Based on one of the greatest games of all time, The Last of Us Season 1 is a faithful adaptation of the emotional masterpiece that will thrill fans of the game and newbies alike. If ever there was a curse around videogame adaptations, we can now lay that to rest. This is how to adapt a game, albeit a game that already had one of the strongest stories in any medium. Showrunners Neil Druckmann (the game’s creator) and Craig Mazin (Chernobyl) have set the template for how to stay true to elements that have worked before whilst being brave enough to make improvements to the source material.
The Last of Us Season 1 is dark. Anyone worrying about changes to lighten the tone for a general audience can cast those worries aside. The show, like the game, follows a disastrous pandemic that leaves many humans as Infected – zombie-like fungal creatures. The remaining humans band together in various factions, all traumatized by the global event (something the audience is now all too familiar with as the series lands, unlike when the game first dropped in 2013). As in any great survival series, it is the human element that truly brings horror. A grumpy, battered, and weary Joe – played by the always amazing Pedro Pascal (Game of Thrones, The Mandalorian) is tasked with getting foul-mouthed and witty Ellie (Game of Thrones incredible Bella Ramsay) across this dystopian United States in the hope of a cure for humanity. Infected, soldiers, and worse are standing in their way as the pair grow closer through the horrors that they face and memories of the past that linger for which there is no cure. It is their relationship that drives the 9-episode series forward and the two actors are on top of their game. We are given windows into the lives of other survivors, some whom were only briefly mentioned in the game, and this allows the audience to see glimpses of the world around Joel and Ellie and give more context to the brutal journey they embark on.
Gamers already know that The Last of Us Season 1 had a great chance to produce something close to perfection. The game is as cinematic as they come and it is amazing to see certain moments and events rendered almost shot-for-shot on the screen. There were times when I played the game when I would sit back and marvel at the beauty and emotion before me and The Last of Us Season 1 has somehow captured those moments and provided that emotion which will live long in the audience’s minds. The show also adds to the game in meaningful ways. A whole episode is dedicated to a minor character from the game, Bill (Nick Offerman at his brilliant best). There are real world flavours added to the character, all which make complete sense and the episode shows the potential for more opportunities in such a detailed and lived-in world. Some may feel the episode deviates too far from what the journey of Joel and Ellie but for me, it felt earnt whilst also offering small pieces of information regarding Joel’s life between the outbreak and current day.
The Last of Us Season 1 does what the slow burn westerns of old did so well – they use the moments of quiet. There is no wasted motion in the whole series – everything has meaning. Pedro Pascal has learnt the art of getting across so much information about a character in small movements and less dialogue (just watch The Mandalorian where he is masked up for most of the show!) and Bella Ramsay matches his masterful performance with one of her own. Joel and Ellie are the heart of the series and whilst there are big action sequences and lots of shooting and things blowing up – it is the quiet moments between human characters dealing with grief and trauma that pull on the heartstrings. The showrunners refrain from hitting their audience over the head with too much exposition. Instead, important information about the characters’ past is drip fed throughout the series, building up to what is one of the most emotional scenes put to a screen. The writers treat the audience as intelligent watchers and it makes The Last of Us Season 1 all the better for it.
The Last of Us Season 1 is the best adaptation of a video-game ever put to screen. It stays faithful to a game that can be argued as the greatest of all-time and once people have seen this series (and listened to its beautiful score created by the game’s Gustavo Santaolalla), they may be saying the same about the tv series. It is heartbreaking, emotional, raw, and terrifying but still manages to focus on hope – the light within the darkness. This is grimdark at its very best and for gamers and non-gamers, this story must be seen. The Last of Us Season 1 is a masterpiece. This story will stay with you long after the final credits roll… but a word of warning – if you think this was emotional and heartbreaking, just wait for The Last of Us Season 2…
Watch The Last of Us Season 1
A massive thank you from the Grimdark Magazine team to Sky in the UK for providing early season access. You can access the first two episodes (with one releasing tonight!) through a subscription, here.