I consider The Last of Us series (parts I and II) to be my favorite video game series of all time. And so I watched like a hawk for any deviations from the game story when I watched HBO’s television series The last of us.
When Joel and Tess started shooting the Infected (zombie-like characters) in a museum, I kept thinking they should go for headshots. Don’t they know that a shot to the head was the And when we first met Joel (played by Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (played by Bella Ramsey), the video game was so ingrained in my mind that I felt like she was there looked nothing like the “real” Joel and Ellie I knew from the first game of 2013.
I might have moved in the direction of the criticism that this didn’t do the video game justice. Why didn’t they show the scene where Joel and fellow smuggler Tess (Anna Torv) put on gas masks to protect themselves from virus traces? Why didn’t they show the fight where they hunt down Robert the scam smuggler?
But I remembered that the show a amendment. Now that I’ve watched all the episodes as a reviewer, I’m calming down. The show is not a rerun of the game and aims to reach a wider audience with the richly detailed world and gripping storytelling of the Naughty Dog’s video game. This isn’t just another version of The Walking Dead, or Resident Evil, or Night of the Living Dead.
The TV show isn’t about the tactics you use to save yourself ammo in a video game by going for the quick kill with a headshot. The violence is meant to convey the cruelty of the post-pandemic world. It shows how the world has become so deadly that survival is the only goal in everyday life. It’s not about depicting all the gunfights in the video game or achieving a higher goal. It’s to show how relationships and characters change in an effort to live another day in the world.
The Last of Us co-creator Neil Druckmann worked as showrunner on the HBO project to make sure it didn’t turn into another bad game-to-movie adaptation. He said in an interview with the New York Times, “The main thing was to keep the soul of it, what it’s about: these relationships.” He worked on it with fellow showrunner Craig Mazin, who helped create it Chernobylanother excellent HBO show.
Indeed, this show is about the slow development of a relationship between Joel, a broken man who lost his daughter 20 years earlier when the pandemic started, and Ellie, a 14-year-old orphan who talks nonsense and holds the key to finding a cure for the virus. They are forced together even though they are in spite of each other, and only their ability to survive the chaos so well keeps them together. They survive so much, and yet fate keeps throwing terrors and heartbreak at them again and again. It’s like a test of how much they can handle.
Though the game debuted in a fictional world in 2013, that life has become eerily familiar in the post-COVID reality. Rooted in the true Cordyceps, a parasitic fungus makes its way into the brains of people bitten by carriers. It turns them into cannibalistic zombies and they start biting others.
Something similar really happens with ants, where they are controlled by something that treats them like some kind of hive mind. The beginning of the TV show adds this context (which was not present in the game) for how an incurable virus is spreading through the human population despite efforts to contain it with fascist military force. Adding context that the video game lacked is actually a reason for the show’s existence, because (as with any good transmedia) it creates a new “point of contact” for fans to connect with an intellectual property where they love and experience it from a different perspective. display.
Many gamers who have played the series will still be left with the question: why make a TV series? Why should I watch it? One wonders if Hollywood, which has looted every single story in comic books, is so bankrupt that it now has to loot video game stories. Gamers are a more critical audience. They don’t accept disrespect for their source material. Just look at the response the Halo series received on Paramount+. But I think gamers should give this show a fair shake.
For HBO, there is a different audience. Those unfamiliar with the franchise but wanting to understand the world of it are key to expanding its reach, much like the audience of fans of Riot Games’ Arcane show on Netflix, which showcases the League of Legends game. expanding gaming universe. I’m not a League of Legends player, but Arcane was an enthralling experience for me.
With our pandemic we know all too well that life imitates games, and now with this TV show we see movies imitating games. But the beauty of The Last of Us on HBO is that in episode three it becomes clear that this is not a copy of the game. It goes beyond what’s possible in the games by shifting the point of view from Joel and Ellie to other characters who are basically side quests in the game. The challenge is exactly like a video game sequel, where you want to give players what they want and give them something new at the same time.
Horror and chaos
The first episode gave me an idea of what another writer called the “upside-down uncanny valley”. It closely followed the events at the beginning of the game, but it was unnerving to see Sarah, Joel’s daughter, look nothing like she did in the video game. And Bella Ramsey is nothing like Ellie. In fact, she rightfully reminds us of the Lady Lyanna character in Games of Thrones.
Just like in the game, the HBO show has a lot of horror, mayhem and fear.
At the beginning, we see the pandemic break out in a terrifying fashion, shown through the eyes of Sarah (another departure from the game where the focus quickly shifts to Joel). We see a pandemonium in the city of Austin and the military closes a ring to contain the infected people. Joel, his brother Tommy and Sarah try to escape, but are met with doom in the form of a soldier who follows orders to kill those who try to escape.
The story shifts to 20 years later and Joel is the shell of a human. He is emotionally hardened and is basically like a zombie. He has joined forces with smuggler Tess to smuggle goods, drugs and more in and out of the walled city of Boston, one of humanity’s last outposts and the ruling Fedra faction. There is unrest as the Fireflies’ guerrillas plant bombs and ambush soldiers.
In the midst of this chaos, Marlene, the leader of the local Fireflies, realizes that Ellie was bitten by an Infected and is not infected with the Cordyceps virus. If she’s immune, she can produce a cure. And only if she was smuggled into the Fireflies labs. Joel wants nothing to do with smuggling the girl, but his partner Tess convinces him to come along for a brief transfer. When things go wrong, Joel and Ellie are left alone.
Still, Tess means something to Joel as a partner in crime. She tells him that if he can just give this girl a chance to heal the world, it will make up for the bad things they’ve done. From a narrative point of view, Tess’s main goal is to give Joel a sense of obligation to Ellie. He can’t just abandon Ellie like his common sense tells him to do when the going gets tough. It’s not clear if that sense of duty, or an instinct to protect a young girl about to be shot by a soldier, or an opportunity to make money from human smuggling is what motivates Joel to move on. Ellie.
It’s a kind of ugly love, appropriate in a savage world, where selfishness and selflessness coexist at every moment. Is it indeed foolish to try to save your friend who is eaten by a zombie, or is there a sense of joy that you are faster than a person who is about to be eaten?
The terrifying thing about The Last of Us is that in this world it is so easy to lose someone you love. Just when everything seems to be going so well, the horrors of the world bring down a beloved character. It’s a remarkable story that Joel and Ellie are able to create a wonderful relationship between a surrogate father and daughter in a world so cruel and where relationships are so fragile that they can break so easily. What will Joel go to to protect the child? And vice versa?
There is nothing romantic about this story, as Washington Post reviewer Gene Park noted. Maybe there are tender moments in the memory of how life used to be, but reality always comes back. The tragedy of being alone in a world where it’s a struggle to stay together sinks in. There are twists and turns in the plot, and the game’s story is mostly preserved in the show’s plot. But from that emerges a kind of ethics, or a way of living in a world that makes life so difficult. Save who you can save.
The show is tightly written, as is the much longer game. The idea of ”bookends” is used more than once, including in a side quest that begins with a piano version of a Linda Ronstadt song and then ends with Ronstadt singing the recorded version.
It’s poetic echoes like this, and the bookend nature of the beginning and end of The Last of Us, that make me think this show, like the game, could very well be a work of storytellers. I look forward to seeing the rest of this nine part drama. I admire what the creators are trying to do, and am thrilled with the cultural reach of gaming as it penetrates the zeitgeist of the world with the very best it has to offer.
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