HBO’s The Last of Us is arguably the greatest video game adaptation of all time
Last Updated: 10.48 AM, Mar 13, 2023
Story: In a post-apocalyptic world a smuggler is tasked with transporting a young girl across the United States. Their journey across treacherous terrain is riddled with zombie-like beings called the infected and dangerous human settlements who would murder anyone for basic supplies. The journey also offers the protagonists, Joel and Ellie, the chance to introspect on their lives and their place in the dangerous world of The Last of Us.
Review: Adapting a critically acclaimed and immensely popular video game is a monumental task— one that writers and filmmakers have struggled with for years. Apart from Netflix’s remarkable animated shows Castlevania and Arcane, no video game adaptation has managed to mimic the success of the source material. In fact, one might even argue that a compelling live-action adaptation has been nonexistent until HBO released The Last of Us. The fact that the video game director, Neil Druckmann, is a co-creator of the show, along with Chernobyl showrunner Craig Mazin, certainly proved decisive in the show’s universal approval.
However, Druckmann and Mazin’s jobs were relatively straightforward considering the video game’s story is one of the most evocative stories ever written. On the surface The Last of Us is another ‘zombie story’, but it is in fact a compelling and thought-provoking tale about parenthood, survival, loss, and one’s perception of right and wrong. It is one of the reasons why hardly any infection is featured in the main storyline after the fifth episode. Unfortunately, it is also the only minor drawback of this absolutely riveting TV show. While it is certainly lucid as to why the infected did not feature for the second half of the season, a few encounters with ‘runners’ and ‘clickers’ would’ve certainly elevated the TV show to a much higher pedestal. It is a balance that the video game executed to perfection.
A great story and a capable team behind the project need not always produce the best results. It is something recent shows such as Halo and the Apple TV+ original series Foundation struggled with. Mazin and Druckmann deserve plaudits for the various tweaks they engineered into the show to set it apart from the video game. Even from a practical perspective, the gameplay elements were never going to make it into the TV show, but the showrunners have filled in these gaps to further flesh out the arcs of the characters.
The performances and the gripping screenplay are something that cannot be overlooked. Bella Ramsey slipped into her character effortlessly, as she was born to play the role. It’s quite remarkable that the young girl who played the fierce Lady Lyanna Mornont in Game of Thrones is almost unrecognisable as Ellie Williams in The Last of Us. And it is almost poetic that Ellie’s mother, Anna, is played by Ashley Johnson, who voiced Ellie in the games. Pedro Pascal also delivers a stunning performance as Joel Miller. The original Joel, Troy Baker, and the original Tommy, Jeffery Pierce, were fantastic in their new roles. Eagle-eyed fans would’ve spotted Laura Bailey in the finale, the actress who voiced Abby in The Last of Us Part II video game. For the unserved, Abby is one of the primary characters for the second game and for the upcoming second season.
Episode three titled Long, Long Time and episode five titled Endure and Survive will go down in history as among the greatest episodes ever produced for television. The finale titled Look for the Light is taken directly from the game, each scene and each dialogue is almost like-for-like. For legacy fans, the episode is an emotional return to some of the most thought-provoking sections of the story. Whereas for those newly introduced to the lore of The Last of Us, the finale is a reality check on their understanding of the story and the subtext. And just like in the game the story ends with just a single word, “okay”, and the credits roll with Gustavo Santaolalla’s score The Path (A New Beginning) playing in the background — perfection. But season two could be even better considering the second game features one of the best stories written for any medium— book, television, film, theatre, or even video game.
Verdict: The Last of Us is groundbreaking television. The story is compelling thanks to its nuanced subtext and well-written characters. Even though some of the brutal violence and fast-paced action from the game have been toned down, it has given the writers the ideal platform to improve on the game’s storytelling aspect. It is quite simply the greatest live-action video game adaptation ever made.