HBO’s highly anticipated adaptation of Naughty Dog and Sony’s groundbreaking video game The Last of Us is finally here. The video game was lauded as GOAT since its release in 2013 earning unanimous praise and getting two remasters and, a not so beloved, sequel. With fans hyped since the casting of Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey, as Joel and Ellie, everyone’s been wondering how true it will stick to the source material.
We’re introduced to the world of The Last of Us through the eyes of Sarah (Nico Parker) Joel’s daughter that has a compassionate quality to her. What starts as an idyllic day unravels into chaos and madness as we see the fungal virus take a stranglehold of the citizens of Austin, Texas. Joel and his brother Tommy (Gabriel Luna) arrive in time to stave off an attack from Nana, the elderly infirmed neighbor, leading to a harrowing escape as our protagonists are engulfed in pandemonium. Just as the audience is endeared to Sarah the rug is pulled from under us as she and Joel are heinously gunned down by an overzealous soldier and she passes away in his arms.
This is only the first thirty minutes y’all.
Fast forward twenty years later and Joel is a broken man with no real purpose except as just another cog in the Boston quarantine zone doing menial jobs. As survivors are burning bodies of the dead one of the workers sees the body of a child and hesitates, fumbling over her words and stammering she taps Joel for help. Without hesitation Joel hefts the body and tosses it into the pyre.
The quarantine zone looks like it is lifted from Alfonso Cuaron’s classic Children of Men; it’s unforgiving, drab, dangerous and grimy where the citizens have nowhere else to turn to and are trying to eke out an existence. Here we meet Tess (Anna Torv) Joel’s partner and romantic interest as they unknowingly become intertwined into the Fireflies latest mission, transporting valuable cargo out of the QZ: Ellie. Who, when we meet her, is a fiery and robust ball of energy, a complete 180 of Sarah and someone Joel wants absolutely nothing to do with.
Pascal’s rendition of Joel deserves high praise as you see two different sides of the persona, going from a family man to a shell that’s been grinded down to nub by the world at large. Same with Ramsey. Her Ellie is someone who was born to an uncompassionate and cruel world where she had to mature quickly and who’s defenses are always up. In a way these two characters belong with each other, both sides of the same coin. In the coming weeks it will be a pleasure to see their relationship grow and evolve.
Fans of the video game series will recognize the major story beats matching up the thrilling exodus from Austin almost shot-for-shot. So far, we’ve only seen the infected on-screen with snippets of the full blown Cordyceps but make no mistake these mutants are grim, kind of like the running zombies from Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later but more ferocious and aggressive.
The Last of Us is not so much a story about the cruelty of man and Cordycep created mutants, but more so a tale of survival and finding the eroded humanity that’s calloused over. Joel and Ellie will encounter wondrous and terrifying things on their journey that will irrevocably change them. Prestige television does not get any better than this.
Episode 1 = 5/5 Fireflies