How “The Last of Us” went from acclaimed video game to hit show


Used with permission from HBO

Premiering Jan. 15 on HBO, “The Last of Us” took an already beloved game and turned it into a nine episode TV series.

Ben Schneider, Section Editor of Style and Culture

Despite the history of unsuccessful live-action video game adaptations, writers Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin took a shot at adapting the acclaimed video game “The Last of Us” for TV.

When crafting a state-of-the-art videogame so many things can go wrong. The gameplay can be boring and repetitive. Graphics that, at the time, were gorgeous can become dated soon after. All the writers, game designers, and voice actors need to be completely in sync to make something truly worth experiencing.

With all that said, in the summer of 2013, the stars aligned. “The Last of Us” was released as a first party exclusive on the PlayStation 3. It immediately took the world by storm, not for its gameplay or graphics (which were still great), but for the story.

When an infection breaks out across the globe turning people into zombie-esque creatures, a man named Joel loses his young daughter.

Flash forward twenty years, Joel is a smuggler in Boston and stumbles across a 14-year old girl named Ellie who is immune to this gruesome infection.

A rebel faction known as “The Fireflies” tell Joel she is the key to creating a vaccine, and offer him supplies to get Ellie to doctors out west. He takes up their offer.

At first he pushes her away, referring to her as “cargo,” still so deeply saddened and broken by his daughter’s death. Though, as they make their way across the country, slowly, they are able to connect and for Joel, it starts to restore his faith in humanity.

Ellie is this beacon of hope in such a hopeless world. Both for the world as a whole, and for Joel. As a father, he has lost what matters most to him. It seems Ellie is the rightful one to fill that void, but in a lot of ways it’s much deeper than simply a father-daughter relationship.

This is where “The Last of Us” is unique. Instead of the objective being to merely “beat the game,” it becomes “protect Ellie.” That is experienced through gameplay and is unlike many stories of its kind.

Now to take all of this, a beloved franchise with millions of fans, and turn it into a T.V. show is a daring feat, especially considering how unsuccessful adaptations of video games generally are.

However, the transition was smooth. The show does differ in a lot of ways, but remains fully accurate in its portrayal of the characters and the core premise.

Every memorable moment from the game is now shown in an impossibly realized way. It’s one thing to create a virtual apocalyptic world, but to translate that to real life is really cool. Joel and Ellie drive through abandoned cities with fallen skyscrapers and desolate highways with grass and weeds sprouting out from everywhere. It’s a small touch and makes all the difference.

The violence of “The Last of Us” felt a lot more impactful in the show. With how common violence already is in video games, killing someone can feel more like a game mechanic and less of a traumatic, emotional moment as it is depicted in the show.

They don’t push away this conversation of violence and multiple times characters will try and bring up if the monsters they are killing are still in some part human.

What really keeps bringing people back are Joel and Ellie. At first they seem like a burden to one another.

Joel wants to find his brother Tommy and feels held back by Ellie. Ellie wants to stay in Boston. But as they go on, they realize how much they need each other.

Premiering Jan. 15 on HBO, “The Last of Us” took an already beloved game and turned it into a nine episode TV series.
Premiering Jan. 15 on HBO, “The Last of Us” took an already beloved game and turned it into a nine episode TV series. (HBO)

For Ellie, everyone who she has ever cared about is no longer in her life besides Joel. In a lot of ways, Joel has lost his ability to understand this. Though deep down we know Joel cares about Ellie, not through dialogue or exposition, but through the fact that Joel will do anything to keep Ellie safe.

It is really entertaining to watch these actors Pedro Pascal (Joel) and Bella Ramsey (Ellie) play up these characters. Joel being this brooding old guy and Ellie being sassy and annoying all the time. This doesn’t define either characters at all, but in the downtime between all the violence and horror, their more quiet, personal moments stand out and mean that much more.

“The Last of Us” is a show that, while violent, gruesome, and horrific, can tell a story not many forms of media can. Even being an adaptation of a beloved game, it takes everything players loved about the game and captures it in a live-action setting.