‘The Last of Us’: A show about people not zombies

Video game adaptation showcases character depth, emotional whirlwind that persists in apocalyptic future


Eliza Jensen

Joel (Pedro Pascal) embarks on a journey through an apocalyptic 2023 to deliver Ellie (Bella Ramsey) to the rebel paramilitary “Fireflies.” Over the course of the show, the two main characters form a bond that showcases how love can bring out the best and worst in people.

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Eliza Jensen, co-a&e and co-online managing editor

The Last of Us, a 2013 post-apocalyptic action-adventure game, quickly became known among fans as one of the greatest games ever made with one of the most breathtaking stories told through a video game.

So when the news dropped that HBO would be creating an adaptation of their favorite game, fans were ecstatic, but with that anticipation came one overarching problem. Despite their high expectations, fans feared that the series would turn out like the disappointing Uncharted movie and Netflix’s Resident Evil series. 

Created by Craig Mazin and game creator Neil Druckmann, HBO’s The Last of Us excels in an endeavor where previous studios failed. The nine-episode series takes meaningful steps to make the show the best it can be and enjoyable for both new and old viewers. The show takes some liberties with some aspects of the plot, namely the change from spores to tendrils and a 10-year shift in the story’s timeline, beginning in 2003 instead of 2013. 

Set in Austin, a young girl, Sarah (Nico Parker), travels downtown to repair her father’s broken watch for his birthday. As night falls, her father, Joel (played by the talented Pedro Pascal), returns from his double shift and the two enjoy the rest of the night with his favorite action movie Curtis and Viper 2. After falling asleep, Sarah wakes up alone on the couch, wondering where her father has gone. With Joel having gone to pick up his brother, Tommy (Gabriel Luna), from jail, Sarah gets up to look for him and ventures outside to find the world she had known had transformed into something out of a horror movie.

Twenty years after the Cordyceps fungus ravaged the world, Joel is hired to smuggle and protect what could be humanity’s last hope, a 14-year-old girl named Ellie (Bella Ramsey), out of Boston’s oppressive quarantine zone. Together they embark on a brutal journey across the United States in search of a rebel militia group, the Fireflies.

Before the show was even released fans were skeptical about how faithful the adaptation would be. 

Of course, not everything can be a shot-for-shot remake of the game.

Of course, not everything can be a shot-for-shot remake of the game. Things will be added and taken away for things to make sense in a different medium. The backlash the show is facing is primarily due to the few creative liberties the show seems to be taking. Episode three, a stand-alone story centering around the developing relationship between two unlikely partners Bill (played by the outstanding Nick Offerman) and Frank (played by White Lotus’s Murray Bartlett), garnered major attention from outraged fans and viewers who believe that the episode deviates too far from the game and pushes an “LGBTQ agenda,” despite the changes being fully backed by the game’s creator and the widespread critical acclaim the show has received.  

When the casting was originally announced, Bella Ramsey received a massive amount of backlash for not looking like her video game counterpart. She was bullied for her appearance and criticized for her portrayal of Ellie before she even got a chance to showcase her skills in the first episode. Looks aren’t everything for a character. What matters is their personality and Bella Ramsey knocked it out of the park in that department. She captures Ellie’s sass and fiery nature perfectly and makes it known that no other actor could have played this character as well as she did.

Bella Ramsey captures Ellie’s sass and fiery nature perfectly and makes it known that no other actor could have played this character as well as she did.

The show excels at telling an engaging and heartbreaking story at every chance it gets. Each episode is filled with wonderfully written characters and an incomparable narrative. With every change, the creators have made an already tragic story even more devastating.

The Last of Us is not about zombies. It’s a show and story about love. It’s a story about people and the relationships they create in a rather hopeless world. Neither the show nor the game centered around the infected; it was always a story about an unlikely pair being brought together and learning how to make their way through the world. HBO’s The Last of Us encapsulates not only Joel and Ellie’s bond but the personalities and relationships of all the original characters beautifully.