The Last of Us

The Last of Us stars Bella Ramsey (pictured left) and Pedro Pascal (pictured right). The duo journeys across the ruins of what was once the United States.

Courtesy of HBO

The Last of Us stars Bella Ramsey (pictured left) and Pedro Pascal (pictured right). The duo journeys across the ruins of what was once the United States.

     Zombie apocalypse video games are not new, but when “The Last of Us” was released in June 2013 and “The Last of Us: Part 2” was released in June 2020, they took the video game world by storm. 

     The Playstation exclusives with video game company Naughty Dog as the top developer have sold over 35 million copies since the original “The Last of Us” was released in 2013. Both of the games also won Game of the Year at the Game Awards (an annual awards ceremony awarding the top video games in a given year). 

     Now, almost ten years after the release of the first “The Last of Us” game, HBO Max released its television series adaptation of the first game. The series premiere on January 15, 2023, tallied 4.7 million U.S. viewers, making it HBO’s third-largest debut, with only “Boardwalk Empire” and “House of Dragon” tallying more viewers.. 

     The show, almost identical to the game, takes place twenty years after an epidemic affected most of the world’s population. Pedro Pascal stars as “Joel” with Bella Ramsey starring as “Ellie” in Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann’s adaptation. The protagonist, Joel, is tasked with taking a young stranger, Ellie, through the ruins of the United States. Joel’s goal is to deliver her to the Fireflies, a revolutionary group. The only problem is that Joel and Ellen are not the only ones trying to survive during these desperate times. 

     The biggest question every television series adaptation faces is how accurate it is to the source material, and the first thing fans will do is judge how accurately the actors represent the characters. 

     While Pedro Pascal received high praise, Bella Ramsey was hit with major backlash for not accurately portraying “Ellie Williams.”  Fans claimed that Ramsey is not “pretty enough” and not “tough enough” to play the character.

     “Believe me, I had my doubts, too. It took a long time, actually, for me to accept that I was Ellie, and that I could be her and that I was the right fit,” Ramsey said. “It took me a good while, even after we finished filming.”

     Finding a perfect Ellie is nearly impossible; the show’s producers knew this too. Mazin said that (Mazin and Druckmann) saw over 100 people for the role of Ellie, but he was worried that Druckmann wouldn’t like Ramsey. In the end, that ended up not being the case at all. Regardless of what fans had to say about Ramsey’s portrayal of Ellie, the show’s creators have backed Ramsey throughout.

     “I was panicked that [Druckmann] wouldn’t like Ramsey and I would have to live the rest of my life knowing that we couldn’t have the best Ellie ever,” Mazin said. “But happily, he loved her. And we couldn’t have done better. She’s just the most remarkable performer.”

     Finding the perfect Ellie was just one piece of the puzzle. “The Last of Us” games are categorized as zombie apocalypse video games. But a major difference between the games and the show is the monsters.

     “For a show that has monsters in it, we don’t have a lot of monsters, because there’s no gameplay when you’re watching a show,” Mazin said.

     Fans shouldn’t be discouraged by this because the creators value quality over quantity. The scenes where the “monsters” are impressive. 

     “Neil [Druckmann] understands how to create fear,” Mazin said. “And it’s gorgeous.” 

     For “The Last of Us” fans who played the video game, that “fear” becomes a sense of deja-vu. From playing the game nearly ten years ago to now watching it on the big screen, fans are reminded how frightened they once were. For those who have played the video game, don’t worry if you have been spoiled by the video game, the show is not an identical copy, fans will still be on the edge of their seats.

     The first season of the show includes nine episodes. What makes the show so special and different from the game is how Mazin and Druckmann explore the storylines of not just Ellie and Joel, but also minor characters from the video game. Episode three steps away from the Joel and Ellie story, as fans get to learn about the romantic but tragic lives of “Frank” and “Bill.” Episode five introduces “Henry” and his deaf younger brother “Sam.” Sam’s deafness is a major change to the character as Sam is not deaf in the video game. When Mazin approached Druckmann with the idea of making Sam deaf, Druckmann had a different type of reaction.

     “That’s so good, it makes me upset that I didn’t think about it,” Druckmann said.

     These are just some of the changes that make the television adaptation so unique. The pressure of adapting an award winning video game, loved by millions of fans is tremendous.. Sometimes your biggest critic is your biggest supporter. “The Last of Us” has a 96% average tomatometer and an 89% average audience score on the Rotten Tomatoes website.   With season two already confirmed, fans will not be getting the last of Joel’s and Ellie’s story.