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The Last of Us episode 1 review: The most anticipated TV show of the year lives up to the hype

The pilot episode of The Last Us shows plenty of promise and the series could become one of the best, or if not the best, video game adaptations of all time

4/5rating
The Last of Us episode 1 review: The most anticipated TV show of the year lives up to the hype
  • Ryan Gomez

Last Updated: 12.30 PM, Jan 16, 2023

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Story: Twenty years after the deadly cordyceps fungus started infecting human beings, turning them into rabid mindless killers, most of the survivors live in militarised quarantine zones. Joel Miller, who is still traumatised by the events of the day of the outbreak, has become a smuggler of contraband into the quarantine zone in Boston.

Review: To claim that the anticipation and hype surrounding the release of The Last of Us were monumental, would be an understatement. Well, at least this was the case worldwide considering the franchise has sold over 30 million copies, making it one of the most successful games of all time. So a TV series about a game of immense popularity, featuring gameplay that blurs the lines between cinema and game, and also with arguably one of the best stories ever told in any medium, the hype was almost palpable. But it’s worth pointing out that Indian streaming platform Disney+ Hotstar appears to have completely fumbled the premiere of the pilot. The streaming service had no advertisements, promos, or even a notification confirming that this TV show was in fact releasing in India on their platform. One might argue that Damian Chazelle’s box-office bomb, Babylon, had better promotions leading up to its release.

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The streaming platform ignoring a major release should not be held against the TV show itself. Because The Last of Us is quite simply a cut above the rest. It is not a statement that is often associated with video-game adaptations, but if the pilot episode is an indicator as to what to expect from season one, then there is a good possibility that the series could become the best of 2023. There are a few factors that have worked in favour of the series. The creator, writer, and director of the video games, Neil Druckmann, serves as co-creator for the series along with Chernobyl showrunner Craig Mazin. Based on the evidence of the quality of the first episode, HBO appears to have found the winning combination.

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There were concerns by some sections of the fans when Game of Thrones stars Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey were cast to play the lead roles of Joel and Ellie. But this was to be expected considering almost every major casting announcement has been met with significant backlash. The first episode titled, When You're Lost in the Darkness, has dispelled any concerns about whether Pascal and Ramsey were the right choices. While it is almost impossible to better Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson’s versions of the characters in the video games, Pascal and Ramsey have delivered a fresh yet familiar take on the characters. Gabriel Luna’s Tommy and Anna Torv’s Tess are just as compelling and significant to the pilot episode. Merle Dandridge comfortably slips into her role as Marlene, the leader of the Fireflies, reprising her role from the games. 

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The performances and the grounded tone are meticulously crafted, but the most impressive character in the series is the post-apocalyptic setting itself. The Boston quarantine zone, fully operated under a dictatorial regime of the military called FEDRA, is straight out of the video games. And the creators deserve praise for how the show immerses the audience into this world, despite not having the advantage of the games where a player is controlling and essentially living as the character. The attention to detail given to the backgrounds in each frame is extraordinary.

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The first episode clocks in at over an hour and twenty minutes, which is unusually long for a TV episode, but it’s barely noticeable as the episode's gripping narrative will leave one hooked from start to finish. For those who have played the games, the story will obviously have nothing new to offer, but it does add depth to its characters and lore with additional scenes and new characters — it provides another facet to the story.

Verdict: The pilot episode of The Last of Us is wonderfully crafted with a riveting narrative and stellar performances. It breaks new ground in terms of how to create a faithful adaptation of a cherished video game. While critically acclaimed animated shows such as Arcane and Castlevania have already broken the much debated ‘curse of the video game adaptation’, not a single live-action video game adaptation has been able to replicate this success, until HBO’s The Last of Us.

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