotion and add so much to the entire project. The excellent opening sequence detailing the possibility of this virus and looping in the very real issue of Climate Change was chilling. It’s a great commentary on how humanity never quite learns to stop repeating its own mistakes.
Coming out of a pandemic, ‘The Last Of Us‘ feels all too familiar and terrifying, even without the nasty Clickers and Infected. Just like the recent pandemic showed people’s true colours, the unfolding events here show humanity at its very worst. There are definitely some truly evil people in this show, irredeemable villains that just want to watch the world burn. However, there aren’t really any heroes for the most part. After experiencing all of that tragedy, horror and misery, would anyone really be born a hero? It’s a story that boldly sees past anyone’s facade and portrays humanity for what it is. There is a natural instinct to be selfish and cut off morality. There is a visceral primal instinct to protect what you hold dear no matter if it’s a loved one, food or shelter. Joel is far from an ideal man, Pedro Pascal on the other hand is a different situation but as for Joel, he is one of the most complex leads I’ve ever seen in a show or a story of this kind. It’s quite funny how the ‘A Quiet Place‘ movies rip so much straight from the games and the story but they portray John Krasinski as a heroic figure with a heart of gold. They don’t put him through the same pain obviously and so the outcome of their morality is wildly different. I prefer Joel because there is always that question of whether or not he’s going to cross a line he doesn’t need to. Pascal’s performance is stellar, relying on behaviour and tone mostly as his self-preservation kicks in most of the time. The consuming grief on the inside still eating away at him is not something he wants to show but Pascal finds ways to let it slip out intentionally. His monologue in the eighth episode where he breaks down in fear and disappointment was shattering. His actions in the finale were chilling and Pascal delivered it perfectly from the out-of-body look on his face to his relentless will, almost instinctively avoiding another loss. It’s just perfect, there is so much to say about his performance, I hope he wins an Emmy.
Continuing on what Joel represents, ‘The Last Of Us‘ presents some of the most beautiful and tragic stories that expand the worldbuilding not just in a literal sense but most importantly, it explores something new emotionally and it makes the setting feel all the more real. Love is what Joel ultimately returns to with Ellie acting as a daughter to him, healing the wound from Sarah’s tragic passing. It’s the unspoken bond between them that grew more and more each episode that brought his humanity back and it’s what ultimately leads him to commit such horrible acts of violence. The show’s portrayal of love is so multi-faceted, so beautiful and feels so incredibly real and it’s all due to the stunning screenplay and story. The stories of Bill and Frank, Sam and Henry and Ellie and Riley are so crucial to the story because they reaffirm what the central pair of Joel and Ellie is all about but they explore it in numerous ways. The love story between Bill and Frank in the third episode brought me to tears. It genuinely might be one of my favourite episodes of television ever. To craft a queer story that feels so unbelievably authentic, and real and end it not in tragedy but in bittersweet romance, I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It’s perfect. Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett are perfectly cast. An achingly gorgeous episode that really sets a standard. Moving on from romantic love is the familial love of Sam and Henry which once again, brought me to tears because I too am an older brother and seeing the parental instincts kick in and having him do the most cruel thing anyone can do, it’s truly such a sad reminder that there are no lucky ones in this world. The performances here were great as well, I truly loved what Lamar Johnson brought to this episode.
Episode 7 adapts what I believe to be a DLC mission detailing Ellie’s backstory. It explores the night she got bit in the mall with Riley. I found this coming-of-age-inspired episode to be truly beautiful and tragic. I love the tenderness of the sequences in the mall, it’s a very delicate relationship and Ellie was in new territory literally and emotionally. Bella Ramsey is fantastic as Ellie. So much of the energy and humour of the show comes purely from them. They are the perfect contrast to Pascal’s more timid Joel. Their comedic timing is great, their emotional scenes are fantastic and the presence they bring is crucial to balance some of the ridiculously sombre moments. Ramsey’s ability to capture the magic of experiencing simple things for the first time is priceless and adorable. The control she has over the screen in genuinely impressive alongside Pascal and even more so on her own. They were a standout in Episodes 7 and 8 and I cannot wait to see where Ellie and Ramsey go in the second season which I’ve heard is more based around her.
Outside of the fantastic acting performances and writing, ‘The Last Of Us‘ is just simply well-made television. Being on HBO gives it a much bigger credibility and there is a sense of trust going in that at the very least this adaptation was taken seriously. I haven’t played either game but the number of references in this show as pointed out by gamers is truly astounding. The amount of care and detail put into it is truly special. The set design and dressing are done in a way where again, even if I haven’t played the games, they look exactly like what a game location would look like, if that makes any sense. The makeup on the Infected and Clickers is incredible, they are horrifying and awesome to look at. The horror elements, in fact, were super effective to me. The first two episodes needed some getting used to purely because of how tense and scared I was most of the time. I literally had to pause every few minutes because I was that terrified. On par with that are the action sequences which are equally thrilling and tense. The long take in the pilot was incredible and the utter massacre in the fifth episode was a sight to behold. Even the score by Gustavo Santaolalla is fantastic, the opening title is beautiful, I’m glad they brought him back from the games to compose the show. It’s really an overall win in every possible way.
Overall, ‘The Last Of Us‘ is a haunting masterpiece of television. A story that boldly lends itself to the bigger picture that it’s trying to sell and focus on characters outside of our leads and in return delivers a story full of depth and complexity. The acting performances are top-notch, Pascal and Ramsey both deliver Emmy-winning performances here, and so do the supporting cast who are just as crucial. The action sequences are fantastic, the horror effective and the emotional core always at the forefront making this first season of ‘The Last Of Us’ a winning achievement.
‘The Last Of Us‘ is now streaming on Sky, HBO/Max and GO.