HBO’s ‘The Last of Us’ is a stunning video game adaptation triumph

Almost a decade after its initial release, The last of us ranks among the best written video games ever made. Not only the HBO television adaptation preserve its Sony PlayStation the heartbreaking excellence of the source material, the thrilling series delves into the post-apocalyptic universe of The Last of Us in a way that will delight and surprise even the most hardcore video game fans.

The show, which premieres sunday to HBO Max, is set in a world ravaged after a fungal brain infection has reduced much of the population to savage cannibals. Grumpy smuggler Joel has to escort provocative teenager Ellie across the United States, for slightly spoiler reasons.

It’s a fascinating journey that will leave you both amazed and horrified, with game of thrones old students Peter Pascal and Bella Ramsey infusing vulnerability and humanity into this charismatic duo at every turn.

This tale begins with Joel as society crumbles in the terrifying early days of the outbreak, deftly setting up its emotional stakes in an opening that closely mirrors the game. Pascal, in a nuanced performance, breathes pain into a pivotal moment of loss, but also displays compelling decision and hints of fantasy.

A dark world

Jumping forward 20 years, we are introduced to a world where survivors live in authoritarian quarantine zones run by the tough remnants of the US military. Their rule is threatened by an unpredictable rebel group known as the Fireflies, with Marauders and Infected roaming the land.

The show is full of images that add to the story of its world.

HBO

It’s fascinating to explore, if a bit overwhelming. Early episodes are punctuated with flashbacks revealing the origins of the outbreak, an element that wasn’t in the game. Co-writers Craig Mazin (creator of HBO’s Chernobyl) and Neil Druckmann (game series creative director) added this history to give newcomers a solid foundationbut it will undoubtedly engage players as well.

Pascal adds layers of world-weariness to his performance as we return to a hardened Joel, who has done whatever it takes to survive over the years. He reluctantly takes on the mission with Ellie, with Pascal and Ramsey’s chemistry gradually emerging as the series patiently builds a bond between them.

Ramsey’s performance unfolds more gradually, displaying more dramatic colors as we learn more about Ellie and her sense of wonder becomes apparent. It’s electric to watch the impressionable teenager learn from Joel and the other survivors they meet along their journey, especially as the focus shifts to Ellie in the later episodes.

Using torches, Tess and Joel inspect an infected fungus-covered body in The Last of Us

The cordyceps infection mirrors the visuals seen in games.

HBO

Infected are used sparingly but stick tightly to their in-game appearances and ooze danger with every encounter. Some of the visual and sound effects weren’t finished in the episodes sent over by HBO prior to release, but these scenes were shot beautifully and will likely be extremely effective.

joy in darkness

Vitally, the dark post-apocalypse odyssey is punctuated with moments of levity and hope – mostly provided by the curious and provocative Ellie. These are usually followed by reminders that they’re trapped in a hellish world, but you’ll definitely join them the first time they laugh together.

Most of the season’s nine episodes focus on this core dynamic, but it also takes some surprising detours to tell more self-contained stories. These tales reveal how the characters find a place of tenderness and happiness in the midst of horror.

Marlene holds a gunshot wound to her stomach as her ally watches in The Last of Us

Merle Dandridge (left) reprises her acting role as the leader of Firefly Marlene.

HBO

One of those dives into the life of gruff survivor Bill, with Parks and recreation actor Nick Offerman anchoring an episode that proves to be the most uplifting and haunting of the season. It massively develops a storyline that is only hinted at in-game and comes across as a perfect piece of episodic storytelling. You might need to lie down a bit after watching this one.

The second of these will be familiar to gaming fans, revealing a formative moment in Ellie’s past. It’s extremely fun to watch Ramsey’s dynamic with a character played by Storm Reid (seen in HBO’s Euphoria)even if there is a threatening cloud hovering every moment.

The original score by game composer Gustavo Santaolalla adds a haunting sadness to the narrative, while a few pop and rock bits allude to the world that came before.

Beyond the game

Fans will be pleased to see that the adaptation largely stays true to the events of the first game, but there are some clever additions to Ellie and Joel’s main quest. yellow jackets‘ Melanie Lynskey gives new villainess Kathleen a quiet menace, her presence adding a new element to a familiar game subplot.

The show also takes the time to reveal never-before-seen moments that will make gaming fans’ jaws drop, along with countless subtle visual easter eggs and a sprinkling of clever cameos.

In contrast, Scott Shepherd (of El Camino, the sequel to Breaking Bad) appears in the later episodes as a villain that players are sure to remember. His charismatic performance anchors a story that sticks extremely tightly to one of the game’s final chapters.

HBO’s The Last of Us is an absolute triumph, delivering one of the most intense and engaging narratives in gaming to viewers and revealing exciting new aspects of the universe to those who have played the games. It’s beautifully written and the cast is impeccable, with Pascal, Ramsey and their co-stars adding layers of emotional depth and unsettling moral grayness to every moment.

Video game adaptations have a new gold standard (sorry Sonic). Roll on Part 2.

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