Enduring and surviving the ups and downs of “The Last of Us”

Television adaptation of award-winning video game breaks HBO Max records

Riley Carroll, Arts & Life Editor

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


Voted 2014’s “Game of the Year” at the D.I.C.E. Awards, the SXSW Gaming Awards and the Game Developers Choice Awards, the television adaptation of Naughty Dog’s post-apocalyptic action-adventure game, “The Last of Us,” had big shoes to fill and high expectations to live up to. Thanks to the captivating casting, acting, cinematography and writing, “The Last of Us” is on track to reap as many, if not more, esteemed awards than the beloved video game did.

Casting and acting — 4.75 out of 5 stars

When the cast for “The Last of Us” was revealed, the franchise faced skepticism from the gaming community concerning Bella Ramsey being cast as Ellie Williams. Fans of the game claimed that Ramsey was not as attractive as the video game Ellie. Aside from the problematic fact that the beauty of a fictional 14-year-old girl came into consideration, Ramsey delivered lines as Ellie with such realistic, raw emotion that they made acting look effortless. Their rendition of Ellie’s iconic quotes echoed in many viewers’ minds days after hearing them. Overall, the casting was phenomenal, but Ramsey was truly outstanding. No actor could have portrayed Ellie more accurately.

Of course, Ellie would be nowhere without her stand-in father, Joel, played by Pedro Pascal — another fantastic decision from the casting director. 

As an added touch, the game’s voice actors for Joel and Ellie, Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson, played supporting, yet important, roles in the season.

Additionally, the casting crew of “The Last of Us” deserves credit for accurate representation. A majority of the LGBTQ+ characters in the show are portrayed by LGBTQ+ actors. Likewise, a deaf character, Sam, is played by a deaf actor, Keivonn Woodard. Representation to this degree is not commonly seen in Hollywood.

Cinematography, sets and CGI — 5 out of 5 stars

Overall, the cinematography of “The Last of Us” was stunning. Where dialogue may have lacked, camera work and set design filled in. The most visually engaging sets all used computer-generated imagery to depict jaw-dropping scenes of notable cities reclaimed by nature — and the infected. 

As revealed in the official “The Last of Us” podcast, the substantial popularity surrounding the game since 2013 allowed the showrunners to secure top-tier actors, artists, set designers and animators to be part of their crew which significantly boosted the appeal to the show.

The sole drawback in the cinematography was a brief clip in episode six where viewers can spot members of the camera crew. In a scene where Ellie and Joel cross a snowy bridge, a drone camera provides the audience with a bird’s eye view of the bridge, but accidentally includes film crew members in the bottom left corner of the frame. Fortunately, many people did not notice the mistake at first glance and would have had to rewatch the episode to catch it.

Writing and storyline — 5 out of 5 stars

Every scene in “The Last of Us” has viewers on the edge of their seats, every aspect of the story is engaging, the character development is fulfilling and the writers do an outstanding job of complicating the narrative — particularly the latter. On many occasions, including in the season finale, viewers are left to question the morality of choices made and often, there is no correct answer. The last episode ends with a character being caught in a lie, leaving the audience craving answers and curious about potential consequences, hopefully, to be expanded on in season two.

Showrunners Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann did an excellent job of staying true to the game, only deviating when necessary. Small changes were made for the sake of timeliness or to improve the game, but all changes enhanced the content of the show. Going forward, viewers can only hope Mazin and Druckmann uphold this sentiment.

Season one of “The Last of Us” broke HBO Max streaming records and set the bar extremely high for season two. “The Last of Us had the largest episode 1 to episode 2 viewership gain in HBO history. It was up 22% to 5.7 million viewers Sunday night,” Forbes wrote. Following the immense success of the first season, fans have high expectations for the future. 

HBO Max released episodes of “The Last of Us” at 8 p.m. CST every Sunday from Jan. 15 to March 12, except for Superbowl Sunday’s episode which was released the Friday before. All nine episodes of “The Last of Us” are now streaming on HBO Max. In addition to the show, the official “The Last of Us” companion podcast is available on Spotify. “The Last of Us” game is currently available on PlayStation and the PC version will be available through Steam on March 28.