Based on the critically acclaimed video game of the same name, “The Last of Us” has been streaming on HBO Max since January 2023. Not only does it succeed as a standalone series with an enticing story and rich characters, but it also succeeds in capturing the spirit of the original source material.
The series was developed by Craig Mazin and Neil Druckman. Druckman had previously been one of the directors for “The Last of Us” video game, which had been developed by game studio Naughty Dog and originally released in 2013. At the time, it made waves in the game industry for its enticing gameplay, character writing and cinematic storyline. Because the story was so highly praised, the translation from video game to television series seemed like the right fit.
The plot of the series is lifted straight from the game, albeit with tweaks. Beginning in 2003, an outbreak of mutated cordyceps fungus causes thousands of people to transform into hostile creatures known as “the infected.” Texas resident Joel and his family members attempt to evade the chaos, only to result in relentless tragedy.
Twenty years pass after the initial outbreak, and we find Joel and his partner Tess working as smugglers in a Boston quarantine zone. In an attempt to contact his brother, Joel must smuggle a 14-year-old girl named Ellie to a neighboring rebel location in exchange for means of transportation. The events that follow lead into a harrowing story of companionship and glimmering hope in a post-apocalyptic landscape.
A majority of video game adaptations seem to fall into the realm of being either perfectly serviceable or downright dreadful to sit through. Thankfully, HBO Max’s adaptation of “The Last of Us” exceeds any and all expectations, in part because of the stellar acting and amazing production design that help faithfully bring the video game into a new medium.
The character of Joel, played in the series by Pedro Pascal, is a hardened and reserved individual ridden with grief and loss, oftentimes resorting to violent acts in order to get by. His chemistry with Ellie, played by Bella Ramsey, develops over the course of the story in a realistic and well-realized manner.
Not only are the main actors fantastic, but the rest of the cast also do an amazing job. Each actor is able to capture the spirit of their respective characters while also being just different enough that the performances feel like their own. The voice cast of the game make cameo appearances as well, which is a great touch.
Some scenes are lifted almost word for word from the game, and considering the excellent character writing from the game, there’s no reason to fix what isn’t broken. Something new that the HBO Max series does is giving more background about characters from the game as seen especially in the heartbreaking third episode. Regardless, the story hasn’t strayed too far from the original plotline and remains consistent.
“The Last of Us” is currently streaming its seventh episode on Feb. 26, with the ninth and final episode set to premiere on March 12. Overall, this adaptation gives audiences a thrilling and engaging experience that can be enjoyed by both fans of the original and unfamiliar newcomers.