HBO’s “The Last of Us” delightfully surprises video game fans

Rachel Mackey, Staff Writer

Internet video game sensation The Last of Us was recently adapted into TV format on HBO Max. Starring Pedro Pascal of Star Wars fame and Bella Ramsey from Game of Thrones, the zombie apocalyptic-era show tells the story of a disgruntled Joel escorting a young Ellie across the country in order to hopefully cure the infectious disease. However, even in the first few episodes of an eventual nine, it became abundantly clear that this wasn’t just any adaptation.
The Last of Us is a brilliant game on its own, and the showrunners immediately seem to understand that. Characters remain extremely loyal to their digital counterparts while also getting a deeper backstory – mostly plot-based individuals like Sarah got half an episode dedicated to their development. The first ten minutes of the game were expanded to about 30 and made the inciting incident all the more tragic. Then, throughout all the episodes, HBO recreates exact frame-for-frame shots, such as the car chase scene, down to the lighting, angles, and dialogue. It rebuilds an identical atmosphere of playing the game while adding the live action aspect to it.
Many fans expressed worry about Ramsey’s casting as Ellie, but the young actress quickly proved them wrong – from the moment she’s on screen, there’s a clear understanding and love of the character. Ramsey delivers lines with her own flair, sure, but she stays true to the character in ways that take layers of analysis on the actor’s end. She captures the fierce, immature, witty Ellie-sarcasm and emotion mostly through facial expressions, truly showing off her talent. Ramsey may not have been the internet’s first choice initially, but she established herself as a good one.
We also must not forget Pedro Pascal’s portrayal of Joel – nobody seemed to be concerned about his casting, which was truly for good reason. Pascal has played a begrudging father figure before, but in The Last of Us, he gets a real chance to showcase his acting skills with a character that has blankets upon blankets of complicated emotions. A viewer can tell exactly what’s going on in his mind without the exposition – and even though Joel isn’t the best type of person, he’s immediately sympathetic.
While the second episode is not extremely notable, the third is quite memorable. It details the hour long story of Bill and Frank, two characters that had little significance and screen time in the game — Frank already dead by the time the story takes place. Many people are upset about this change, especially the choice to make the two characters a couple, however, this adds a storyline to a, frankly, underdeveloped character. Not only did the audience get to understand the importance of Frank to Bill in a new light, but the audience learned to care for a character they didn’t get the chance to in the past. There’s anger the audience can finally understand, there’s pain that the audience can finally sympathize with. Sure, maybe there was that loss of Bill and Ellie banter, but it’s a worthy sacrifice for the name of the story.
As the weeks continue, more episodes will premiere on Sundays, and more content will be available to the public eye. This show is off to a beautiful start, and if it stays the way it’s going now, it’ll already easily be a top pick of 2023.