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HBO’s ‘The Last Of Us’ – Potentially the Best Live-Action Game Adaptation

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The video game franchise of The Last Of Us is undeniably one of the best in the last dozen years. Both The Last Of Us and the sequel were nominated and won numerous awards from gamers and critics in major categories.

Due to the popularity and success of these games developed by Naughty Dog and penned by writer Neil DruckmannHBO is adapting them into a television series set to release in 2023. But with the dramatic changes at WB Discovery ordered by CEO David Zaslav,  fans worried that the project was in jeopardy and at risk of cancellation, like the Batgirl movie.

Thankfully, we got confirmation recently that the series will see the light of day. It’s exciting news, but video game adaptations are challenging, and one might wonder, can the show maintain the quality of the games’ stories and gain popularity? I’m going to analyze some of the news recent news about the show to see if it stays true to the promise of the games.

the last of us
The Last of Us. (HBO)

[Warning: Spoilers from The Last Of Us game are below!]

What is The Last Of Us about?

The game The Last Of Us tells the story of Joel & Ellie, set in a post-apocalyptic zombie world. Before Joel met Ellie, he had a daughter, Sarah, who died the day of the zombie virus outbreak. That was in 2013, but the main story in the game takes place 20 years later, and we learn almost nothing about what happened between those events.

We meet Joel after this time jump. He’s a 50-year-old guy with depression, anger issues, and no purpose in life. He’s a smuggler in a quarantine zone at the side of his partner and the person he cares deeply about, Tess.

There’s also Marlene, who’s the one that introduced Ellie to Joel. In doing so, we learn that she did this because Ellie is immune to the zombie virus and can’t turn into one. The people Marlene knows can help and produce a cure with Ellie’s help.

Tess decides to help them escape from the quarantine zone and dies right before they reach their destination, so Joel and Ellie continue on their own. As they travel, they became friendlier to each other, and Joel, though he wouldn’t admit it, begins to care about Ellie.

Their destination is Salt Lake City, where they find a group called “Fireflies.” The Fireflies are a group of revolutionary militias intent on restoring government control.

Pedro and Bella The Last of Us
Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) in the HBO adaptation of The Last of Us. (HBO)

During their journey, Joel and Ellie go through some really harsh adventures. They first meet Joel’s brother Tommy, but since they quarreled, it takes time to repair their relationship. After leaving their base, Joel has an accident, and while healing, Ellie has to step in and take care of him. While doing so, she encounters a pack of cannibals, so it’s a rough few months before reaching their goal.

When Joel and Ellie reach the city, he learns that by finding the cure in Ellie’s body, she must die, so he kills everyone who was there and saves her. In doing so, they become a target for the “Fireflies” and flee to Tommy’s, where he and his men construct a larger village to get as much of their old life as possible back and be protected in the process.

I liked the first game very much. When I had the opportunity to play it myself, I never thought I would like it so much and cry for a long time. The story is very well written, with many twists and turns, difficult decisions, very emotional moments, and even some easter eggs from other Naughty Dog games.

All the characters are there for a purpose, from telling a story from the past and explaining how certain relationships went to teaching our characters something new and helping them grow.

How different will the show be from the game?

As we know, the HBO series will be very different from the game, both in major and minor aspects. The timeline being one of the biggest differences. The game world takes place in 2033 and Outbreak Day is famously in 2013. The show from HBO is set in 2023 and Day Zero (aka Outbreak day) is 20 years before that, in 2003.

Craig and Neil The Last of US
Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann.

In my opinion, the best thing that the writers and showrunners of the show (Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann) can do is expand the story from games and enhance our perspective on the world and characters. 

We probably won’t see much action in HBO’s The Last of Us compared to the games because many of those sequences from the game wouldn’t fit to be adapted into live-action.

Instead, we’ll likely see more scenes focused on creating relationships between Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey), introducing new characters we haven’t seen in the game, and creating something other than another typical “zombie” show.

Of course, there will be 1:1 scenes from the games and those we know but changed. But we’ll also get a lot of new scenes better suited to some episodes.

The most exciting thing for gamers is to visit all those famous game locations, like the city of Lincoln, Austin (Joel and Tommy’s hometown), Boston, Pittsburgh, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and Jackson. Each of these places is important in the arc of our characters, both in terms of the journey and the development of their relationships and character.

We’ll see Boston’s famous skyscrapers, which are characteristically tilted. Some other locations above will be altered to fit more closely with the series, like Jackson, where we’ll see it upgraded and secured. In contrast, we didn’t get to see that in the game. 

Clicker The Last of Us.
Clicker from The Last of Us. (HBO)

As for the zombies, they’re sure to look fantastic and realistic. We already got some look at so-called runners, stalkers, and clickers in promotional material released so far. While zombies are an indispensable part of The Last Of Us, I think there won’t be as many of them as we believe.

Of course, we’ll see a fight with bloater, but with it being only season one, the number of zombies may be reduced. But don’t worry! There should still be plenty of them.

We’ll also get to see the live-action version of Henry (Lamar Johnson) and Sam (Keivonn Woodard), who are brothers and essential partners for a while in Ellie and Joel’s adventure. Sam will be deaf because the actor who plays him is also deaf. I think it is a great change because it will not only add drama to what they face but will show us how people with disabilities cope in this world.

Supporting characters gaining foreground status

Another thing that makes me very happy is that we’ll see more scenes with Bill (Nick Offerman), Tess (Anna Torv), Joel’s brother Tommy (Gabriel Luna), and Marlene (Merle Dandridge), who were all minor characters that only appeared in one chapter in the game. The decision to make season 1 of the series an enhancement of the story, rather than the entire plot of the first game, is a very good move. This will give us more time to understand these characters, learn about their behavior and see how they develop over time.

As far as we know, all these characters will appear in at least half of the episodes of the series, If not in almost all of them. This may suggest how big their role is in telling the story, not just from Joel and Ellie’s perspective.

Bill, for example, in the game is the only one alive in the city of Lincoln, where the whole city was without energy and he placed a lot of battered traps, etc. In the series, Bill will have a lot of camera surveillance, more weapons, and better equipment.

bill The Last of Us
Nick Offerman as Bill in The Last of Us. (HBO)

The latest trailer also shows us Bill’s partner and likely lover Frank (Murray Bartlett). They were close, but at some point, Frank decided to leave Bill and went on his own. 

Tess and Marlene will be an important part of the story. Especially since it was thanks to them that Joel undertook the mission to deliver Ellie to the “Fireflies.” I guess there’ll be more stories about Joel and Tess’ adventures as well as Marlene and Ellie’s relationship.

Like the rest of these important characters, Tommy will also get a lot of screen time, which makes me happy. The thing is, I’ve always wanted to see more of Joel and Tommy’s relationship, but we only got such a small glimpse of it in the games, so I hope Neil Druckmann decided to show us an exceptional amount of footage of their brotherhood past.

We can safely assume that the expansion of these stories will be in the form of long flashbacks, or maybe even entire episodes. I’m just glad that we’ll have the opportunity to see more scenes and characters from all these great actors.

There will also be an episode based on The Last Of Us DLC called “Left Behind,” in which we learn how Ellie was bitten and how she lost her friend Riley, with whom she was very close.

Riley and Ellie last of us
Riley and Ellie from The Last Of Us: Left Behind (Sony)

Whatever happens, I trust in Neil Druckmann. He knows a lot more about this world than we do, so we should see what happens and how.

Will The Last of Us be the best live-action adaptation to date?

The series’ budget is at least $10 million per episode. According to HBO’s budgets for other series, this could be an even more expensive season than the final seasons of Game Of Thrones. Damian Petti, president of IATSE 212 told Forbes that the series’ budget, “…well exceeds the eight-figure per episode mark,” suggesting that The Last Of Us‘ budget is indeed one of the largest in the history of HBO series.

The series will consist of ten episodes in season 1, which will be about an hour long. I think an hour per episode is long enough to tell the story of these characters, without having to end the story of the games exclusively in season 1.

For example, we may get to see only half of the game timeline in season 1, and the other half in season 2, which would be good If HBO decided to also adapt the second game in the series. This way, they would have earned some time for Bella Ramsey, who would have aged and looked more mature for the story from The Last Of Us II. 

Usually, when HBO or another streaming service announces that they’ll make a movie or series adaptation of a game, I try not to get my hopes up. But there are only two examples for now, where no matter what, I will believe in what directors, producers, and actors say. These adaptations are Netflix’s Assassin’s Creed and, of course, The Last Of Us.

The connection I have with both parts of The Last Of Us is very unique and emotional for me. There are no words to describe how happy, hyped, and excited I am about this show since they announced it.

After the casting and creative announcements, I was sure that The Last Of Us would be one of the best series from HBO if not the best. The atmosphere of the series, the locations we’re going to see, the easter eggs from the games, and the feeling of survivalism, will make fans of the games simply delighted with what they get.

One great thing is Gustavo Santaolalla’s commitment to the project. He’s the main creator of the soundtrack for both games in the series, and will also create the music for the TV series. This is an excellent creative decision, because he knows the sounds of this world best, and who else but he could create the best soundtrack for the series with musical elements taken from the games.

There have been a lot of live game adaptations, some of them okay and some of them really bad. The Last Of Us series will definitely be a huge event and one that I believe we’ll be talking about for a long time.

Alongside our main cast, we’re also going to see Jeffrey Pierce, Ashley Johnson, Troy Baker, Storm Reid, Melanie Lynskey, and Nico Parker. The Last Of Us will premiere in 2023 only on HBO Max.

Are you excited about HBO’s The Last of Us series? Do you think it could be one of the best live-action game adaptations? Let us know on social media!

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Wiktor Reinfuss

Big fan of all sorts of pop culture stuff. I also enjoy ambitious cinema. Games, music and graphics are all within my interests. I have a great fondness for the Arrowverse series, especially The Flash.

Wiktor Reinfuss has 122 posts and counting. See all posts by Wiktor Reinfuss