Reel Thoughts: ‘The Last of Us’ is a masterpiece that honors its source material, elevates video game industry to new heights


Illustration by Pavan Acharya

“The Last of Us” remains authentic to the story it is derived from in a way that few other video game adaptations have.

Danny O’Grady, Reporter

This piece contains mild spoilers.

Released almost a decade ago, “The Last of Us” revolutionized the video game industry with its immersive survival-horror gameplay and brilliant story, redefining how people view storytelling in video games. As a result of its lasting legacy, HBO has now adapted it into an original television series.

This decision was met with skepticism, as many video game adaptations are considered to be cursed. Just look at the “Assassin’s Creed” movie, which was an infamous 2016 flop. However, HBO brought together writer and creative director of the game Neil Druckmann and creator of the hit HBO miniseries “Chernobyl” Craig Mazin to create a series that proved these worries unfounded.

Mazin and Druckmann are the perfect pair for this project. Druckmann was the primary authority on the game’s storyline, and Mazin is a master at creating tension and an atmospheric tone. Constructing a desolate and depressing world with flashes of beauty in it is a hard balancing act to pull off — but Mazin nails it.

He did an excellent job with the visuals of the show by contrasting the dilapidated and dirty metropolises with beautiful natural settings. This contrast is supported by creative camera angles. Prime examples of this are shots looking over the shoulders of the main protagonists Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) as they look at the state house. 

Another shot looking out of a window in Frank (Murray Bartlett) and Bill’s (Nick Offerman) house mirrors the main menu of the game. In addition, the choreography of the iconic clickers, who are recurring enemies, is also a standout and perfectly mirrors their actions in the game.

Arguably, the most important aspect of the game is the complex and dynamic characters. Pascal and Ramsey do an outstanding job bringing their characters to life. The bond between Joel and Ellie is the most important aspect of the plot, so their acting and on-screen chemistry are crucial to the story’s progression. These performances are a worthy take on those by Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson, respectively, in the game. 

However, the show does not simply copy the games’ iconic characters. Offerman and Bartlett add an abundance of backstory and emotional depth to individuals who were merely side characters in the game. Lastly, I would be remiss to neglect to mention the standout performance by Anna Torv as Tess, Joel’s smuggling partner who catalyzes his and Ellie’s journey. 

Yet, all these successes would be worthless if the show did not respect its eponymous game. At first, I was skeptical that the series could do so, but I was thankfully proven wrong. The series does not fundamentally alter the game’s storyline, a classic mistake made by other video game adaptations, most notably Paramount’s “Halo” series. Instead, the show adds more depth to certain areas that the game didn’t touch upon. For instance, the showrunners took the section of the game where Joel and Ellie are ambushed by nameless raiders in Pittsburgh and added a subplot exploring their backstory.

However, there are several easter eggs that pay homage to the game. Adding to this authenticity is how the game’s dialogue is copied exactly for memorable scenes, such as when Ellie finds Bill’s magazine. 

Supporting the dreary yet beautiful world of “The Last of Us” is Gustavo Santaolalla’s stellar musical score. Santaolalla produced the music for both games in “The Last of Us” series, and he takes the best tracks from their already stellar soundtracks for the show.

Overall, “The Last of Us” series is a masterpiece that befits its legendary source material and proves that video game stories can go toe-to-toe with those of other art forms. Yet, it is so much more than a generic zombie show and utterly shatters all expectations with its music, visuals, performances and respect for the game it is derived from. 

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Twitter: @DannyMOGrady04 

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