HBO’s The Last of Us: Series Premiere Review
PlayStation continues to bring some of their biggest gaming franchises to life now teaming up with HBO to bring Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us to the small screen. While it could’ve been a seemingly straightforward adaptation, it’s already proving the potential to be so much more.
The series takes viewers into a post-apocalyptic world where a fungal infection has caused those afflicted to turn into vicious flesh-eating monsters and turned the world into a mean-spirited and gritty fight for survival. Within this dangerous new world is Joel (Pedro Pascal), a rugged and hardened survivor who is haunted by trauma he suffered at the start of the outbreak. Although Joel only trusts his smuggling partner Tess (Anna Torv), he’s forced to find new trust in Ellie (Bella Ramsey), a rebellious young girl who he’s tasked with bringing across the country to a secretive group known as the Fireflies. Although Joel, Tess, and even Ellie don’t know it yet, Ellie could hold the cure that could restore the world to its natural state.
In terms of the overall story direction, The Last of Us kicks off like basically any fan would expect. The opening tragedy with Joel and his daughter Sarah (Nico Parker) cuts deep and gives Joel’s hardened demeanor more meaning. This post-apocalyptic world shown twenty years after the initial outbreak has a clear mean streak to it and there are scenes just as vicious and brutal as the game. People will clearly survive at any cost and the slightest hint that someone is infected essentially makes them already dead. Joel and Ellie’s relationship has some strain to it that’ll eventually wear off as they go further on their adventure together. It’s a great way for newcomers to be brought into this world and for longtime fans, there’s actually some greater perspective they can get on the world they already love.
One of the greatest strengths of this premiere is how it expands the lore and world-building of the game. The opening is a perfectly harrowing discussion on viruses that feels all too real with us just coming out of the Pandemic. The talk about Fungal infections like the one that plagues this world is creepy as hell and the small glimpse of fungal horror visuals we see with an infected corpse stuck to a wall with mushrooms and spores growing out of it is just chilling. Even the opening credits utilizing some spore imagery really makes this series stand out in the horror genre and shows why mushrooms can be an unexpected haunting force.
The storytelling is incredibly on-point and it’s no surprise since Neil Druckmann, the main writer and creative director of the games, is heavily involved in the making of this adaptation. It’s great how Sarah is given more of the spotlight in the opening as it makes her death hit harder because you have more of a personal attachment to her. The way the series shows more of the first day the outbreak occurs builds up a lot of great tension and shows more of the way the world was before it all turned to hell. We even get a bigger sequence surrounding Joel, Sarah, and Joel’s brother Tommy (Gabriel Luna) escaping while the infection breaks out that’s absolutely thrilling. From the way that its filmed to the escalating chaos of it, this escape sequence is instantly iconic and sets a strong tone as we head into a world torn apart.
The series’ characters are equally as great thanks to some performances that fit right with their game counterparts. The dynamic between Pascal and Luna feels incredibly fitting for Joel and Tommy’s complicated relationship. Pascal shows why he’s a perfect fit to play Joel as he makes his internal grief palpable and shows some strong grit and devastating emotion. Even if you’ve seen the first game’s opening, the tragic death sequence that occurs will still leave you in tears because Pascal’s performance is so raw. As for Ramsey, this already feels like a potentially breakout moment for her even with Ellie not getting a lot of screen time here. Her voice is literally perfect, and she already displays that toughness that fans absolutely love about Ellie.
Admittedly, the episode jumps around a little too much when it gets to its post-apocalyptic setting, but it all works towards building this harsh new world. As the series leads towards its predicted conclusion of Joel, Tess, and Ellie starting their journey together, it finds strong and sometimes subtle ways of displaying how rotten the world has gotten. The determination not to get infected goes to grave lengths and this new world order for safety not only leads to punishment by death scenarios, but also rebellious factions forming. Mistakes in this world have horrific consequence and it heavily raises the stakes of taking Ellie across the country. It’s also worth noting that the Fireflies get a little more of the spotlight here outside of their logo being branded everywhere. The peek behind of the curtain of them is great and definitely offers more story for viewers to chew on, yet there’s still more to be discovered about them and why Ellie is important to them.
The Last of Us is off to an incredibly hot start with strong storytelling, performances, and an incredibly fascinating horror world being on full display. There’s something for every kind of viewer to be excited about with this adaptation, whether you know the story or not, and HBO could have a new hit on its hands.
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