Editor’s Note: These recaps of THE LAST OF US contain spoilers. You’ve been warned.
THE LAST OF US is one of the rare video games that Playstation owners eagerly anticipated despite it having no previous media. As an original game, it was developed with lots of love that showed in the design and storytelling. Fans were introduced to Ellie and Joel, two characters venturing across the country after a pandemic that has killed millions. It has been remastered multiple times. The divisive sequel game took the characters in directions we didn’t see coming.
“Chernobyl” writer Craig Mazin and the original game director Neil Druckmann teamed up to helm a nine-episode adaptation of the games. I say games as I have only seen episode one and have no idea how far they are going to venture into the original storyline. The team-up brings forth a first episode that works as both being faithful to existing fans as well as welcoming new viewers into this world.
Joel (Pedro Pascal) is a man who watches his life fall to pieces when much of the population gets infected by a mutant Cordyceps fungus, turning into crazed, killer zombies. His brother, Tommy (Gabriel Luna) aids him in attempting to escape the suburbs with Joel’s daughter, Sarah (Nico Parker). However, everyone else has the same idea and they come up against street mobs and crashing planes. Eventually, they end up on the run, but a soldier cuts them short and ends up killing Sarah in Joel’s arms.
From past to present
This is one of a handful of iconic moments from the game and the live-action version has fleshed out this sequence to give viewers that emotional gut punch. Sarah is given more screen time as she interacts with elderly neighbors, goes out of her way to get her dad’s watch fixed, and even steals a DVD of Joel’s favorite movie (it has deleted scenes!).
This 2003 sequence ends not even at the halfway point of the episode which is almost an hour and a half long. While there may moaning and grunts over its length, it’s clear that quality was the focus as THE LAST OF US takes its time introducing us to this world and its rules.
After Sarah’s death, we fast forward twenty years and Joel is the shadow of man, working as a smuggler in a vacant society that has turned humanity into soulless monsters. Tess (Anna Torv) is his partner, and they are forced into an unwelcome alliance with Marlene (Merle Dandridge, reprising her role from the original game). Marlene is one of the Fireflies, a rebel militia wanting to go against the quarantine zone authorities. Joel needs supplies to find Tommy so Marlene promises what he wants as long he takes a young girl, Ellie (Bella Ramsey) to the Fireflies staying outside the quarantine zone. Joel doesn’t ask questions and agrees.
Importance of music
They are quickly stopped and it is discovered that Ellie has previously been bitten by an infected, yet yields no symptoms. Us gamers know where this is going, but this is where our first episode leaves us into the next week.
The video games emphasize a lot of music and the HBO series looks to include that aspect. At one point in the pilot, Ellie discovers Joel’s smuggler codes. When the radio plays, whatever decade that song is from indicates a message. However, it is not known what a song from the 80s means and the episode ends with a Depeche Mode song as we hear sinister sounds coming from crumbled buildings.
If this episode is any indication, then THE LAST OF US is going to differentiate itself from other apocalyptic zombie stories by focusing on characters rather than clickbait gore sequences. This exact method is what drove the games into success and a faithful fanbase. Pascal and Ramsey are expertly cast and are eerily mirror selves of their video game counterparts. They are going to be driving these nine episodes and looks like they have the stamina to help keep us going.
The nine-episode first season of the HBO Original drama series THE LAST OF US debuted January 15 at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT on HBO and will be available to stream in 4K on HBO Max.