What Happens When One of the Most Popular Video Games Becomes a TV Series? ‘The Last of Us’ might be the first to get it right
Words by Tysen Romeo
The Last of Us, a video game originally released on PlayStation 3 in 2013, is now one of the most critically acclaimed new TV series with only a couple of episodes out so far. While the gamers adore how devoted the script and setting are to the game, critics are amazed by the performances of Pedro Pascal (as Joel) and Bella Ramsey (as Ellie). As a gamer myself, let me tell you, the story that unfolds is full of emotion and is thrilling ’til the end.
Without letting out any spoilers (yet), here is the basic plot: Set in a dystopian 2023, “The Last of Us” tells the story of a fungus that has taken over the world and humans … specifically, their brains. Yes, “The Last of Us” is a video game about zombies. Not only does the game have gripping moments packed with the undead, but it also has a beautiful story about an old father and a lost girl. Connected only by the cruelness of the world they live in, Joel and Ellie are forced to travel from Boston to Salt Lake City. The monsters they face are not always the zombies but also the alive and aware.
The creative minds behind “The Last of Us” TV series are Neil Druckmann, writer of the original video game, and Craig Mazin, creator of the HBO mini-series “Chernobyl,” and they make an incredible team. The production level of this show is amazing, and the care they took with casting, sound, sets, directing and cinematography really puts this show over the edge. HBO originals are known for their serious tones and crude displays which really allows “The Last of Us” to thrive. With the production value this show has so far, I feel like I am playing the game for the first time and witnessing the enthralling story all over again too.
Video game adaptations don’t always receive this kind of praise by gamers or critics. There are many beloved games that have failed theatrical adaptations like “Mortal Kombat,” “Tomb Raider,” “Uncharted” and “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter.” Whether the stories were too different from the game, the acting didn’t compare to the game’s original actors or the production team wasn’t putting the right effort into the project, there was always something these adaptations lacked. Whatever they were lacking, “The Last of Us” is packing.
*SPOILER WARNING* To me, the first episode alone is enough to draw non-gamers into the dramatic story, in this case, a dad grieving the loss of his daughter. The episode starts out as a normal day in 2003 with Joel, the dad, and Sarah, his daughter, going through their regular daily routine. Yet that night, explosions and sirens wake them up, and they discover something bad is happening. After barely escaping a zombie, they are approached by a soldier who was ordered to kill them. Joel was holding Sarah in his arms when the soldier fired his rifle at them. Fortunately, Joel’s brother, Tommy, stepped in, killing the soldier and saving his brother’s life. Sadly, Sarah couldn’t be saved and died in her father’s arms.
Witnessing these first few moments alone back in 2013 when I watched YouTuber TheRadBrad play The Last of Us, I was convinced that this story and game were going to be so spectacular. I remember all the times I played the game and watched other people play it as well. It’s a core memory for me. I can recall the emotions I felt when I was playing, the heartbreak I had and the tension I felt playing this game. I value this game because of the action and also the tender moments it has. Getting to watch this series all over again and feel these emotions is bliss. I know for many gamers, this series changed their lives and the way they display their emotions.
“The Last of Us” at its core is about raw emotions, brutality and vengeance. Despite the frightening and violent situation they find themselves in, Joel and Ellie, who became an orphan as a result of the outbreak, are able to bond and create a relationship that is so caring and poetic, and one that I envy. At first, Joel’s stubborn and intimidating nature made him shy away from caring for Ellie as he never wanted to feel a loss again like he did with his daughter. By the end of the journey, however, he begins to care for Ellie like she is his own. At the same time, he is tasked with the ultimate decision regarding her life and the lives of millions of others.
To get to see this series again, in a new type of way is almost therapeutic. “The Last of Us” is captivating enough as a series to gain new fans who never even heard of the game. Hopefully, these new viewers are able to appreciate the art put into the original video game and play the game as well, so they can experience the same emotions I and other gamers feel by watching the story in a completely new way.
If you haven’t already, check out the series on HBO on Demand or watch Sundays at 9 p.m. Sometimes video games can make for a badass TV show.