The Last of Us is the HBO adaptation of the smash hit video game, that has just finished airing on Sky Atlantic in the UK. Bringing video games to life in big and small screen adaptations has long been fraught with danger, with many suffering at the hands of fans and critics alike. However, The Last of Us fortunately doesn’t suffer the same fate, instead becoming the best video game adaptation to date.
The series begins in 2003, when a mass infection of a mutated fungus known as Cordyceps sparks a global pandemic meaning that those infected become aggressive, murderous creatures that are no longer human. In Texas we meet Joel (Pedro Pascal), his daughter Sarah (Nico Parker) and his brother Tommy (Gabriel Luna), who are trying to flee the city while the pandemic breaks out. Amid the chaos, the family come across soldiers trying to contain the infected, one of which shoots Sarah and she dies in Joel’s arms.
Twenty years later, the world has been decimated by the pandemic and survivors are living in quarantine zones controlled by FEDRA. Joel is working as a smuggler alongside his partner Tess (Anna Torv) and after failing to hear from his brother Tommy for a number of weeks, Joel decides to cross country with Tess to find him. They pay a local dealer for a car battery but are then double-crossed when the dealer sells it to the rebel group known as Fireflies. While attempting to retrieve the battery, Joel and Tess come across Marlene (Merle Dandridge), the Fireflies leader, who begs the pair to take teenager Ellie (Bella Ramsey) out of the quarantine zone in exchange for a truck.
Joel and Tess do as requested and venture outside of the safe zones with Ellie. While on route, they discover the reason behind Marlene’s request – that Ellie is infected but is somehow immune, having been bitten weeks before without turning into one of the creatures. While initially sceptical, Joel agrees to take Ellie after pressure from Tess, and soon the simple trip across the state turns into a dangerous trek cross country where Joel must do anything to stop Ellie falling in to the wrong hands.
I’ll start by saying that I’ve never played the games, so for once I had no expectations going into this, although it is very much my intention to rectify the fact that I haven’t played the games very soon! This series is undoubtedly brilliant and as far as post-apocalyptic shows go, this is most certainly one of the best. Over the years there has been so many end of the world, zombie outbreak shows and films that you’d be hard pushed to find something that is truly captivating and original, but The Last of Us manages this with ease. The whole production from the CGI to the cinematography is incredibly well done, it looks stunning and feels very polished, without a flaw in sight.
Most impressive of all is how the show manages to intertwine various themes, from the horror of the downright terrifying clickers to the genuinely heart-warming moments we see develop between Joel and Ellie. The series often moves from the present to flashbacks of key pivotal moments in the characters lives before they met, including rather tense and entertainingly moving scenes showing how Ellie got bitten. However one of the most standout moments of all for me was a virtually standalone episode following Bill (Nick Offerman), a lone survivor of the pandemic who had built himself a rather good dystopian life when he meets a fellow survivor and falls in love. The change in tone here is unusual and shouldn’t work, but somehow they manage to pull off this romantic drama effortlessly, with a beautiful performance by Offerman that had me in tears by the end of the episode.
The key thing about this series is that is is very character based and it wouldn’t be such a success without the incredible performances of Ramsey and Pascal. Ramsey’s Ellie easily manages to combine innocence, goofiness and humour along with a hard, resourceful toughness that is electrifying to watch. And then there’s Pedro Pascal, playing Joel as a steely, tough grieving father hiding a deep trauma who’s reluctance and obstinance is difficult not to love.
The Last of Us manages to pull off the impossible and is truly brilliant, pulling together so many different themes seamlessly into what is an incredibly engaging show. The only real negative I can come up with is that there just isn’t enough episodes and too long a wait for season 2.
Where to Watch
A contract manager moonlighting as a rather discerning film and book critic, with an almost fangirl appreciation for anything made by Christopher Nolan. When I’m not catching up on my latest read or watch, you can usually find me trying out my amateur baking skills – Bake Off here I come!