Show: "The Last of Us"
Release Date: Jan. 15, 2023
Genre: Apocalyptic fiction, thriller
Imagine a world where humans no longer fear the flu or COVID-19, but rather a fungal infection that attacks the brain, turning man into zombie in a matter of days.
This is the premise of HBO’s newest series, “The Last of Us.”
The pilot episode premiered on Jan. 15, 2023, immediately hooking 4.7 million viewers in the hour and 25-minute runtime. Since then, the series has had a large presence in media with commentary videos on YouTube, an official podcast led by showrunners and a resurgence in TikTok edits of lead actor Pedro Pascal. Fandom culture, coupled with the show's captivating storylines and suspenseful cliffhangers, resulted in viewership almost doubling by the time the season one finale aired.
The main storyline follows an unlikely pairing, Joel and Ellie, in their attempt to survive a post-apocalyptic world after the breakout of the ravenous Cordyceps fungus. The disease spreads by even the smallest bite from an infected individual and is quick to devastate. Cordyceps attacks the brain first, programming an infected to further spread the infection across the world.
Ellie, a foul-mouthed orphan, is presumed to be immune from the effects of Cordyceps, making her extremely valuable for the creation of a cure. A grieving father with a violent past, Joel, is the only person with the savagery it takes to protect her.
Joel is enlisted to safely deliver Ellie to a group of doctors who can use her blood to produce a cure. Each episode follows the pair as they journey across a demolished wasteland, encountering copious infected, rebel groups and even cannibals along the way.
While the show appears reminiscent of other apocalyptic thrillers such as “The Walking Dead,” “The Last of Us” is unique in that it is based almost entirely on a video game.
Premiering in 2013 under the same name, the game is a first-person role-playing game designed for PlayStation consoles by the developer Naughty Dog. Equal parts storytelling and action, the game provided plenty of dense source material for the show’s co-creators, Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann, to transform it into a television series 10 years later.
While it is not necessary to have played the game to enjoy the show, loyal fans will appreciate the attention to detail throughout the episodes that pays homage to the original story. From camera angles that resemble the game’s first-person style to replicated dialogue from the game’s storytelling scenes, Mazin and Druckmann followed the original narrative so closely that it is difficult to spot some of the differences.
Some viewers have voiced there aren’t enough zombie action scenes to be considered a "zombie show." While this might be a letdown for lovers of brain-eating gore, the show’s focus on human interaction is one of its most significant and rewarding aspects.
The people Joel and Ellie meet along the way impact their journey just as much as the infected. From bandits stealing their resources to power-hungry cult leaders, these interactions demonstrate that humans actually serve as the main villains in Joel and Ellie’s story, not the infected.
While the show doesn't shy away from pointing out the faults of humanity, the budding relationship between Joel and Ellie is at the forefront of the story, showing the brighter side of human connection during a tragedy.
The pair is forced to rely on each other for survival, which ultimately compels them to share the raw emotions they had concealed since the start of the outbreak. Joel and Ellie’s story is powerful and heartwarming, and the supreme performances by the actors add to the inevitable connection between the characters and viewers.
Actors Pedro Pascal as Joel and Bella Ramsey as Ellie embody their characters perfectly in both appearance and personality. Their strong connection outside of the show translated beautifully to the screen, making tense scenes feel just as personal as playing the video game.
Overall, the show was extremely well-done in all aspects. The high-production quality, superb casting, adherence to the source material and captivating storylines make this show one of the best on television right now. Unsurprisingly, HBO has already confirmed that a second season is in the works. Until its release, fans will have to eagerly await the fate of the human race.