The Last of Us is a post-apocalyptic story unlike any I’ve ever seen. It’s one of the best shows in recent memory. And I’m excited to share my thoughts with you below…
The Last of Us takes place 20 years after a fungal virus known as cordyceps ravages humanity. The old society crumbed within days. Now military dictatorships reign over the remaining safe cities, and the wastelands are a hell-scape of infected, raiders, and survivors of varying moral standard. A hardened smuggler named Joel (Pedro Pascal) must navigate America’s ruins for his most dangerous job yet: deliver a teenage girl from Boston to Salt Lake City. Why? He doesn’t know or care. But it’s Joel’s only chance to find his missing brother.
I played The Last of Us game near a decade ago and freaking loved it! So I was hyped for this adaptation– especially when I heard Neil Druckmann (creator of the game) would be a key developer for the show. But I want to reassure you up front: I don’t remember enough details from the game to waste your time with incessant whining about the show’s changes from the source material. I’m trying to judge The Last of Us mainly on its own merits.
First off: Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey are perfection in their roles! Their chemistry is exceptional from moment one, and somehow gets better from there. The Last of Us takes time to naturally build Joel and Ellie’s relationship over its season’s course.
I just wish we spent MORE time with Joel and Ellie together. ‘Cause the show’s execution of their story is good, but it could have been perfect with one more episode to flesh out their dynamic. The Last of Us has a habit of skipping forward months at a time, which leaves us to infer how Joel and Ellie change in the interim. And that sometimes makes their relationship feel more rushed than it should.
But I’m of two minds on this problem. We needed more time with Joel and Ellie us to cross that magical barrier between caring about them to adoring them. Yet I also loved what The Last of Us actually did with its time: focus each episode on supporting characters’ stories, with Joel and Ellie as the audience proxies who wander through them.
This later execution allowed The Last of Us to expand its world, and let us connect with a wide variety of people. Fans of the game, such as myself, rejoiced at the opportunity to see new spins on this story. Though I question whether newcomers to The Last of Us will see these detours as mere distractions, rather than the vignettes they are.
Everyone in The Last of Us is hardened and morally compromised. Few characters are objectively good people (nor can they be in their world). But the best characters are good ENOUGH that we can root for them. The moral quandaries on this series will leave you questioning what you’d have done in similar scenarios.
Also expect to have your heart ripped out and stomped on multiple times. Emotionally fragile people will not be OK with this show. Even my hardened heart, which was already prepared from the game, still broke multiple times. Each episode’s dialogue and performances combine in immaculate fashion to immerse you in the complex characters which inhabit this story world.
Still I could have done without expository explanations for every one of the show’s mysteries. Few elements of this story are left to the imagination. Some people will give the writers credit for their attention to detail, but I for one prefer NOT to know everything (or at least to not be told so blatantly).
Don’t expect much action in this series. The Last of Us is more a thoughtful contemplation on grief, loss, and love than it is a zombie beat-em-up. The Infected act more as a nuisance around which the characters must navigate than a constant danger they face each episode. I wanted to see more of them, though I ultimately agree with the writers’ decision to scale back the Infected’s presence. Their fear factor would have worn thin otherwise.
Now, The Last of Us may not be action-packed, but what sequences we received were awesome! Said scenes are brutal, grounded, and tense; they’re not overly gory either; characters realistically make mistakes and suffer the consequences; and every fight carries weight and purpose. I don’t think there’s a single action sequence where nobody dies, gets seriously hurt, or changes from the experience.
The contributions of production designers and makeup artists are nearly as good as the above elements. Holy crap their work was exceptional! Every location was uniquely haunting, yet beautiful in its way. Few shows create such awe-inspiring visual landscapes. And the creature makeup for the Infected is some of the most convincing I’ve ever seen on TV!
Sure, it wasn’t all perfect. A few of the early episodes featured horizon shots which looked sorta green-screeney. But the production values only improved with each passing instalment.
Now, just for fun, let’s judge The Last of Us as an adaptation: it’s freaking incredible! The episodes hit all the key beats which I remember, and gives us new ones to boot. Even the most the most iconic shots are accounted for! References to the game’s play-style were also appreciated: actions such as stealing guns or ammo from corpses, the stealth-heavy approach, and platforming cues (“gimme a boost”).
The show even ripped its score straight from the game. What a stroke of genius! Their title sequence especially brought me back comfortably into the world each week. The prodcution team’s care allowed sat back, relax, and erase my mind of horrid adaptations of years past. “This is The Last of Us.” I thought proudly. “Not some cheap imitation which merely shares the name.”
Episode 3 is the only noted departure from the game. And I’m still mixed on whether it was a necessary change, or one which slowed the series’ over-all momentum. Though I loved it as a standalone episode of TV (it’s arguably the best of the whole season).
So here we have it: a video game adaptation which ought to satisfy gamers and new fans alike. It’s a powerful story told through skilled performers, writers, and world-builders. If NONE of these episodes can make you feel something, then you’re probably dead inside. The worst thing I can say about this show is that it left me wanting more: more of Joel and Ellie, more Infected, and more episodes. But what we got is still great!
The Last of Us falls just short of perfection, but it’s a Must See.
IN-DEPTH ANALYSES OF THE ABOVE, AND MORE, ON THIS EPISODE OF CLOSE UP:
Which Pedro Pascal show about taking a special orphan back to where they belong did the story best? What did you think of The Last of Us? Please share your thoughts in the comments (no spoilers please). If you have any ideas for future articles, or any questions, let me know.
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Till next time,