I don’t watch a ton of television. Hell, I play more video games than have TV shows I consistently watch. Normally, video game adaptations are the realm of films, often to terrible effect. So, the fact that The Last of Us was not just a show I was interested in, but considered a must-see, was a rare occurrence. The game is among the best ever made. The show? Hopes were high, but anything was possible. Well, we were all in luck, because this wasn’t just a great adaptation, but an instant classic prestige drama series.
The Last of Us seemed like it could succeed for a number of reasons. One was that it was being made with more care than most game adaptations. Neil Druckmann, the man behind the game and its sequel, was shepherding it, as was Craig Mazin, who’d blown so many away with Chernobyl. The fact that HBO was investing so heavily in it was a good sign. Throw in terrific casting, up top with Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey in the leads, as well as with a cavalcade of ace supporting players, including Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett (more on them later), and it was seemingly set up for success. But, would it work? The answer, as it turned out, was a resounding yes.
Steve reviewed the show here, raving about it. Likewise, Myles, Steve, and I have been recapping the episodes on the Awards Radar Podcast here, often waxing poetic about each one. Not only was HBO’s The Last of Us honoring the video game, it was elevating it, as opposed to being brought down by it, as most game adaptations are. In many ways, it’s a stunning achievement, made all the more outstanding by how many had failed in trying to pull something like this off, previously.
The show kicked off was a premiere that set almost all skeptics’ minds at ease. The first two chapters established the world, invested us in Joel and Ellie’s story, and brilliantly set the stage for what was to come. While it became clear that this was going to be a somewhat faithful adaptation, it was never slavish. In fact, when they deviated, magic happened.
Episode Three is an out and out masterpiece. The most overt change from the game’s plot, this episode sidelines our heroes for much of the hour, focusing on Offerman’s Bill and the relationship only hinted at in the video game. Here, Bill and Bartlett’s Frank get to live out a life. It’s heartbreaking and deeply moving. For my money, it’s the single best episode of television that I’ve seen in a very long time. Yes, it’s just that good.
The finale proved as emotional and haunting as we’d expected. Those who hadn’t played the game were almost certainly shocked, while those of us who had were stunned that it was depicted so well. It’s brutal, powerful, and lingers with you long after the credits roll. The Last of Us spent nine episodes building up to this, and boy howdy did it ever not disappoint.
Myles had this to say about the finale, FYI, summing it up very well:
Of course, Season Two (and beyond, potentially) is going to raise the stakes considerably. Those who know where The Last of Us: Part II goes are already girding themselves. That HBO will want to hang on to this show, while Druckmann has hinted that the second game will take more than a season to adapt, only sets the stage for something potentially incredible. Even if we only get two more seasons, it could eventually make for one of the all-time great shows.
Overall, The Last of Us is not just a brilliant show, but it has raised the bar for video game adaptations tenfold. In fact, one can argue that it stands tall as one of the best adaptations of the modern era, in general. Now, let’s hope it’s not too agonizingly long a wait for more, since I’m hooked…
What did you think of the first season of The Last of Us? Let us know!