The Last Of Us Review (TV) – Total Triumph

The Last Of Us is undeniably one of the best-told stories video games have to offer. Joel and Ellie’s cross-country journey was a triumph for developer Naughty Dog when it launched in 2013 and remains one today. It’s almost unbelievable that it turns 10 this year and as a fitting tribute to the milestone, HBO has partnered with Sony to produce a 9-episode series based on the game.

I’m not going to talk about anything specific here so as not to spoil The Last of Us for those unfamiliar but I will say; anybody who’s played the game will be fully aware of what’s to come. This fact was actually the most difficult for me to reconcile when watching all 9-episodes of The Last Of Us.

Occasionally, I was unsure whether I was less enthused because I knew what was coming or because the game wasn’t translating to TV. However, overall, The Last of Us is a complete and total triumph for HBO and everyone involved in turning the game into a series. Especially Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsay as Joel and Ellie respectively.

The Last of Us TV Review

The truth is, The Last of Us was always going to live and die by the performances of the two leads. Joel and Ellie ARE The Last of Us and if their versions of those two characters were even an iota off, the show was going to collapse in on itself. Thankfully, both Pascal and Ramsay are extraordinary for the duration. Pascal carries Joel’s burden on his face and in every step. The world-weary, aging ‘warrior’ fully comes to life in each and every nuance of Pascal’s performance. There’s clearly a lot of the original Joel there and much of the script is lifted directly from the game, but Pascal makes Joel his own through physicality and emotional performance with far more depth than you’d expect from a post-apocalyptic zombie series.

Ramsay is similarly note-perfect. She is the Ellie from The Last of Us Part 1, come to life. All the sass and spunk and bravado you’d expect is fully on display with an undercurrent of fear, unknowing and naivete. As the show progresses and Ellie’s role grows in response to certain plot points fans will be expecting, Ramsay steps up admirably to take the reins and bear the full weight of The Last of Us on her shoulders. Together, Pascal and Ramsay ensure The Last of Us is as good as it could possibly be.

However, they’re not alone. Anna Torv’s Tess is great and Torv does a tremendous amount with what she has. We get much more of a sense of her relationship with Joel and Torv brings an impressive presence to the character that was missing in the game. Some fleshing out of Tess and the inner workings of the Boston QZ’s players (Robert for example) elevate what was present in The Last of Us and help round out this world and the characters who occupy it.

While The Last of Us might be Joel and Ellie’s story, the highest point of the series belongs to Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett as Bill and Frank. With the story and stakes set in the first two episodes, the third explores two minor characters from the game — Bill and Frank — and delivers some of the most watchable, compelling and heartbreaking television in recent memory.

Again, I don’t want to get specific so as not to give anything away, but Episode 3 transcends the source material while staying true to the heart and soul of what Naughty Dog accomplished. Offerman is flawless as Bill, the paranoid prepper/survivalist and Bartlett is equally perfect as Frank, the man who comes into Bill’s life years after the world descended into hell. While Bill and Frank have far less screen time than Joel and Ellie, their bond is felt just as strongly and their story resonates just as powerfully, if not more so. It’s a reflection of and an inversion of Joel and Ellie’s relationship, magnified and condensed such that I’m hoping there’s a spin-off series just focusing on the life of Bill and Frank. Come on HBO, make it happen.

Other characters, whether new to the TV show or adapted from the game are a mixed bag, though I think this has more to do with the series’ truncated episode run than with performances. With only 9 episodes to tell the story, The Last of Us can often feel rushed, even when it’s taking its time. Dedicating an episode to Bill and Frank or exploring Ellie’s backstory via a recreation of the game’s Left Behind DLC are very much worthy causes but it leaves less time to tell the full story, to let the story breathe and to explore everything that’s happening around Joel and Ellie.

Several storylines feel as though they could have benefitted from one or even two more episodes being dedicated to them. On many occasions, I feel like I only understand what had happened and the gravity of what had happened because I’d played the game. I knew where the story was going so I anticipated plot points and story beats.

I’ll be interested to see how people who’ve never played the game and have no idea about The Last of Us respond to the show. My expectations may be raised because of my knowledge, though I do think a 12-episode season would have worked much better.

On the same note, although The Last of Us is ostensibly a show about “zombies,” it’s really a story about humanity and about people. It’s about what happens to humanity when all the rules are gone and what we, as people, do to one another when consequences are removed. That being said, I was still a little disappointed with the relative lack of “zombie” content. I’m not sure exactly how many appearances the Clickers and Runners make, but I think I can count the number on one hand. Perhaps it’s designed to keep the enemies fresh and preserve their scariness, but I, for one, wish they’d played a bit more of a role in the series overall.

Complaints aside, The Last of Us is brilliant. From top to bottom, the attention to detail, the performances and the score and music are all stellar and drive what could have been yet another terrible video game adaptation to heretofore unseen heights. Even with some of the complaints I’ve raised, the show is still phenomenal. It has the almost impossible task of transposing a video game with limitless scope into a live-action series. And it succeeds.

Joel and Ellie’s story is fully realised. The post-apocalyptic world of the game is fully realised and Naughty Dog’s vision for The Last of Us is faithfully recreated, reproduced and elevated. Here’s hoping the first season is an enormous success and season 2 returns with more episodes and more time to tell the story of this world even more successfully.

The Last of Us will begin streaming on BINGE on January 16, 2023.

The Last Of Us (TV)
Reader Rating0 Votes
Slavishly devoted to the source material
Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsay
Episode 3
Feels rushed in places
Expanded lore and narrative beats are hit and miss
Very few "zombies"
Leo Stevenson
Leo Stevenson
I've been playing games for the past 27 years and have been writing for almost as long. Combining two passions in the way I'm able is a true privilege. PowerUp! is a labour of love and one I am so excited to share.

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