The Last of Us debuts as one of the all-time greatest shows to hit the small screen

Based on the award-winning video game of the same name, The Last of Us is set in the aftermath of a global pandemic that has destroyed civilisation as we know it. Joel, A battle-hardened survivor, is tasked with escorting a young girl across the country in a last-ditch effort to save humanity.

As far as video game adaptations are concerned, this is the best I’ve ever seen. For a bit of context – The Last of Us is my favourite video game, so I went into this series with an existing love for the story and a knowledge of what would happen at (almost) every turn. In no way did this prior knowledge harm my enjoyment of the series as this is an exceptionally well-told and beautifully fleshed-out character narrative. I want to clarify that this is not going to be the place for comparison. Will I make references to the general differences? Yes, because I’m approaching this from a different perspective to some people, but I won’t be analysing the series and comparing each creative decision to its video game counterpart.

The approach of this series was clear as day from the pilot episode – it’s a character-focused narrative that prioritises relationship development and telling human stories over exhibiting huge action set-pieces. This is a world that’s established to be broken and hopeless in nearly every single way, and while there is the lingering threat of fungi-infected hordes, it’s the humans that are the real danger. This approach really grounds the narrative and makes it easy to connect and empathise with the characters as they navigate the world. It’s jam packed with powerful emotion-driven storytelling and multiple arcs that are each designed to teach us more about the characters and the sparks of love that live on in a world drowned in hate.

Having the creative duo of Neil Druckmann (the creator of the game) and Craig Mazin (Chernobyl, 2019) at the helm is the driving force behind the show’s success. They both clearly understand the characters and the world to the point where this is one of the most well-written pieces of TV I’ve had the pleasure of watching. Each episode is a masterstroke in character-focused storytelling, to the point where each and every week I was astounded that they managed to continuously one-up themselves. Just when you think you’ve seen the best the show has to offer they hit you with another episode that goes above and beyond anything you could have expected.

In terms of action and tension, there’s no shortage of that. When the story calls for gripping suspense, tense shootouts or brutal confrontations, the series delivers. The prologue sequence of the first episode is a testament to that. Moments where the infected terrorise our characters are admittedly few and far between, but when they do hit it’s all the more impactful and terrifying. The human-based action is handled on a smaller scale – as in there’s no swarms of 20+ enemies to murder – but again it builds on the whole notion of grounding the story and making sure every moment in which our characters need to kill is an impactful moment. If they were going around wiping out gangs of enemies in every episode it would lose any emotional impact.

Unlike a vocal minority, I don’t have a complaint with the lack of infected-based action sequences. There is one I would have liked to see due to its importance in developing a specific character we meet, but for the most part I agree with every other omission. My one wish is that they made greater use of the idea they introduce in here that the infected operate as a ‘hive mind’ of sorts. For example – if you kill one, they’ll all come. It’s an awesome and terrifying concept that’s only utilised once. I guarantee it’s something that will be used more going forward, but it does seem a little out of place in the grand scheme of the story.

Jumping back to the narrative – as a fan of the video game – I loved the additions made in the form of flashbacks that flesh out the world even further. These peeks back in time introduce concepts and ideas that are even new to me, adding insight into the downfall of the world and even what led to certain characters becoming who they are today. Additionally, if I was to pick a least favourite episode, I’d say it’s episode seven. I still believe the episode is incredible and showcases an important moment in one character’s life, but the pacing is a little off in the first half. It doesn’t take away from the emotional impact of the episode, it’s just the one time in the season that I noticed a shaky start.

When it comes to the performances, it’s all eyes on Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsay as the travelling duo of Joel and Ellie. I don’t know if I’ve seen a better combination of performances in the last few years – their unbreakable chemistry is what makes the narrative so emotionally crushing and heartwarming. Nearly every second of every episode is focused on developing their relationship and they nail every big moment to perfection. It can be hard to block out the video game performances when you’re so familiar with them, but both Pedro and Bella make the roles their own, fleshing out the characters in their own way. The quieter moments in which they share a heart-to-heart are some of my favourites of the season – they play off each other impeccably and enhance each others performances.

It’s not just our leads that bring the goods. Every supporting and guest performance makes a unique impact on the narrative that enhances their respective character arc. For instance, episode three is a genuine masterpiece and both Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett are exceptional. Then there’s Scott Shepherd, who delivers a brilliantly impactful performance in episode eight. Lamar Johnson, Merle Dandridge, Gabriel Luna and Nico Parker are all incredible in their respective scenes/episodes. I can see a flurry of Emmy nominations and wins being dished out for our lead and guest performances.

Then there’s the aesthetic of the show – the cinematography is top notch across the board. The desolated landscapes and overrun cities are beyond stunning to look at. Additionally, the visual effects are world class – it’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s CGI, really sucking you in to the world around our characters.

In the end, I could talk about the ins and out of The Last of Us endlessly, but I might save any further in-depth analysis for a future post. This is a phenomenal series from the writing and directing to the performances and cinematography. The pairing of Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin is a recipe for perfect storytelling. Their understanding of the source material and the characters is remarkable, and their ability to adapt an already incredible story for TV is brilliant. Do you need to have played the game to enjoy the show? Absolutely not. It stands entirely on its own and doesn’t require the viewer to even have any knowledge that the game even exists. As a result, this is high-quality TV that everyone should check out.



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