The Last of Us premiered on HBO in January earlier this year and since then it has not only impressed fans of the game but has garnered the attention of audiences around the globe. Pedro Pascal is now a household name and Bella Ramsey has captured the hearts of millions but the question I always come to when something is so popular, is is it worth it? Well, let me answer that…
The Last of Us originated as a action-adventure game which won several awards for its ’emotional storytelling, unforgettable characters and suspenseful action-adventure gameplay’. Split into two parts, the TV show is based on the following story:
“Decades after the Cordyceps infection ravaged America, ruthless factions and Infected present a constant threat to survivors. Rugged smuggler Joel is tasked with escorting teenager Ellie to safety. Although Joel is traumatized by his past, their brutal cross-country journey gives him “something to fight for.”
I knew when I heard this was coming out that it had a lot to live up to as coming from someone who has gamed irregularly over the past 10 years or so, even I had heard of The Last of Us. With that comes a lot of expectations and a precedent which has already been set by millions who have fallen in love with this story already.
In terms of taking a step back and appreciating it as a bit about TV, the first thing I had to look at was where it stood with what’s on the market at the moment. I’ve had several recurring conversations with friends about the fact that British TV is currently dominated by crime shows like Vigil, The Responder and Happy Valley, which are all fantastic shows in their own right but I have become bored of the repetitiveness of this narrative arc. I became desperate for something that transported me away from what resembled real life and instead, made me focus on something from a completely different world. So, when The Last of Us came onto the scene, I knew it had come out at the right time.
The Last of Us gave me the amount of depth that programmes such as the award winning show Chernobyl provided viewers in its intense, gritty depiction of a dystopian reality (of course Chernobyl was highlighting something real). To that end, this is not a surprise Craig Mazin, the creator of the award-winning series Chernobyl is also to credit for this show. It’s therefore apparent that Mazin is suited to such a genre and leaves quite the mark on his creative projects.
The depth of the show didn’t stop at the thriller side of the virus, it was filled with human issues, connection, family ties and relationships. Something which I didn’t expect to run into when watching the show. This wasn’t a series which focussed on killing and incessant violence but centred the human nature of those that inhabited such a world. I think to that degree it is what can appeal to every audience, you don’t just see the life of Ellie and Joel, there are different character arcs which give you a real sense of the stakes at risk and the lives that are altered during the catastrophic events.
It’s also important to not gloss over the fact that this show is perfectly timed after we have come out of our own pandemic. Of course we aren’t dealing with people who have literally turned into flesh eating monsters at the back of covid, but I do think there is a sense of anxiety that comes with a show that brings back memories of the rate of infection and of course, the fact that lives were lost very recently from something similar. I’ve seen countless people say they can’t watch it because of the intensity of the programme and I get that, its not necessarily full of jump scares but it is full of haunting memories and graphic images. Two things which can really affect a viewing experience.
Bella Ramsey’s character Ellie was fantastic, she relied on Joe but not to a degree that hampered her ability to face things head on and it definitely did not lean on any sort of stereotype that for a woman to survive they required a man. Instead, Joe (played by Pascal) became a father figure to Ellie who had long lost any sort of tie to a family or friends and in doing so, they brought out lost traits of themselves which had slowly disappeared in the wake of the virus. Ellie’s wit was placed perfectly to provide comic relief in places you wouldn’t necessarily think required them and the chemistry between Pascal and Ramsey is a combination I have not seen in TV for a while. Two broken individuals were able to come together to create a friendship that truly is magical.
What I appreciated even more was the male character arcs present in the narrative which showcased largely strong and impenetrable fronts that, as the show progressed, came to be a facade. In a lot of ways it showcases what war and expectations can do when put on a man, which was highly prevalent in Bill (played by Nick Offerman) who does everything possible to protect what he has created until Frank (Murray Bartlett) comes along to showcase why life is really worth living. It not only portrays two gay men as masculine and not over feminised but as two figures who are deserving of love.
The centralisation of government and rebellious groups in the show which are put on a level playing field at points to the infected was an interesting portrayal of power and the affects it can have on individuals. There wasn’t just one disease going about, there were two. The imbalance of power was seen through the small village in episode 8 where Ellie ended up finding those who worshiped a man who found faith during the disease and made those around him go to insane lengths to survive; in the cities where revenge was a priority over killing infected; and in the ‘retreats’ whereby new life was created and power was forgotten. There was no stone left unturned in this post-apocalyptic world and it truly showed the variety of humankind and their reactions to disaster.
As you can see this show covers a lot but it does in no way feel like you are getting thrown to every corner of the world and every story that exists. Instead, it propels you forward from previous Zombie stories and highlights the enriched, lived experience of individuals in a lifetime that is in some ways far removed from our reality but in others, almost identical.
The series has already been renewed for season 2 so if you want to catch-up, you can watch The Last of Us on HBO and NowTV.