The Last of Us (Season 1)
Updated: Mar 29
The newest videogame adaptation is one of the best series in recent years
The narrative has always been that cinematic video-game adaptations have never worked, that there is a “curse” on those who seek to make this artistic translation. However, this is sorely incorrect. There have been plenty of acceptable and even brilliant video-game adaptations from The Angry Birds Movie (2016) to the Castlevania (2017-2021) series, the campy Lara Croft: Tomb Raider films starring Angelina Jolie, and even its blander remake with Alicia Vikander; even the first Sonic the Hedgehog (2020) film proved an enjoyable ride. Thus, the narrative around the newest videogame adaptation The Last of Us (2023-), being hailed as the savior for videogame-to-screen adaptations is pure media banter. However, that doesn’t diminish from The Last of Us being one of the best adaptations ever made.
The Last of Us is adapted from the 2013 game of the same name. In it, the world has been decimated by a fungal outbreak turning infected humans into violent zombie-like creatures. Joel (Pedro Pascal) a grim and quiet smuggler in the remains of the government-controlled Boston is reluctantly paired with the foul-mouthed teenager, Ellie (Bella Ramsey). The two must traverse the post-apocalyptic American landscape.
The Last of Us is adapted to TV by the original video-game creator Neil Druckman and veteran TV writer Craig Mazin of Chernobyl (2019) fame. This mix of deep knowledge of the videogame alongside an expert of the TV format marries beautifully, bringing necessary deviations from the game while also retaining crucial aspects that made it so beloved in the first place. Mazin and Druckman are largely successful due to having a singular focus: character work. The entire first season of The Last of Us is an exploration of these rigid characters, and the slow peeling of their layers to understand them better. The Last of Us does this by placing our characters in increasingly difficult moral dilemmas. Just as in the game, The Last of Us doesn’t shy away from demonstrating the brutality of this post-apocalyptic world. This isn’t demonstrated in terms of violence (though be warned, this is HBO), but rather in how this brutality affects the characters around it, both victims and perpetrators. These moral quandaries and grey areas are what make the characters and story of The Last of Us so enrapturing, with viewers unsure what our protagonists will do, and a constant question of what the “right” thing to do would be.
The Last of Us and its point-perfect script would not be as successful without the electric pairing of Pascal and Ramsey in the lead roles. The chemistry and believability of their thawing relationship is crucial for the series’ emotional elements to hit; without them you’d be left with something akin to a latter-season Walking Dead (2010-2022), where viewers are attracted by the action rather than characters. The Last of Us keeps us glued to our seats both in tense moments, fearful of what might befall our characters, and in quieter ones, where Ellie might simply be setting up a bad joke. Pascal and his melting stoicism is something he’s already perfected in The Mandalorian (2019-), but he tweaks it to great effect in The Last of Us. Ramsey, meanwhile, nearly steals the entire show with their fearless take on Ellie and cements their status as an A-list star after their charismatic turns in Game of Thrones (2011-2019) and Catherine Called Birdy (2022).
In the end, a morally dubious narrative, along with patiently scripted character work, and an accomplished cast makes The Last of Us a worthy heir to its groundbreaking video game; and one of the best series to premiere in recent years.