HBO’s The Last of Us – a bleak and brutal journey into the end of the world

HBO’s The Last of Us – a bleak and brutal journey into the end of the world

Easily the best video game adaptation ever, the show focuses on holding on to our humanity in the post-apocalypse

From Craig Mazin, the creator of HBO’s award-winning Chernobyl miniseries, and Neil Druckmann, the creative lead of The Last of Us games, this new drama is a vital new installment in post-apocalyptic storytelling.

RELEASED back in 2013, as one of the last major titles on the PlayStation 3, ‘The Last of Us’ was an instant hit, both critically and commercially, winning many Game of the Year awards and was elevated as the pinnacle of storytelling in video games.

To put it lightly, there’s a lot riding on this show… and it delivers.

On the surface, the story of the game – which is being adapted in the new HBO series premiering on January 16 – is fairly conventional, with plot elements that are familiar to any of us who have seen ‘The Walking Dead‘, or any other popular story set in the post-apocalypse.

Joel (Pedro Pascal) a smuggler hardened by trauma and hardships from 20 years of living in a post-apocalyptic United States, is tasked with escorting precocious teenager Ellie (Bella Ramsey) across the country to a facility where a possible cure to the virus that brought the world to its knees is being developed.

Joel and Ellie are unlikely allies, and their developing relationship is the spine of the show. Their relatability and humanity make them protagonists to root for. – Pic courtesy of Warner Bros

The first episode of the series starts off on the day things fall apart as a global pandemic brought about by a widespread cordyceps infection – a fungi mutation that takes over humans and turns them into ‘infected’ (the in-universe word for zombie) – leads to the collapse of civilisation.

This was already intense in the original game, but after going through a real life pandemic of our own, it has become a little too relatable. In general, The Last of Us leans into our fears of biological threats that are beyond our understanding.

The disease in the show is rooted in real science – the show’s creators Craig Mazin (creator of HBO’s Chernobyl) and Neil Druckmann (the creative director of the game) cite nature documentaries. There are fungi out there that can zombify ants, but fortunately they can’t affect humans… yet.

But what sets ‘The Last of Us’ apart is its focus on the humanity of its characters – specifically the central relationship between Joel and Ellie.

While the game has the benefit of having the player control Joel as he protects Ellie, which automatically grants them our empathy, for the show to succeed they needed to hit the ball out of the park in terms of casting… which they did, and then some.

The show is perfectly cast from top to bottom, with Pascal and Ramsey bringing their characters to life. They’re not simply imitating Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson – who played Joel and Ellie in the game, and who have cameos on the show. They understand the characters and have chemistry from their first scene together, which is essential given the journey they go on.

Anyone who has played the game and sees the show will just be blown away by how accurately so many iconic moments have been recreated. But it’s not just the imagery that now exists in live action, but the feelings and emotions that the game originally brought out or replicated. The cast, production team, special effects crew all need to be lauded for this achievement.

What the show does better than the game is that it expands this mindset to the supporting parts. Episode three in particular has a focus on two characters who are tangential to the overall plot but are allowed to be human in a way the game didn’t let them.

As Joel, Pedro Pascal brings to life an iconic video game character that players controlled through increasingly tense situations.

That episode also highlights why ‘The Last of Us’ is such a masterful adaptation. It understands what made the original such a success, but also knows what to get rid of and what to change. Even if plot elements are changed, the thematic heart of the story remains.

Of course, it should be noted that while the game was heavily action-based, with crafting and sneaking in between the bludgeoning and stabbing of people and zombies alike, the show is an HBO drama first and foremost.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that 95% of the action has been stripped away. This is no ‘Walking Dead’. When the violence does come, it is gross, brutal and deeply uncomfortable. There is no action for the sake of excitement.

Ultimately, this is a show about how the end of the world warps and distorts our sense of humanity, how desperate situations can bring out the worst in us, and how far we are willing to go to protect those we care about. It’s not an easygoing experience, to say the least, but those looking for an intense drama are in for a ride.

*The Last of Us premieres on HBO GO on January 16, with a new episode releasing every Monday

source – – The Vibes

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