Why You Should Press Play on Season One of “The Last of Us”
By Joseph D’Andrea
Immediately after its series premiere on January 15, the popularity of HBO’s “The Last of Us” was contagious. But unlike some characters in the TV-MA-rated show, viewers weren’t anxious for a cure anytime soon.
Based on the video game of the same name, “The Last of Us” stars Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey as lead protagonists Joel and Ellie as they navigate their way through a post-apocalyptic world full of not only “infected,” but individuals and groups—big and small—trying to survive, many of whom are unafraid to use lethal force. Joel has become hardened from the tragedy he’s endured, and he’s on a mission to protect 14-year-old Ellie, the only character we’ve met thus far who’s immune to the pandemic-inducing infection that’s caused society to collapse.
Even for someone as extremely open-minded as me when it comes to film, television and music, my first thought when hearing about the show was: oh, a zombie show? I don’t have anything against media about the undead, but my logic was that of: what else can be done with a concept revolving around infected people that audiences haven’t seen a thousand times over already?
But, by request of my friends who had played the game and enjoyed the first few episodes that were released at the time, I was turned onto the show. I took a chance and came out the other side enjoying the season as a whole.
Fans were quick to deem “The Last of Us” as being the gold standard of video game adaptations after only the first two episodes. But don’t let the low bar set by the multitude of shows and movies that have failed their video game source material convince you of the fact that the show is only well-received because of that. Make no mistake, “The Last of Us” has a lot of substance.
What the show does best is that it doesn’t focus much on the infected themselves. Of course, they are the reason for the chaos that has unfolded over nearly two decades, but they rarely feel as though they’re the most pressing “villains” in each episode. Instead, we’re typically on our toes due to the possibility of another armed survivor being around the corner as opposed to a blood-thirtsy creature (or in the case of episode eight, a bit of both).
The story is more so one of what people are capable of and what they may resort to in desperate times. Selfishness, community, attachment and perseverance: it’s because of these main themes that the show feels infinitely more like a western than a horror series (most evident in episode four), and that works to its benefit, as it doesn’t have to rely on scares.
Instead, its strengths lie in the emotion of the story, which allows the dramatic scenes to never feel out of place since they’re where the meat of the story lies. The show focuses on intimate moments between characters (look to the opening of the season finale), and though the zombie-like element may technically be considered the “draw” of the show, the infected always feel like a backdrop to the human drama at hand.
In regard to the two main characters, there’s more to them than simply being survivors. Joel often commits questionable acts, with the season finale depicting the strongest case for our questioning of how much we should sympathize with him. But for the times when we may feel uncomfortable taking Joel’s side, Ellie always seems to be there to remind us of a reason to remain invested in the story since she’s facing struggles of both survival and discovering who she is as a person at the same time (remember, she’s still teen-aged).
Season one of “The Last of Us” is currently streaming on HBO Max, and the show has already been renewed for a second season.