REVIEW: The Last of Us is a masterpiece in video game adaptation

In a dystopian world, a mutation of a fungus known as cordyceps has infected the human population, turning them into zombie-like creatures. With rampant famine, sickness, and cannibalism, every living person’s only goal is survival. This is the nature of Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann’s show The Last of Us, based on Naughty Dog’s 2013 video game of the same name. Importantly, there are some spoilers for the first three episodes in this review.

As IGN video game reviewer Colin Moriarty stated, “The Last of Us isn’t so much about what happened to humanity, as it’s about the tale of two people and their journey”. This is alluding to two main protagonists of the story, Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey). Joel, a man that experienced life before the pandemic and became pessimistic and lonesome, turns to smuggling to survive. Ellie, a young teenage girl, who was born in the desolate world, has spent her entire life in a closed-off city under martial law, developing a maturity beyond her years which is needed to be able to survive.

Over the course of the story, Joel must bring Ellie to the Fireflies, a militia group that seeks to bring peace back to the uninhabited world. During their dark and desperate journey, the two develop a strong relationship which is one of the key reasons that The Last of Us series is a masterpiece. The relationship is one of clashing personalities, often with petty insults which emphasise humour despite the unpleasantness of the world. The distinctive relationship of Joel and Ellie makes it a unique dynamic that is at the forefront of the story.

However, despite the game’s heavy influence on the show, an especially impressive aspect of the show is when it takes risks. For instance, Manzin’s influence on the third episode, “Long, Long Time”, directed by Peter Hoar, is able to deepen the narrative of The Last of Us, to give viewers a more immersive experience of the post-apocalyptic world. 

The secondary characters of Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett) are central in this episode. As previously illustrated, Joel and Ellie’s relationship is what defines the core of The Last of Us’ story. However, Mazin takes a completely different approach in the third episode, where Bill and Frank’s experience is the focus point. Bill, a stereotypical paranoid redneck survivalist, lives in a securely-fenced home, with traps and surveillance for protection, to survive in a personally sealed sustainable community of his own making. Years after the outbreak, Bill finds an individual that fell into one of his traps – Frank. Through this encounter, the two soon enter a courtship through their shared love of music and cuisine. As time passes, the couple’s love blossoms.

The relationship’s comical and amusing dialogue, originating from the partners’ differing personalities, to the lovable and wholesome moments, such as Bill’s surprise when Frank managed to grow strawberries, plays a significant role in presenting an original dynamic that creates a desire to discover more of this couples’ life.

However, the quirky moments aren’t the only aspect that helps the audience connect with the couple – the distressing moments do so too. As time passes, Frank becomes wheelchair-bound due to an illness. During this difficult time, the couple’s love only heightens. Caring for an ill partner may seem stressful, but it is something Bill does without question. Helping Frank take his medication and getting him comfortable for bed, these small details are just a part of how Bill shows love. These bitter-sweet moments are vital in portraying the depth of the inseparable couple. Moments of enjoyment and unhappiness, while contradictory, sometimes transpire in a relationship, which portrayed how the audience can realistically connect with the show in such great magnitude.

Being entrenched in a loving relationship furthers the belief that there is still hope for humanity in the despairing environment of the post-apocalyptic society. The depth that the writers bring to the secondary characters adds to the mesmerising tale of The Last of Us. Departing from the videogame through bringing original relationships to the foreground is another part of what makes the show so appealing.

The performances in the show cannot be ignored either. Pascal’s portrayal of a character who once was a loving father but has now lost hope is heartbreaking. Likewise, Ramsey excels in her depiction of the innocence of a teen while simultaneously understanding the misery of staying alive in a dystopian world. Furthermore, Offerman’s versatility in playing Bill, who turns from a mistrustful individual to one who’s naturally caring and loving, demonstrates the genius of the actor. The talent of Bartlett is shown in his authentic depiction of Frank as a warm-hearted man, and his ability to harmonise it with Bill to further develop a unique storyline. The skilful portrayal of these characters forms the basis of an exceptional story.

Mazin’s ability to be faithful to the source while simultaneously being original is why The Last of Us adaptation is a masterpiece. The impact of this impressive show should serve as a model for how video games should be adapted for television in the future.

You can watch The Last of Us on Sky Atlantic and the NowTV streaming service, with new episodes coming out on Mondays at 2am GMT.

Eddie Wong is a Canadian international student studying Criminology MSc from Oakville. His biggest areas of interest in criminology are offender rehabilitation and theories of crime. He also enjoys listening to music, reading, and travelling to different countries to be immersed into another culture.

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