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The Last of Us Season 1 Review: Make every shot count

The show somehow kept with the serialized nature of a video game, while also giving the viewer stories that would stick with them long after the static of the HBO outro had left their screen.

When it was announced that the long awaited film adaptation of the popular video game “The Last of Us” was shelved back in 2016, I thought “this is probably for the best.” As a fan of the game, I couldn’t see how the filmmakers could replicate 30+ hours of gameplay and story into a two to three hour movie. That had been the pitfall of most, if not all video game to movie adaptations before it. And I believed one the greatest stories ever told in video games deserved a better shot.

But then in March of 2020, during the haze of the pandemic, it was announced that a television adaptation was in the works. At HBO no less! The North Star of scripted event TV. Craig Mazin was then announced as the showrunner. A man coming off of creating probably the greatest mini-series in the last decade in “Chernobyl”. THIS was going to be the adaptation that fans of the game deserved and that people who hadn’t played the game could get attached to.

Fast forward all the way to January 2023. Pedro Pascal was cast as Joel, Bella Ramsey was cast as Ellie (much to the dismay of a bunch of weirdos online), the episodes had been filmed, and we were ready for Sunday primetime viewing from HBO yet again.

Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey as Joel and Ellie via HBO

It was around that time that I began to get nervous about the prospects of this show. What if it truly was impossible to adapt a video game for the screen regardless of if it was for TV or the big screen? But all of the nerves about the adaptation of this IP that myself and millions of fans cared so much about quickly dissipated after the first episode.


It was clear that Mazin and video game creator Neil Druckmann were in lockstep with how they wanted to expand on the ideas that the game didn’t show you. They gave side characters more time to breathe than Druckmann and co. had in the game. They made more elaborate backstories, they dug deeper into the lore of the zombie virus, and they scared the hell out of you with stunning cold opens.

All of the adaptation that veered from the game served to make me care even more about characters that I watched perish time and time again in multiple play throughs on my PlayStation. I thought that certain deaths couldn’t hurt me any more. But seeing it all play out in live action affected me in a way that I wasn’t prepared for.

So much so that when the much anticipated third episode dropped, I found myself sobbing alone on my couch over a love story that honestly didn’t resemble the game at all.

Murray Bartlett and Nick Offerman as Frank and Bill in Episode 3.

The show was somehow keeping with the serialized nature of a video game, while also giving the viewer stories that would stick with them long after the static of the HBO outro had left their screen.


Following the titular third episode, the show changed to stay more true to the game.

While the creators added characters and backstories to the show that weren’t there before, the viewer was taken through the same familiar beats the game had shown players nearly a decade ago.

For people coming to this story for the first time, the beats may have been shocking or underwhelming depending on your amount of cynicism. But I do sympathize with one criticism from the shows’ detractors: the remaining six episodes felt rushed.

In the game you spend multiple hours with the non-playable characters such as Henry and Sam (played brilliantly by Lamar Johnson and newcomer Keivonn Woodard in the show) but here, we needed to get all of the backstory and exposition for these characters in less than a episode. You felt the show actively screaming “WE ARE MOVING ON! WE HAVE PLACES TO BE AND CURES TO MAKE!”

There really was little chance to bond with some of these characters in the way that we did with Bill and Frank in episode three, who more or less had a feature length film to tell their story.

The events and deaths are meant to be heartbreaking and traumatizing for Ellie and the viewers. They are meant to quickly highlight the loss of innocence that Ellie goes through as well as hammer home the hopelessness of this world. Early on in the show when it takes it’s time to breathe, the deaths pack more of a punch. At some point, while impactful to the story and performed well by the actors on the screen the tragedies began to feel like it was rinse and repeat.


While the episodes did rush to conclusions for several side characters, what it did do was give it’s stars time to shine. Bella Ramsey and Pedro Pascal took full advantage of that time.

Ramsey fully embodies the character that Ashley Johnson (who also makes an appearance in the show) brought to life years ago while also adding her own sense of wonder and naivety. The loss of innocence is visible on her face as the show progresses. She excels in filling the shoes of a character that might otherwise have been too big for another actor.

Pascal does some of his best work in this that he has ever done outside of a Beskar helmet.

Mazin and Druckmann chose to write Joel as more of an aging and truly broken man rather than the super human killing machine that he was in the game. Not to say there wasn’t moments of humanity in Troy Baker’s(who also made an appearance in the show) memorable performance as Joel in the games, but Pascal reached something deep in the character that many fans may not have realized was there.

You can bank on Pascal and Ramsey being front and center in the Emmy’s race next year.


The Last of Us Season 1 already holds the title of best video game to screen adaptation. I won’t hear any debate because there isn’t one.

Would I have liked to see Joel and Ellie fight their way through more clickers, bloaters and stalkers? Duh. Who wouldn’t? The moments we did see with the infected in episodes 2 and 5 was some of the most edge of your seat entertainment since the “Hardhome” episode of “Game of Thrones”. I believe it was a mistake to sacrifice a few of those edge of your seat moments that you experience in the game to save time.

The creators wanted to go for a more grounded and realistic look at this world. Turning down the violence you saw in the game and turning up the fallout of whatever violence we did see in the show. I believe it mostly worked thanks in no small part to Bella Ramsey and Pedro Pascal.

Do the ends justify the means? Well for the fans who haven’t played the second game, I guess you’ll have to wait and see.

Grade: A

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