“The Last of Us” starts off strong


Photograph courtesy of Liane Hentscher/HBO

HBO has a podcast to accompany each episode – listen at https://listen.hbo.com/the-last-of-us-podcast.

HBO’s new dynamite series is a testament to how good video game adaptations can be.

“The Last of Us”, one of the most anticipated series of 2023 premiered on Jan. 15 on HBO and HBO Max. The show follows Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey as Joel Miller and Ellie Williams, respectively, as they navigate through the zombie-torn United States in 2023.

The series is based on the Playstation video game series of the same name, with season one based on the first game. Both follow the same plot of Joel getting Ellie across the United States while being swarmed by all kinds of zombies.

There is a certain stigma associated with video game adaptations, which is that most of them are just hot garbage.

Last year’s “Uncharted” starring Tom Holland and Mark Walhberg was another Playstation adaptation. It obtained many mixed reviews with some saying that it was faithful enough to the source material, and some saying that it was too different from the games. The reviews of this movie caused the worry of this series.

Not only is this movie an example of past failed video game adaptations, but there are many series from recent years that have also failed. “The Halo” series derived so far from the source material of the games that it left many fans, including me, baffled by it’s awful story. “The Witcher” has gone through the ringer recently, with many fans being disappointed by it’s deviation from the original stories. Its own lead actor, Henry Cavill, left. I never played the games, but even without that knowledge the “Resident Evil” show was awful. I won’t even get into the “Don’t Start Now” singing scene.

Personally, I have never played these games before either, so my expectations weren’t as big as it was for “Halo”. To get the full landscape and concept of the series I watched it with my older brother, who has played through the first game, to guide me through the easter eggs and the similarities between the two properties.

From his “expert” view on the premiere it was incredibly accurate. Even though it had the weight of being an adaptation of an extensive 14 hour game, the first episode delivered.

The gameplay matches up almost perfectly with the actions of the characters in the first episode. It is also expected to see them scavenging for as many useful items as possible, such as a gun taken at the end of the premiere.

With all of that being said, I think it’s incredible that there is finally a video game adaptation that is set on remaining faithful to the source material. Not only was it faithful, but the storytelling, acting, direction, and horror of it all was outstanding.

I swear I was literally on the edge of my seat around 20 minutes into the episode, and then for the next 10 minutes, my jaw dropped to the floor.

At this point in the episode we see the intensity and horror of the outbreak in full force. It left me mortified when I saw the first zombie, just feeding. Not eating like you’d see in something like “The Walking Dead”, it was feeding off of people. The motion of it was disturbing, the realism left me feeling gross, but even more awful was the impending destruction from the outbreak.

I feel like the time period for the outbreak is important to keep in mind. We started off in 2003 before jumping forward 20 years to 2023. So events like 9/11 were so recent for these characters. Imagine, after destruction like that, just how horrifying and on edge it must have been to see the panic and the unknowing of the outbreak. To think of the situation in that time frame like that makes it all the more panicking for our characters.

What really set the tone before the actual outbreak is the cold open of the episode.

In this cold open we see a 1968 talk show with two guests, both epidemiologists, discussing the possibilities of viral pandemics. While one of them goes on about the threat of microorganisms and diseases that can cause a viral pandemic like influenza. While the other guest discusses how he isn’t afraid of microorganisms like bacteria and viruses, but rather that he’s afraid of fungi. In this discussion the show explores the origins of the virus in their world, and at the same time it gives detail into how that virus can occur in our own world. How if the world were to just become warmer, these dangerous fungus could evolve and take control of humans.

This scene did more than create an explanation, it also provided a preexisting fear of the outbreak before we see it happen. Even without flesh tearing zombies or a visual of the fungus itself, the audience begins to feel this sense of dread and dreariness.

Overall the premiere does a great job of bringing the game to life and adding onto it without necessarily making stray too far from the original source material.

Now to the performances of our main characters Ellie and Joel.

Joel is a man who’s lost everything when the world fell into shambles. His life was completely distraught and by the time we see him in the present day, he has already lost all of his will. He drinks, deals drugs, works dead end jobs, and has just given up and become angry at the world. Then comes Ellie, who is in custody by resistance forces for reasons we don’t know. As a deal, Joel ends up promising to transport to a resistance base across the country.

Pedro Pascal stars, alongside Bella Ramsey, as Joel Miller. From what I can tell Pascal does a great job of bringing the character of Joel to life in looks, mannerisms, and personality. We the audience have known Pascal mostly through his lead role in “The Mandalorian”, where he rarely shows his face at all. It’s nice to see him get to express his emotions without a mask possibly hindering his performance. We see his own shock in the outbreak, along with how painful it can be for him in many of his scenes. I wish I could go more in depth without spoiling a key moment in the beginning of the episode, but I’ll save the spoilers for another day.

Bella Ramsey does a good job as Ellie, the wisecracking 14-year-old stuck in a zombie dystopia. Many people, especially hardcore fans of the game series, were upset with her casting. Claiming that she wasn’t the right choice and that this person or this person should have been cast. From what I saw in the premiere, Ramsey has done an excellent job at portraying the character as close to the games so far. She doesn’t get a whole lot of time to shine in the episode, as there is a lot of world-building being done at first, and we are just getting to know Joel. I’m sure that we will find out more about her character as the series goes on.

The world that “The Last of Us” occupies is a very interesting one compared to the worlds of “The Walking Dead”, “Day of the Dead”, or “World War Z”. The U.S. government still exists in a type of city-state form for some surviving cities. The rule of government has definitely changed with no one really being in a prominent position other than the guards and soldiers. Everyone does their part in the city-states, whether that’s working in the sewers, sending telegrams, or cleaning up burned bodies.

As for the rest of the United States, many locations are overgrown, vines growing alongside abandoned buildings and the residue and destruction from previously napalmed cities. It is very dreary to see the world as it once was, as a shell of its previous civilization and way of life.

“The Last of Us” is the zombie spectacular that we’ve been waiting for since “The Walking Dead” first premiered. Its atmosphere sets up the perfect future for this show to succeed, along with the chemistry both main characters have. Now for this show’s type of attitude, the future cannot be described as bright, but more hopeful. Hopeful for a faithful adaptation, yet a different enough approach to a show to keep it fresh for its seasons to come.

“The Last of Us” stars Bella Ramsey, Pedro Pascal, Anna Torv, Gabriel Luna, Ashley Johnson, Nick Offerman, Storm Reid, and Merle Dandridge. New episodes come out on HBO and HBO Max at 9 P.M. ET/6 P.M. PT.