I know I’m not really a TV show guy as I always need to convince myself to get started and to keep going. Although an adaptation of The Last of Us is definitely a way to draw me in and it also helps if every episode gets an insane amount of praise online. The Last of Us is another video game adaptation in a slew of things that Hollywood feels convinced they can adapt well and convince people they want to pay to see more of. Though HBO’s The Last of Us is unique as it actually worked at genuinely making people want to see more, and here’s the real shocker, the show actually gets what made the game great. As someone who has played the first Last of Us (which this season is adapting), I already knew that this feat was possible as the game was always more concerned about its story than gameplay. It just needed to be in the right hands or otherwise we’d have another Uncharted on our hands where they completely miss the mark. Luckily, they got the guy who created the game to be a showrunner and to create a mostly faithful adaptation of his own work. (Come again!)
If you have seen any zombie apocalypse story then you already know the premise of this show. What makes this story really stand out is its characters. Its morally grey complexity and the relationships is what carries the game and when the show sticks to this is when it’s at its absolute best. These traits are shown best in the story’s lead characters. Joel is our jaded lead who is a true hardened survivor who slowly learns to open to an angsty teen he was assigned to protect, Ellie. The whole show is just these two travelling across America, trying to deliver Ellie to a band of rebels called the Fireflies. They meet a bunch of one-off characters along the way, which includes run-ins with the Mushroom zombies and some very nasty evil humans. I guess this show is pretty similar to The Mandalorian except this Baby Yoda talks and uses curse words. Joel is played by Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsay for Ellie and the actors I felt pretty mixed on at first, but they quickly grew into the roles and did a pretty good job. Though I must admit I still prefer their video game counterparts Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson, but Pascal and Ramsay distinguish themselves apart from those legends.
Keep in mind that I am probably the wrong person to review this game objectively. The first Last of Us game is one of my favourites, the best of its kind if you like. So, while watching this show, I could not help but compare it to the game. So, every emotional scene or character beat I took it as they adapted that well, or they made a change, so I need to debate if I even like it or not. Although I can state it is the best video game adaptation I’ve seen. Mostly for the amount of easter eggs and moments they were able to flawlessly recapture in this 9-episode television series. It’s very impressive that I’m sure any Last of Us fan will get giddy over. I say the show is at its best when it sticks very close to the games. Especially when it comes to the relationship of Joel and Ellie as they make the show and the best scenes of this show feature at least one of them. The first episode shows the start of the outbreak from Joel’s daughter’s perspective. The episode slowly builds up tension with vague news reports, strange behaviour from the neighbours and mad police cars and helicopters flying off in different directions, enough evidence that something is very wrong. Then when the fan is hit, we continue to follow the daughter’s confused view as literally the entire world falls apart around her as her dad tries to get them out of town. An example of a perfect recreation of the games, too bad there was a really boring prologue of some unrelated 60s talk show explaining the origin of the infection.
I think there was a reason as to why The Walking Dead never explains the start of the apocalypse, as it’s like who cares, we’re only here to see if our favourite characters make it out alright. This show immediately loses its appeal for me once it starts going over the backstory and worldbuilding of this apocalypse. It’s like The Witcher where the backstory of it all is the most boring thing ever, and I only want to see Geralt doing cool monster slaying stuff. In The Last of Us game a lot of the backstory stuff is in the background, that you find while walking around or by picking up notes while exploring, most of which leaves you to piece together the story on your own. I love that stuff as it’s subtle worldbuilding and it doesn’t halt the game, because it’s entirely optional. Though in a TV show you can’t really do that, nor can it figure out a creative way to express this information but through exposition scenes that fill up most of the first few episodes to not only kill the pacing, but also to interfere with Joel and Ellie’s initial character growth. I found it very difficult to get invested in Joel and Ellie as the show was more interested in the backstory of the apocalypse or it wanted to explore the backstory of a side character who is only going to stick around for an episode or two. This is no more evident than in Episode 3 where Joel and Ellie quite literally take a backseat for two characters who have next to no impact on the show and don’t appear outside this episode. It’s divisive for that reason (to put it civilly) as the story of Bill the survival nut rediscovering his humanity through his love of the compassionate Frank is a nice sweet one, but they’re not Joel and Ellie and this story only works because of Joel and Ellie. The other big reason for the mixed reception is because this storyline is not in the games at all, as game Bill is completely closed off and hostile to everyone, which included his ex-lover. Game Bill’s purpose was to be a forewarning to what Joel could become if he refused to open himself up to people, while the show version did something completely different, which included removing that message.
Just to spin this into a more positive light, I want to note that I actually like this show. Even those first three episodes that I just criticised are still good episodes. I’m only being harsh because I know they could have been better. Episode 3 for example was actually my favourite of the first half because of that one off narrative, as it only falters in the grand scheme of things. This changes however when we get to Episode 6 as it finally delivered on what I have been asking of this show, by making Joel and Ellie the focus. It’s my favourite episode of the show as it’s pretty much the tipping point for the characters’ development and the one off side characters they meet in this episode don’t get in the way of that, but enhance it. This great stuff carries over into Episode 7 and 8, as they finally give Bella Ramsay her chance to shine, while also expertly adapting my favourite portions of the game. I say the show loses its winning streak with the final episode as it feels kind of rushed. It does an alright job at retelling the game’s amazing ending, but again if they hadn’t fumbled about in those earlier episodes with the development of Joel and Ellie, it could be as good. For example, they could have made that final episode longer by having Joel and Ellie fight some infected, which had pretty much become an afterthought after Episode 5, or hell, even Episode 2. I would have liked to see Joel take on one of those big old Bloaters, that way it would have made sense for Joel to be firing his rifle. As a game purest, I could not get over the amount of times Joel or whoever fired their guns at people or monsters. The Last of Us is a stealth game, and firing of loud weapons all the time is the fastest way to alert everyone to where you are and more often than not get yourself killed, especially when there are Clickers around. Guns are always a last resort as you don’t have that much ammo, which is why the game makes you create shivs for sneaking up at people, Molotov Cocktails, or has you collecting bricks for distracting or throwing at fools, because being a crafty sneak is fun.
To wrap it all up, The Last of Us I feel mostly positive about as it is a good show. Great in regards to video game adaptations, but there are definitely better TV shows you could be watching, especially if we’re comparing just the HBO shows. I’m very much looking forward to how the next season adapts The Last of Us Part II as I feel that’s the final result that is going to define this whole show. If you don’t know The Last of Us Part II, is probably second to Star Wars: The Last Jedi for being the most divisive thing to ever be exist, so yeah looking forward to that. Anyway that’s it, I have been The Blog Complainer, signing out.