Adapting such a beloved game series as The Last of Us is something that comes with plenty of both potential risks and rewards. If you've played the games, you'll know the story is something that would work well as a series, a film being far too brief a space to tell this story the way it deserves. Having played and loved both games, HBO is the perfect choice of a network for the show to find a home with how they seem to value quality over quantity.

Not only that but those close to bringing the games to fruition have played a major part in making this series actually happen. Neil Druckmann of Naughty Dog (one of the production companies in play here) and a co-creator of the original game teams with Craig Mazin, best known for creating the critically acclaimed Chernobyl, to deliver a show that kickstarts 2023 in television off in spectacular fashion.
Where to start with such an expansive show then? What's so noticeable straight off the bat is the attention to detail in bringing the post-apocalyptic world to life and just how some moments and locations in the game make such welcome appearances along the way. The production design is exquisite, downtown Boston recreated in such haunting fashion as the main arc of the series gets underway. There's a moment in a museum that just made me think I should have had the controller in hand trying to navigate a way out for Joel and Ellie avoiding any infected. It was tense playing the game but it's just as tense watching this time around, even with knowing what happens at various points in the narrative.

That may lead people to question what exactly is the point in making a series that creates moments from the game in such great detail. However, my answer to that would not only be that not everyone has played the game but when it does it this well why wouldn't they, especially as there are welcome changes made here and there. Too many times have we seen half-arsed adaptations of video games but that isn't the case here. Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann have written a series that possesses such varying levels of emotion it's impossible not to get swept up in it all. The first episode alone is enough to showcase just how emotional this journey will be, the harrowing opening to the game expanded upon and setting Joel's journey in motion quite brilliantly.
Ellie's introduction soon follows and it should straight away put any doubts aside that Bella Ramsey isn't up to playing the role, the way they nail the characteristics of such a popular character actually quite scary. From the moment they meet right up until the season's final moments, the dynamic between Joel and Ellie is key to the show's success and Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey are the perfect choices for their characters. Watching them deal with loss in their own respective ways makes for fascinating viewing while they share such an empathic dynamic together throughout. Whether it's a brief moment to have a laugh, take in their surroundings or share pain while on their journey, Pascal and Ramsey excel in bringing such compassion to these characters, some iconic exchanges from the game delivered so perfectly. 

Mazin and Druckmann allow more time to flesh out some of the supporting characters that Joel and Ellie come across in the show. There's characters that fans of the game will be so keen to see here and one of them is sure to be Nick Offerman's Bill. In a surprise move that takes the action away from Joel and Ellie, the third episode is dedicated to Bill and his partner, Frank (played by Murray Bartlett). It's a bold move but it is one that ultimately pays off as Mazin and Druckmann deliver a beautifully intimate story of love and tragedy in equal measure that takes time to showcase just how deeply affected by the outbreak others have been. Other familiar characters we see are Henry and Sam, two brothers played by Lamar Johnson and Keivonn Woodard in what turns out to be one of the most heartbreaking episodes of the series. There's also new characters created for the series that make their mark, Melanie Lynskey's Kathleen being the one who stands out the most as she leads a revolutionary movement in Kansas City.
The encounters that Joel and Ellie have with these and many more are varying in their degree of danger, some more dangerous than the infected at that, and add further tension to proceedings. There's a moment in the fifth episode involving Joel, Ellie, Henry, Sam and Kathleen that just highlights the sheer scale of the show as all hell (literally) breaks loose in a small settlement. It puts the infected front and centre; Clickers and even a Bloater fucking shit up in a chaotic sequence that just reminds the audience it isn't just what's left of humanity to worry about.
Visually, The Last of Us is one of best looking shows we've had in a while, gorgeous cinematography accompanying them on their journey and impressive practical effects on the Clickers in particular just emphasising the sheer amount of work that went into the show to make it a worthwhile project. Gustavo Santaolalla's score too is something that just adds another layer to the show as a whole, quaint guitar strings accompanying more emotional moments while it isn't afraif to get loud when required. It's just another aspect that makes you feel as if you've been dropped straight into the game yourself.

The Last of Us might just be the best video game adaptation we've ever had, the creative team behind it and the cast bringing these characters to life, delivering something truly special in the process. It deals with loss and searching for a new family with such delicacy all while evading the threats out in the new world, humans being worse than the infected at times. Bring on another season.

Verdict: ★★★★★


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