HBO’s The Last of Us Episode 1 Spoiler Free Review

Series Premiere: January 15, 2023
Starring: Pedro Pascal, Bella Ramsey
Episodes Commissioned: 9
Studio: HBO

Some History...

The Video Game adaptation curse may officially be over. As we're all aware, there's never been a perfect game-to-movie translation that's managed to encapsulate the exact experience the interactive medium would deliver. Santa Monica development team Naughty Dog, have been the leading example in an experiment to turn the art of creating video games into blockbuster AAA entertainment, akin to Hollywood feature films. Uncharted was the team's first example, dabbling in scripted motion capture come to life with realistic textures, graphics and animation, setting the standard unprecedentedly high for many studios that would attempt to follow suit.

After three iterations of Nathan Drake's fumbling escapades through the unknown, the studio were set to take an emphatic turn, and develop one of the most synonymous franchises in gaming history. Rumoured heavily for months there-in, The Last of Us was finally revealed at the Spike TV Video Game Awards in 2011, confirming the studio's intent to focus their outlook on R-rated, cinematic action-adventure games - a juxtapose to the studio's notoriety being attached with the family friendly Crash Bandicoot franchise. Upon its initial release in July 2013 for the PlayStation 3, it was heralded and held in the highest of regard, with reviews raving for its original storytelling, emotional narrative, relatable characters and familiar yet fresh gameplay that the studio had utilised in the aforementioned Uncharted 2: Among Thieves in-game engine.

Not since The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was a game held to the highest of esteem as 2013's The Last of Us. It broke countless records, claiming twenty Game of the Year titles from a multitude of outlets. Actors Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson, both whom portrayed main protagonists Joel and Ellie respectively, were awarded BAFTA's for best performance. The Last of Us' narrative and delivery rendered it a masterpiece, one that fans argued an on-screen adaptation being void. Personally, I would think that's fear of the old curse playing on fan's anxieties - I mean rightfully so. But I can tell you today, after viewing the first episode of HBO's The Last of Us, you can rest easy knowing its in safe hands with Co-Creator Neil Druckmann as Executive Producer, alongside Showrunner Craig Mazin, widely known for Hit TV show Chernobyl, overseeing its creative process.

Commentary & Thoughts...

Loosely adapted would be a remarkable oversight, while re-enactment would be overzealous. HBO’s The Last of Us takes the tale gamers know and love, by breathing new life into the survival-horror. Paying homage to the original, Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey both are outstanding here as Joel and Ellie. There were moments I was lost in the fact that these actors were not the original pair portraying their digitised counterpart. The first episode initiates a backstory to the events that tie-in an emphasised pandemic scenario that could render a specie extinct. It captures a moment of reality that life as we know it could change for the worse at any moment, without any doing of our own. It takes the concept of fear, and plants it in our mind from the opening moments before we begin to see a horrific turn of events unfold.

The sensational acting all involved in the first episode, strike a beautifully haunting urgency of hope. The Lone-Star state of Texas was about to have its normalcy stripped away. Intimate moments that prelude events gamers would have not seen in the original material are an excellent apéritif to what is expected to eventuate and become the main plot of the entire season. Having seen children in class, teachers giving them homework with a due date of “tomorrow”, but at the back of my mind knowing that there may be no tomorrow was incredibly heart breaking. The suspense that builds around an anticipated apocalypse is eerily frightful, even for someone that has already played through the game.

With real-life elements imposed in this depiction comes a heightened sense of relatability toward each character, especially victims that fall in the early onset. Joel’s inconsiderate character and numbness is fantastically translated, with Pascal portraying a traumatised father just trying to make ends meet while pulling strings in hopes of finding his estranged brother Tommy. A militia-led lifestyle with gang warfare leading two factions in town, with Joel and his partner Tess (Anna Torv) showing no allegiance to any. The first episode alone gives its entire audience, not just the unacquainted a reason to experience what The Last of Us’ universe would eventually become with lines directly quoted, and scenes directly taken from the game.

We get a small dose of Ellie’s infectious rebellion toward everyone around her, with Ramsey masterfully making the character her own. The foul mouthed teen-turned-cartel immediately gels with her Game of Thrones cohort, mere moments of meeting each other’s character. It’s like seeing old friends for the first time, while winding the clock back to the beginning of their respective relationship. The father-daughter dynamic isn’t there yet, we’re still a way’s away from that, but The Last of Us’ small-screen presentation has come out the gate strong. The adaptation is showing great promise to all avid fans, casual gamers or viewers unfamiliar with the source material. An astounding start to unmissable TV for 2023.

Noteworthy Mentions...

  • Without spoiling, get the tissues ready. It’s just as much of a rollercoaster ride as the video game. Pedro Pascal and Nico Parker will tear your heart out as Joel and Sarah.

  • Comical moments that remind you this is an everyday life situation, marking a relatable aura toward specific scenarios that are ultimately stripped away, turning humanity on its head. Remember COVID-19?

  • Gustavo Santaolalla’s spin-tingling overture leads in the series as it should, bridging that gap to gamers ultimately promising that this series will do not only those involved justice, but the same for fans worldwide.

  • While it pays great homage to the game, it takes the original narrative and makes it their own. It’s not Pedro Pascal as Troy Baker as Joel. However, Merle Dandridge reprising her role as Marlene from the video game to the TV series is an absolutely phenomenal nod to both the game and her performance.

The Last of Us is an upcoming American post-apocalyptic drama television series created by Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann for HBO. Based on the 2013 video game of the same name developed by Naughty Dog, the series will follow Joel (Pedro Pascal), a smuggler tasked with escorting the teenage Ellie (Bella Ramsey) across a post-apocalyptic United States. It will feature Gabriel Luna as Joel's younger brother Tommy, Merle Dandridge as resistance leader Marlene, and Anna Torv as Joel's smuggler partner Tess.

Summary: Wikipedia

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