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  • Marielle Bokor

The Last Of Us Really is That Good

It’d have been hard to escape hearing about HBO’s adaptation of Naughty Dog’s acclaimed 2013 video game, The Last of Us. Not only was there a lot of hype on the front end of the show’s debut a few weeks back, but it’s since drawn millions upon millions of viewers and in its third week is even stronger than ever.

This is no small feat, as video games haven’t really felt well-represented in other media, with so many TV shows and movies really failing hard to do the source material justice. What we’ve seen from HBO and Neil Druckmann, Naughty Dog’s VP as well as The Last of Us’ creative director and co-writer, though, is something else – something that many are saying may just be the dawn of a new era in television where video game shows and movies enjoy the same kind of popularity as Marvel movies have for the last decade or so.

After having the chance to sit down and take in the first three episodes – I wholeheartedly agree. Tomb Raider was fun for a summer blockbuster, Halo just…didn’t work at all, but The Last of Us is a television masterpiece. It’s already challenging to adapt a piece of work from its original medium – we’ve long been singing the “the book is better” tune for adaptations of novels. It’s especially hard to adapt video games, though, for the same reason that video games can be so impactful as art – you’re not a passive viewer. Games take us into the world and into the perspective of the characters directly. With a narrative as emotionally charged as The Last of Us, it was hard to imagine the TV show managing to reach that level of impact.

From the getgo, and certainly thanks to Druckmann’s guidance as the show’s writer and executive producer, The Last of Us sticks very close to the game, down to set dressings and even the characters’ dialogue. It’s a treat to see a Hollywood version of the already beautiful environments from The Last of Us, and fun as someone who’s played and very much enjoyed the game, to be able to follow along from level to level as scenes progress in the first two episodes. There are deviations, of course, to develop characters more and help you grow more attached to characters, but they work beautifully, and don’t conflict with the world and story of the game.

Great performances by the show’s cast elevate a great story and great adaptation even more. I especially enjoyed Nico Parker as Joel’s daughter Sarah, and her performance was so electric that I wished we’d have been able to see more of her throughout the series. She really brought Sarah to life in a way that spoke to the original Sarah in the game and brought something new and exciting to it, with a not too over the top sass and maturity that really rounded her out. Meanwhile, Pedro Pascal is a great pick for Joel, with enough gruffness and empathy to be convincing.

Character development has been key for this series, not only in overcoming the jump from game to TV, but in really setting it apart. Nowhere is this clearer than in the third episode of the series.

(There be spoilers ahead if you have not seen Season One, Episode Three - please stop reading here if you have not gotten that far!)

The original Last of Us only gave us a small glimpse into Bill and Frank’s world. The TV show took a deep dive, not only expanding on who they were, but producing one of the most incredibly touching, romantic, tragic and beautiful love stories I’ve seen since Pixar’s Up. Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett give nomination worthy performances of a life that’s suddenly changed by another person, and of a life where hope is possible even in the darkest of times. And though we were left bawling on the sofa in the end, the sanctity of that final day brought happy tears, too. Even if you had never touched a controller or read anything at all about The Last of Us, it’s a show whose merits would be undeniable simply for the level of storytelling.

Rarely do things live up to the hype, and rarely do I praise something so early out of the gates, but The Last of Us is a show that transcends, and challenges, and in the end, is a must-see. I know it’s “destination” streaming for me, and I imagine, if you haven’t already gotten hooked, these three episodes will convince you that it may be time for Marvel to move over and the rich narratives of our favorite games to be explored.

The Last of Us streams on Sundays on HBOMax. Find out more or stream it here.



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