The premise is that a fungal infection is considered by scientists in the 1960s to be the greatest possible threat to human life in the future. They predict, with typical television show accuracy, that the heating up of the world can result in a mutation that will make it a danger that cannot be stopped. We proceed to cut to 2003 and history alternates as Joel (Pedro Pascal), his brother Tommy (Gabriel Luna), and Joel’s daughter Sarah (Nico Parker) are living in Austin, TX when things go rapidly downhill.
We cut to twenty years later and the world has fallen into a crumbling ruin. Humanity continues to survive in fortified enclaves under harsh military rule. Joel is now working with a woman named Tess (Anna Torv) as a smuggler. A chance encounter with a young girl, Ella, (Bella Ramsey) turns from a business deal into something more. Ella has never known the pre-Fungus world and is a surprisingly intelligent as well as foul mouthed survivor. She also carries a secret that a terrorist organization, the Fireflies, are desperate to keep to themselves.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t a fan of the additions to the game narrative. The opening of the show tries a little too hard to explain “fungus zombies are a scientific danger in the future.” Really, the suddenness and horror of it all worked better. I feel like I would have preferred more time with Sarah over this. Nico Parker does an excellent job establishing that she’s a loving daughter with a good relationship to her father that it is a tragedy when it’s cut short. Both from the storytelling perspective and that we don’t have more scenes of them together.
However, the parts that are adapted directly from the game like the frantic chase through Austin, Texas are *chef’s kiss* perfect. The Last of Us was already one of the cinematic games ever created and the show is aware that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Hopefully, they’ll continue with this fidelity and manage to introduce non-gamers to the wonders of Joel and Ellie’s journey. I do hope they keep a certain character alive a little while, longer, though because her relationship with Joel was underdeveloped in the game.
The show is very effective in worldbuilding, and we know that humanity is not thriving under FEDRA (FEMA’s replacement) rule. The situation is so terrible that you understand why a radical paramilitary group like the Fireflies has come into existence. However, in the back of my anarchist mind, I also note that it seems like blowing things up is hardly going to make things better when mankind on its last legs. Is this really the best use of humanity’s time, blowing up each other? The game and show are both aware of this ambiguity.
Bella Ramsey, who was Lyanna Mormont, does an excellent job of establishing how likeable as well as tough little Ellie is. Ellie never knew the previous world and is an example of how a child must survive in a place with no real sense of hope. We also get some good moments establishing why she’s a tough survivor (she was raised by FEDRA as a soldier in an orphanage). My favorite moment is when she cracks Joel’s smuggling code and I wish they’d used Wham’s “Wake Me Up Before it’s Over.” You’ll have to watch the show to get the joke.
There’s a few moments that are unique to the show that are really poignant and show that HBO knows what it’s doing here. In the game, FEDRA is shown to be almost completely evil and possessing no redeeming qualities. Here, it’s shown that their attempts to save humanity are draining its members’ sanity as well as will. One man needs to self-medicate to get through the day while another reassures a child that they’re about to euthanize that everything is going to be fine.
In conclusion, The Last of Us is off to a strong start. It’s probably only going to be a single season given the nature of the content, but I think that’s enough to tell a fantastic story. While I don’t think the game was the greatest video game narrative of all time, it was a good one and well-suited for adaptation. I also think it has the potential to help convince more people that video game writing doesn’t have to be, “rescue the Princess.” Hmmm, a Legend of Zelda adaptation would be good…