It goes without saying that the bigger the franchise, the bigger the expectations. And they don’t come any bigger than The Last of Us, a video game that’s widely counted among the greatest of all time. The game was lauded for its compelling take on a then-tired zombie genre, marrying action with a solid, emotionally-driven story.
The first episode of the HBO series has just dropped and so far, it’s looking good. Pedro Pascal is a near-perfect choice for the role of Joel Miller, the protagonist of the first game; he’s slowly but surely becoming the Ryan Reynolds of tortured father figures. Lest you worry that you needed to play the videogame for context, the TV series is self-contained and even fleshes out story bits that the game omitted.
Arguably, the characters are fleshed out a little better (touchwood) here and they seem grittier than their videogame counterparts. The action is more terrifying than the game could ever dream to be–thanks in part to the excellent camera work–and that opening sequence had no business hitting as hard as it did. It’s the perfect setup for the post-apocalyptic world ravaged by a mutated Cordyceps fungus, which is where The Last of Us takes place.
In the present day, Joel is now a battle-hardened smuggler. Along with his partner Tess (Anna Torv), they are charged by Marlene (Yes, the one and the same Merle Dandridge), the leader of the militia group, Fireflies, to transport Ellie (Bella Ramsey) to a Fireflies base located in dangerous territory, far from the safety of the quarantine zone. Ramsey has graduated from a feisty little Lady Mormont to a feisty and sweary little teenager; her chemistry with Pascal isn’t quite developed yet, but let’s hope that it will be crucial for the season ahead.
If first impressions count for anything, then The Last of Us looks like it’s not going to be a frame-for-frame adaptation, what with several noticeable tweaks, albeit minor, and one major change in the first episode alone. As it stands, it’s too early to tell if the changes will have a significant impact in future episodes, but the storytelling has been fairly coherent thus far while staying mostly faithful to key interactions and emotional beats.
Given the changes made, I have good reason to believe that The Last of Us will be an entertaining ride, even for those coming across this franchise for the first time. I’m not sure how much of the fanbase truly wants the live-action version to be an exact copy of the game, because this certainly won’t be it. But I would think that some changes might be necessary anyway so it doesn’t feel too predictable. I’d expect that there will be more twists and brave calls to come down the road, so let’s just hope that the inevitable tweaks will pay dividends.