There have been a handful of video games that evoke such a strong reaction from the player that they become a cinematic experience. Back in 2013, The Last of Us for the PlayStation 3 was one of those games. With an emotionally devastating story and characters that were so well-rounded they almost felt real, this game stayed in the hearts and minds of gamers long after they finished it. A decade later, HBO has given fans a television adaptation of this classic game and I’m proud to report it might just be one of the best video game adaptations I’ve ever seen.
There are many fears that fans have whenever they hear the phrase “video game adaptation”. Some fear the source material won’t be utilized enough and others fear it will be too close to the original version. What this premiere episode did was the perfect balance of both aspects. The beginning of the episode provided a brief explanation of the cause of the outbreak and how volatile it could become. It then went into a day in the life of Sarah (Nico Parker) and Joel (Pedro Pascal) while slowly teasing the impending doom of what fans of the game knew was coming. The decision to not just start the episode but the story in the same spot where the game began allowed the audience to become more invested in the character of Sarah and the relationship she had with her father.
The biggest surprise for me was how amazing Pedro Pascal was as Joel. I was already sold by his appearance in all the marketing materials, but his accent and mannerisms were so perfectly executed. He has proven himself to be a versatile actor and, even though we’ve only seen him in one episode so far, I have very high hopes for his performance in the remainder of this season.
Another stellar performance was from Bella Ramsey, who perfectly captured the essence of Ellie and the fire and humor of the character that fans grew to love over the course of the game. The combination of these two actors together on screen is exactly what will make this series prosper as it continues. It was also such a fun surprise that the voice actress who played Marlene in the game, Merle Dandridge, is also playing her in the show!
The visuals were another incredibly surprising aspect of the episode. Even though we’ve all come to expect magic from HBO’s television shows, the detail in some of the heavier action sequences (which were almost perfectly recreated from the game) was much higher quality than the trailers led on.
The two scenes that stuck out to me visually were the city escape sequence in which the apocalypse is actively beginning and a plane crashing down into the streets of the small town and the last shot of the episode in which we see a decimated Boston with a skyscraper half collapsed onto another building. These were some truly cinematic moments that properly used CGI to enhance the audiences’ understanding of just how horrific this time was.
The Last of Us could be something that most video game adaptations fail to be—genuinely entertaining. If you’ve played the game and know the story by heart, this episode probably made you downright excited for what’s to come. If you’ve never played the game but you love zombies and apocalyptic stories, you’re probably just as excited but have no idea what emotional rollercoaster you’re getting onto. I’m aware this is only the first episode, and this could all come crumbling down as we continue, but there’s a part of me that’s saying this show is the one that will break the curse of bad video game adaptations.
Images courtesy of HBO
The Last of Us 1x01 - 9/10