The Last of Us Steals the Show

“The Last of Us” has finally hit HBO Max. The widely anticipated television adaptation of the 2013 critically acclaimed video game of the same title was announced in November 2020 and has been a resounding success thus far. With episode two having 5.7 million viewers which is up 22%, according to IndieWire. Being a critically acclaimed game, the expectations are for the show to at least stay faithful to the material. 


Only a week after the first episode aired, the series was renewed for a second season, and for good reason. The show explores the important and mature themes both tastefully and accurately.


The show stars an ensemble cast that has no relation to the motion capture actors used for the original video game. Pedro Pascal, known for previous roles in “The Mandalorian” and “Game of Thrones,” plays Joel Miller, the main character. Bella Ramsey, also of “Game of Thrones” notoriety, co-stars as Joel’s partner in crime, Ellie. 


The story takes place in a dystopian 2023, 20 years after the outbreak of a deadly fungal virus that has destroyed almost all life on earth. The Ophiocordyceps fungus, also known as Cordyceps or Zombie-Ant fungus, has the ability to change people into zombie-esque creatures that pose a threat to humanity. 


Joel, a hardy survivalist who is lonely and worn down from his past, works as a smuggler in a survival zone. He encounters Ellie, a girl who may be the key to saving humanity due to her immunity to the virus. Whiling initially hesitant, he later agrees to smuggle her across the country, no matter the danger they may face.


A place where the story of the show takes creative liberty from the game is episode three. 


Titled “Long, Long Time,” the episode depicts Joel and Ellie encountering two survivors, Frank and Bill, while hoping they could aid them on their journey. Frank and Bill are depicted as lovers, and the episode shows the viewer their journey through the dreadful world they live through. In the video game, Bill is still depicted as gay, however, viewers never meet Frank — the audience is left only with the aftermath of his death. 


The show giving viewers the trials and tribulations of Bill and his partner gives his character much more depth and purpose that was not previously seen. Persisting themes from this episode include finding purpose, acceptance of oneself and appreciating the beauty of life through its darkest moments.


The show makes the viewer ponder these concepts. It’s important to find the purpose of life — what makes people keep going even when things are hard. It’s important to accept ones identity, even when fearing others dissaproval. 


It’s important to appreciate the beauty of life, whether that be small or large things, to help not lose sight of life. During times of survival, it’s important to maintain morality and keep companions.


Episode three was one of the more emotionally engaging episodes in television and established the series as something different than the average zombie survival storyline.


The show’s characterization of Joel is another aspect that needs to be recognized. 


Tortured by his failure to protect his daughter in the chaos of the outbreak, Joel becomes a sad, pessimistic individual. When the opportunity arises to smuggle Ellie, a girl he has known for all of a few moments, he accepts for reasons even he does not know at the time. 


They’re cold to each other initially, but begin to develop a father-daughter bond as they grow closer. That’s exactly why Joel feels so much pressure to keep Ellie safe. 


Joel carries a responsibility to protect Ellie not just for the greater purpose of saving the world, but for himself and his deceased daughter. After losing his daughter he becomes emotionally closed off but has to keep pushing himself in a difficult situation. He sees his daughter in Ellie and does not want to let the same thing happen to him again.


Joel’s character is tragic but also so layered and complex. It will be interesting to see how the show builds his character further.


The Last of Us is grim, frightening, upsetting and sad — but it’s also beautiful.


The show’s willingness to stray from the source material and become something of its own is something that fans of the game and new consumers can enjoy both the same. If the viewer approaches it with an open mind, they will be thoroughly satisfied with the concepts and themes that make this show so great. It’s not something that can’t be recommended enough.


Ranking: 9.5/10