HBO’s The Last of Us Review

by Makayla Mahoney

Spoilers ahead!

The long awaited TV adaptation of 2013’s The Last of Us video game has come to a close with the striking first season, covering the franchise’s first of two games.

Totaling nine episodes, the HBO series closely follows the plot of the game, uniting original fans and new watchers of main characters Joel and Ellie as they traverse across an infected United States.

It’s not hard to understand how this show came to be the second largest debut on HBO, after House of the Dragon, as the story of a newfound family in dark, apocalyptic times touched the hearts of millions.

For those who don’t know, The Last of Us starts in a world that looks like ours, then skips to 20 years into a fungal-infested society. We are introduced to Tommy, Joel, and his young daughter Sara as they fight to survive the chaos of outbreak day, facing infected neighbors and unhelpful soldiers.

After the loss of Sara on that very day, we skip 20 years into the future, with Joel, a hardened, traumatized survivor, living in Boston’s military-run quarantine zone and smuggling with his partner Tess. We are then introduced to our other main protagonist, Ellie, a spunky 14-year-old girl who we find out is immune to the cordyceps infection.

Joel is tasked with smuggling her out of the city and to a rebellion group called the Fireflies, who hope to make a vaccine out of her immunity- thus our story begins!

The show’s success is no surprise. The mixture of action and fighting against both ‘clickers’ (fungus-covered infected) and other survivors, world-building, and the development of Joel and Ellie’s relationship from resentment to familial love is uniquely engaging. In nine episodes it was naturally easy to fall in love with the characters as they come and go, even as the show explores their actions as bad or good.

One thing I enjoyed was the discussion of Joel’s morality. As our protagonist, we can’t help but sympathize with and support him, but it is made clear that Joel’s actions early on in the apocalypse made him a ‘bad man’, which we see come to a shocking conclusion in the last episode.

Another great move on the writer’s part was the parallels shown with the characters we meet and our main protagonists. Henry and Sam’s story is more heartbreaking when compared to Joel and Ellie. Henry lived to keep Sam safe, and his life ended when he couldn’t. Joel sees himself in Henry as he struggles to protect Ellie, reminded of the loss of his daughter Sara. Even though we shared only two hours with Henry and Sam, their loss left me and many others in tears.

We are also made to sympathize with antagonists until they cross dangerous paths with Joel and Ellie. This dynamic that is explored again and again throughout the series ends with us questioning if we should have even supported a protagonist like Joel- and my answer is yes! How can we not love any of Pedro Pascal’s reluctant father characters?!

The show has been praised as well for diving deep into the stories of queer characters, while the game gives the needed representation but most of the time leaves out the details. In a show like this where action takes a back seat to human relationships, queerness was represented in a way many shows haven’t done, making something special and essential to a change in normalization of including these characters in our entertainment.

All of episode three is dedicated to telling the story of survivors Bill and Frank, and their love and marriage and ultimate death side by side. It was a beautiful story and received a lot of praise. Similar to that episode was the seventh where we get a look into Ellie’s backstory and the night she was bit with her best friend Riley. Ellie’s romantic relationship with her was revealed in the game’s DLC, Left Behind, and the show’s adaptation to that was perfect and bittersweet. The greatest part about the LGBTQ+ representation that The Last of Us includes is that it is done so seamlessly and not just included for audience satisfaction but it’s essentiality to the story.

With millions of people tuning into the show at home, there must be quite a few fans of the show here at MHS. Let’s see what they think!

If you were Joel, would you sacrifice Ellie or the possibility of a vaccine?
If I was Joel I don’t think I would sacrifice Ellie because in the video game, at least, the fireflies are kinda made out to be idiots and they never explicitly explain the cure and how it would work. Joel didn’t do what he did because he didn’t think the cure would work, he did what he did to save Ellie and if I was in his position, and had lost the person I had cared for the most and someone came in and started to be that person again, I would never give that up personally. – Senior, Jenevieve Young

Kiss, marry, kill: infected old lady in episode one, bloater (large infected), or Abby (TLOU 2)?
Kiss the old lady on the head, marry Abby to be safe because I haven’t seen The Last of Us 2, and kill the bloater cause he’d rip me in half. – Senior, Emily Lindtveit

Of any fictional character, who would you want to carry you throughout The Last of Us apocalypse?
Steve Rogers (aka Captain America) or Sam and Dean from Supernatural – Senior, Matthew Torres

As someone who enjoyed playing The Last of Us myself, watching the characters and story be portrayed professionally on the big screen was thrilling as it was to many others. Seeing Joel and Ellie be perfected by Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey was a relief, and the shot by shot similarities from gameplay to show and apocalyptic cities were mesmerizing.

If I could suggest one thing it would be to add more infected (runners, clickers, stalkers, and bloaters) vs. survivor action. Episode five’s showcase of a hoard against the Philadelphia group was insane and added a lot more excitement to the adaptation.

Overall, The Last of Us is a must watch, and with the second season underway there is much to be excited about with the continuation of the series.

Rating: 9/10

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