HBO’s The Last Of Us: The BRWC Review
Episode 1: When You’re Lost In The Darkness
The new decade has seen some fantastic video game adaptations: ‘League of Legends Arcane’, ‘Tekken: Bloodline’, and even Sonic the Hedgehog have graced the small and big screens to positive reviews. And the adaptation trend looks to continue with HBO’s ‘The Last of Us’.
‘The Last of Us’ was originally a 2013 Playstation 3 game developed by Naughty Dog (Uncharted, Crash Bandicoot, Jak & Daxter). The game follows Joel and Ellie as they navigate through an apocalyptic world that has been taken over by mutated plant-like humans. While it has been remastered twice (for Playstation 4 then Playstation 5), this is the first live action adaptation of the property, starring Pedro Pascal (The Mandalorian) as Joel and Bella Ramsey (Game of Thrones) as Ellie.
The first episode aired on Monday in the UK, and it’s immediately clear the team behind the show care about the source material because this is a fantastically emotional introduction. Showrunner Craig Mazin (HBO’s Chernobyl) has taken great care to make sure the show is accurate to the game’s look and feel and it’s perfect. The setting of apocalyptic Boston is fantastically creepy and looks as if it’s been lifted straight out of the game. Plus, the ruling of the Quarantine Zone that the first episode focuses on looks just as barren. Not only that but the episode doesn’t shy away from showing how corrupt the safe zone has become, in an attempt to keep people away from the devasting virus. The game carries a theme of ‘the humans are the real monsters’ but it’s still disturbing to see it on the small screen. And, while the game does have a familiar story of people trying to survive in an apocalypse, video game adaptations have been met with mixed/poor reviews right up until a few years ago. So, to see this game being adapted perfectly is another relief; so far, the first episode deserves to be placed amongst the recent fantastic gaming adaptations.
But is it a good opener for people who have never played the game?
Yes, it is.
The first five minutes of the episode, which features a talk show from the late 60’s, beautifully foreshadows upcoming events and how bleak the situation will become for humanity. And, from there, it’s a slow build up to the initial outbreak. What the show does well, compared to the game, is give viewers more time with Joel and his daughter Sarah. The game didn’t allow players much time with these two characters but the show gives the storytelling a second chance especially with the absence of gameplay. This means that the first half of the episode revolves around Sarah and Joel’s father/daughter relationship and developing them. This makes one of the character’s inevitable fate even more emotional and impactful, and it was just as upsetting as it was in the game.
At the same time, hints of the apocalypse are happening around them and the execution of the build up is terrifying. In an admittedly strange comparison, it’s reminiscent of the one take scene in ‘Shaun of the Dead’ that built up the zombie apocalypse slowly and subtly, thus building up the dread of events that are soon to come. It also means that the relationship between Joel and Sarah is just as heart-breaking as it is in the game. ‘The Last of Us’ cinematography also helps emphasize the chaos of the outbreak by using the found footage/handheld style and it works fantastically, adding to the fast-paced scenes and the panic that ensues.
The cast are fantastic: Pedro Pascal is perfect as Joel; he give the character a stern and mature confidence, which is needed. But Bella Ramsey also gives Ellie a confidence too, but a fierce one. Just like in the game, Ellie here is tough but cheeky and proves to hold her own in a fight. The two are wonderful to watch together even if it’s just for a short amount of time; it’s a hint to what their interactions will be like for the rest of the series. The biggest casting surprise is Merle Dandridge, who reprises her video game role as Marlene, the leader of the revolutionary group The Fireflies. What isn’t a surprise is just how good she is; because she had previously done motion capture and voicing for the character in the game, she fits very comfortably into the same role onscreen.
Even though the video game adaptation curse had been resolved a few years ago, the first episode of ‘The Last of Us’ is fantastic. It covers a lot of exposition and character development in its 95-minute runtime and uses the time well. Plus, the casting and setting is perfect, and the original theme is even featured in the show’s title sequence. It will be interesting to see what the show changes in terms of the game’s narrative and especially ending, given Ellie’s reveal already. But, just as the game became quickly beloved, the show has already won me over.
We hope you're enjoying BRWC. You should check us out on our social channels, subscribe to our newsletter, and tell your friends. BRWC is short for battleroyalewithcheese.