() — In 2013, the zombie apocalypse genre had reached its peak. “The Walking Dead” had wrapped up its third season, “World War Z” was expected to be a summer blockbuster, and “Resident Evil” was still perhaps the best-known video game starring zombies. Where else could the undead go from there?
It is then that a small game called “The Last of Us” enters. The PlayStation 3 exclusive became an almost immediate hit with gamers and critics alike for its powerful storytelling and unique take on zombies: in-game, they are humans infected and disfigured by the Cordyceps fungus. This was no ordinary doomsday story, as evidenced by the intense devotion fans developed for its leads, tough Joel and foul-mouthed young Ellie, as they fought for their lives.
“The Last of Us” is now widely recognized as one of the greatest video games of all time. Ten years after its release, the team behind the game is also trying to make a television version of it the best video game adaptation of all time. The bar for video game adaptations is pretty low, given the abundance of disappointments and flops made in the past. But expectations for HBO’s version of “The Last of Us” are high, and the critical reception thus far indicates that the series can live up to those expectations.
Fans can’t wait to return to the post-apocalyptic American wasteland with their favorite morally ambiguous duo. From its heartbreaking story to its celebrated cast, here’s why fans of the game and potential new viewers alike were looking forward to the premiere of “The Last of Us.” (HBO and share parent company Warner Bros. Discovery.)
It is one of the most appreciated video games of all time.
If there is often a divide between gamers and critics, “The Last of Us” was the rare game that satisfied both. Originally a PlayStation 3 exclusive, the game garnered near unanimous applause when it debuted in 2013, with early reviews calling it the best game of the year and potentially one of the best of all time.
Recent retrospective reviews of the game and its remake are even more emphatic about the game’s achievements: Inverse called “The Last of Us” “as close to perfection as it gets,” and Rolling Stone also called it “one of the best.” best games” of its time and a “brutal masterpiece”.
Part of its appeal is what it shares with many other games: it’s violent and scary, set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. But “The Last of Us” also always prioritized the relationship between Joel and Ellie. (In their original 2013 interview, IGN called their relationship “one of the best moments” in the game.) He is an often ruthless smuggler with a deeply buried fatherly side; she is a parentless teenager with a sailor’s tongue and a dangerous secret. Together, they embark across what’s left of America to maybe save the world, even though at least one of them thinks it’s a hopeless mission. As expected, they become something of a family.
What’s so hit or miss about “The Last of Us” is how deftly it balances engaging gameplay with compelling, often heartbreaking storytelling. Even its monsters elicit empathy: “The Last of Us does a phenomenal job of making each and every enemy feel human,” IGN wrote in 2013. “Each life lost carries a weight, and each target feels unique and alive.” “.
And that’s how it’s lived and grown since its release in 2013: remade for newer consoles and remastered with updated visuals. Its sequel might even surpass the original in terms of emotional devastation (no spoilers here: the creators of the HBO adaptation said that if they’re given a second season, they’ll probably base it on “The Last of Us Part II”). And now, it’s growing again for television, with an expanded world and lore.
Its cast and creators have a prestigious pedigree in television
Die-hard “Last of Us” fans will be relieved to learn that the game’s creator, Neil Druckmann of game production company Naughty Dog, is credited as the co-creator of the series along with Craig Mazin, who is behind it. from HBO’s grim miniseries “Chernobyl.” In almost every interview they’ve given leading up to the series’ premiere, they’ve repeated how committed they are to making “The Last of Us” the best video game adaptation (sorry, “Sonic the Hedgehog”) by avoiding the mistakes of predecessors like “Assassin’s Creed”, whose story was too dense for audiences unfamiliar with the game.
With so many expectations, the casting had to be perfect. At first glance, it seems like the series is pretty close, with acclaimed actor Pedro Pascal (the titleholder of “Mandalorian,” “Narcos,” “Game of Thrones”) as Joel and breakout actress Bella Ramsey (also from “Game of Thrones”). Thrones,” “Catherine Called Birdy”) as Ellie. The original voices of Joel and Ellie, Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson, also appear in the series in different roles, and Merle Dandridge, who played Marlene in the game, reprises her role. here. Gabriel Luna (“Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD”), Nick Offerman (“Parks and Recreation”), Murray Bartlett (“The White Lotus”) and Anna Torv (“Fringe”) also play pivotal roles.
HBO must believe in the series as much as Mazin and Druckmann do, because it has taken over Sunday 9 p.m. prime time, previously occupied by “Game of Thrones” and its prequel “House of the Dragon,” as well as prestigious series like “Succession” and “The White Lotus.” All of those series won awards, most recently at the Golden Globes for “House of the Dragon” and “The White Lotus.”
Tell a different kind of apocalyptic story
“The Last of Us” doesn’t necessarily reinvent the post-apocalyptic genre, but it’s not “The Walking Dead.” Compared to the game, little of the series is devoted to grisly murder or relentless bloodshed – the violence is mostly emotional. That might unsettle “The Last of Us” players accustomed to destroying mushroom-faced monsters between cutscenes, though there are still scares to be had.
The pace is brisk — there’s an entire game to cover — but the series still has time for occasional digressions from the central plot. Visually, “The Last of Us” resembles most familiar apocalypse stories: There are the standard crumbling cityscapes and encroaching vegetation we’re used to seeing on such shows. More than a few scenes will be reminiscent of the rugged beauty of “Station Eleven,” another post-apocalyptic series that aired on HBO Max, though “The Last of Us” is less sanguine about the survival and basic goodness of humanity than the previous series.
Oh, and sensitive viewers beware: “The Last of Us” can be deeply sad. Seeing it isn’t punishing, but as with any story set at the end of the world, expect a lot of losses.
It is faithful to the original story, albeit with at least one major change.
There’s no way to please every fan of a respected franchise, but HBO’s “The Last of Us” doesn’t necessarily deviate much from the main story that gamers have replayed over and over again. Joel and Ellie remain our leads, and most of the series is devoted to their relationship (albeit with some fungus-monster-people attacks interspersed). The game’s supporting characters (Tess, Marlene, Bill) come to life on screen and viewers have more time than players to spend time with these survivors.
But there’s at least one major departure from the game’s plot in an early episode of the series, as a pivotal character arc takes a drastically different direction on screen that we won’t spoil here. There are some original characters from the series, including a gray-haired survivor played by Melanie Lynskey. Oh, and monsters in the series no longer infect victims with “spores,” a change that might upset some gaming purists.
Otherwise, much of the series looks and feels like a love letter to fans: some of the lines, camera angles, and staging are nearly identical to famous scenes from the game. Audiences with no prior knowledge of the series may not recognize these similarities, but they are sure to delight fans who have enjoyed these moments.