HBO’s The Last of Us first season is over, and it has seemingly passed almost all my expectations. The season not only stayed faithful to the game’s storyline (where it absolutely matters) but also makes significant changes that enhance the narrative and create a more engaging and emotional experience for viewers. Almost all the changes from the game made complete sense. Be prepared, there are obviously spoilers for the show ahead. Last warning!
One of the most notable improvements the series makes is the portrayal of Joel’s character. In the game, Joel is a ruthless survivor who will do whatever it takes to protect himself and those he cares about. However, the show gives Joel more depth and complexity, exploring his motivations, his past, and the emotional bond he develops with Ellie. We learn about how he grieved after the death of his daughter, Sarah, something we don’t really expand on in the game that much. Pedro Pascal’s portrayal of Joel is nothing short of phenomenal, capturing the character’s stoic exterior and inner turmoil with equal intensity.
Similarly, the show also gives Ellie a more nuanced and layered personality. In the game, Ellie is a capable and resilient survivor, but the show delves deeper into her backstory, revealing the traumas and struggles she has faced that have shaped her into the person she is (FEDRA training). Granted, the DLC chapter “Left Behind” does this well, but it is integrated in a much better way in the show as Episode 7 covers the same ground with way more context on how Ellie thinks/feels regarding loss.
Bella Ramsey delivers an outstanding performance as Ellie, bringing a fiery spirit and emotional depth to the character that makes her even more compelling than in the game. It’ll be interesting to see how she transitions into the Ellie we see in the 2nd game now that we know HBO has greenlit a 2nd season that will be an adaptation of the 2nd game.
One of my favorite things they changed was the whole narrative around Bill. In the game, Bill is a rough and abrasive character, but in the show, his character shows real vulnerability and apprehension toward the few remaining survivors. In episode three, we learn about Bill’s tragic past involving his lover, Frank, and the emotional trauma he went through leading to his demise. All of which helps explain his prickly exterior and reluctance to trust others. Nick Offerman’s portrayal of Bill is a revelation, and brings nuance to the character that was absent from the game. His whole arc in Episode 3 is masterful!
Similarly there were so many added details to the show that were missing from the game. The brief vignettes at the start of episodes one and two really added extra nuance and lore to how exactly the cordyceps fungus to be. The show also explained Ellie’s immunity in a manner that made sense and respected the audience’s intelligence. They really went above and beyond with this production. Sam and Henry were even tweaked from the game to appear more sympathetic and complicated.
Nothing was changed for the sake of change but to add emotional complexity about surviving in this world. The show’s production values are top-notch, with stunning cinematography, gripping sound design, and effective use of audio and visual effects. The show’s score was composed by Gustavo Santaolalla who also created the music for the game. It is haunting and evocative, perfectly capturing the mood and tone of the story.
Unfortunately it cannot be all perfection. There are some gripes. The argument can be made that “less is more” with the series signature shambling fungal zombies, the Clickers. However, I felt they were underutilized. Had each episode maybe been an extra ten minutes or so longer we could have just had them involved a bit more. At times it felt like their absence could have been due to budget cuts but that is definitely not the case with HBO involved.
My fellow GNN writer, John Ambrose, felt that more could have been done with Bill’s character. I don’t know how more could have been added given the direction they went with Bill and Frank, but I would definitely have loved to see more of Nick Offerman in this role. The show’s shyness when it came to gore could also not be ignored. About halfway through the show it became particularly apparent that they were purposely avoiding showing gore with executions. Given that this is the same production house that gave us all those seasons of Game of Thrones and House of the Dragon it felt very “PG-13”.
With that said, HBO’s The Last of Us is a brilliant adaptation that manages to stay true to the game’s spiritual core while adding new elements that enhance the narrative and deepen the characters. The show’s excellent writing, acting, and production values make for a compelling and immersive viewing experience that is sure to resonate with both fans of the game and newcomers to the story. If I had to give it a numerical value it would be an 9/10!
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