HBO’s The Last of Us was always going to carry the expectations of an entire genre on its back. The show, an adaptation of a popular video game, has been seen as the measuring stick for video game to TV adaptations, and in that respect, it delivers what is probably the best one we’ve seen so far. It’s just that the show goes even further than that, delivering also a really good show, even for people who have no knowledge of the game.
The last part was always the hardest one. Joel and Ellie’s story is very familiar to fans of the franchise, but in order for the TV show to work, it also had to build up in a way that made sense for audiences unfamiliar with them. And in order to do so, the show had to build both Joel and Ellie separately, so when the time came for them to become, well, Joel and Ellie, there would be no need to know the game to feel for them.
If HBO’s The Last of Us succeeds, and it does, it’s not just because it has a very good story to adapt, but because it made the right casting choices to adapt it. Pedro Pascal is no revelation at this point, and no one will be shocked to learn he can play the parental figure who, not so deep down, isn’t as hardened as he pretends to be. But that doesn’t make Pascal any less good at playing a character who is trying really, really hard not to give into his best instincts. It’s a particularly tricky balance because in order for the emotions to make sense, the harsh parts have to be played as a front. Pascal nails that, and he does it while being Joel, not Djin Djarin, or any other of his previous characters.
Bella Ramsey also excels, and they do so in a way that is harder to quantify than Pascal’s, but easier to spot. They are not a complement to Pascal’s amazing work, instead, they are just a regular girl, Ellie, who is many things and who still doesn’t even know what half of those are. But kids grow up fast in the middle of an apocalypse, and Ramsey manages to embody both the parts of Ellie that feel too old for her age and the parts that feel like a regular teenager.
It’s the two of them that make the show work — just as it should be. The story was always good, but we could have just watched a walkthrough of the video game if the story was all that interested us. Instead, we needed the humanity, the fear and even the reminder that, in the darkest of times, hope can sometimes be found in the most unexpected places. And though it’s hard to say HBO’s The Last of Us is adding anything new to a genre that has already given us 57 seasons of The Walking Dead and spinoffs, that doesn’t make this story any less interesting, or worth telling.
Ultimately, we don’t only watch TV if it’s different, we watch TV to feel things — good or bad. And one thing HBO’s The Last of Us does really, really well, is make you feel. And yes, there will be some fear and definitely pain in this journey, but there will also be a great deal of love, and that makes it all worth it, doesn’t it?