When I sat down to speak with The Last of Us showrunnner/creator/writer/director Craig Mazin about the acclaimed HBO series something completely unexpected but very welcome occurred. The conversation covered his work bringing the series to life with great detail. By the time it was over I not only appreciated what he delivered on screen even more than before, I walked away with a new outlook on life. Mazin put into focus a mentality that can be beneficial for just about every situation; in daily life collaborations, to help unite this often-divided country, and when making a terrifying yet incredibly touching post-apocolyptic television series.
It was not the end product of his creative efforts that changed me – though that remarkable achievement speaks for itself. Instead, it was how he was able to pull it all off. Mazin’s approach to working with partner, Neil Druckmann (the game creator, series co-creator/co-writer) was the secret ingredient. Both Druckmann and Mazin wanted the best for the story, but instead of incessantly pushing through either’s vision, they developed the purest form of mutually beneficial relationship.
As he describes in the interview (below), Mazin came in with a strong vision but was able to work with Druckmann to find creative solution that worked best for both of them keeping the heart and integrity of the story as their top priority. The results speak for themselves in a series which delivers on many levels. In its most simple form, The Last of Us is the haunting dsytopian tale we wanted, but what it offers does not end there – nowhere close.
Mazin helped create one of the most human stories told this year, one that just happens to be told in a world filled with the infected undead. It is a “father/daughter story” (starring Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey) that’s not only about survival, it’s also about finding that reason through your own grief, even it is means living through the endless horrors which are now daily life. In addition, Mazin, along with director Peter Hoar, delivered one of the most touching love stories ever told in episode 3, “Long, Long Time.” (Watch our fascinating discussion about that episode here.)
Mazin’s impeccable work on his Emmy-winning HBO series Chernobyl is a masterpiece and scared the hell out of me. (If you have not watched, you must.) His work on The Last of Us affected me in so many different ways, putting viewers through an emotional gauntlet. It was soul-crushing, heart-pounding, thought-provoking and at times beautiful – while also scaring the hell out of me again. Below are some excerpts from our conversation.
Watch the complete video interview where we discuss a lot of what into the series. It is a must-watch conversation that will only make you appreciate the series even more. We talked about the terrifying science based aspects of the series, the thinking behind Bill and Frank’s story in episode 3, and MUCH more. Enjoy.
On his new outlook shaping approach, agreeing to not disagree:
“It was always about enhancing the spirit and what that was. Understanding that the challenges that we had, were the normal challenges. I think we had a great story, we had a great ending. I think that to me, endings are everything. When we disagreed about things, we followed a rule that Johan Renck I had on Chernobyl, which was, well, ‘Let’s keep talking until we agree.’ That’s it. That doesn’t mean that we have to vote for yours, or you have to vote for mine. Maybe there’s a third way. The important thing about those discussions is you need to have faith that the other person only cares about what is best for the show, and does not care about their own ego, insecurities, whatever.It’s just about what’s best. And that’s how it was for me and Neil. The things that I remember from those disagreements of the things where he was right and I ended up agreeing with him. Those are the ones I remember, you know. The ones where he agreed with me, those just are gone. It was a great partnership. He is a great partner, and he’s a good friend. It’s exciting to think that we get to keep doing this for hopefully quite some time.”
“So the approach is kind of let’s agree to not disagree, eventually,” I added.
“Let’s agree to not disagree. Exactly!” confirmed Mazin.
On if he cried while watching the series:
“Absolutely I cried. I cried multiple times. I kept crying over and over. When we showed it at the premiere, and it was on the big screen, I cried again. And you know, what I always cry at is Pedro,
his denial. It’s his refusal to accept that she’s gone. Just for that brief moment, it’s just so beautiful. But it only works because Nico’s pain. The pain that Nico Parker is showing is so profoundly realistic. One of the things that I remember saying to her that night was, ‘Pain is going to be the most pain you’ve ever felt. But even worse than that is fear. You are afraid you can’t this is the most afraid you’ve ever been. This is the most this is the thing that everybody should be the most afraid of, and that is dying too soon.’ And oh my god, did they both just deliver.”
On the importance of episode three:
“I thought that we had an obligation, because I’m always thinking about the audience – to give them a breather. We had gone through two pretty intense episodes, people that we had invested in and cared about had died, Joel and Ellie are left alone now for the first time. It struck me that there was an opportunity to tell a story that gave the audience evidence, that victory was possible in this world, that love was possible, that two kinds of love – this outward nurturing love and what I would call an inward protective love, could coexist together evenly and feed into each other in a beautiful way, and create a long standing relationship that is that was loving and that functioned. It is really important to show that functioning could occur otherwise, what’s the point of watching Joel and Ellie go through this world knowing that everybody dies and nothing ever functions. The most important thing was ultimately, was to have Bill go through an experience in his life that ultimately led him to realize what it was all about. To put that down on paper and to leave it behind for Joel. So Joel, who starts that episode angry at Ellie and cold and dark, eventually reads that note, and understands that Bill has defined Joel and his purpose.”
Season one of The Last of Us is now streaming on Max.