THE LAST OF US on HBO Max is the amazing adaptation of the insanely popular video game. The cast is great with Bella Ramsey being spot-on as Ellie. Overall, it’s probably the best video game adaptation ever. Read our full The Last of Us season 1 review here!
THE LAST OF US is the new HBO Max series that is set to take over the world. There can be no doubt that this is the next big thing. No, huge thing for HBO. Even the intro is made by the same artists as Game of Thrones and Westworld, which have been the other huge hits for HBO in recent years. And it shows that familiar forces are at play – though it is still unique.
Despite a few changes to the story – don’t worry, it’s nothing wild in the grand scheme of things – this is the best video game adaptation ever. In tone of voice, cast, and overall look and feel. It just works.
In classic HBO style, you’ll be getting one episode per week, but the first is almost feature film length. So is episode 3, which is one of the best in the season. Seriously, episode 3 of The Last of Us season 1 is pure magic. Well, that and heartbreak, but isn’t that always the case with these post-apocalyptic stories?
Continue reading our season 1 review of The Last of Us below. Find the first (of nine) episodes on HBO Max from January 15, 2023.
The best video game adaptation ever? Absolutely!
The Last of Us is of course based on the critically acclaimed video game of the same title. Season 1 covers Part 1, and I cannot imagine we won’t be getting a season adapting The Last of Us Part II as well. The video game takes place in the aftermath of an infection – not unlike the kind we see in The Walking Dead – and not many people remain.
Instead of “Walkers” (to stay with The Walking Dead comparison), we have the “Infected”. This refers to the fact that it’s a mutated fungus that becomes the end of (most of) us. This mutation is a result of climate change. And no, you don’t have to know the game to enjoy this adaptation. It helps in some ways, but everything is explained perfectly when the series begins.
Speaking of beginnings, the HBO series begins in 2003 on the day when the infection takes hold. Fast. In the video game, it begins in 2013. The time jump to when things really happen is still 20 years though. This means the series plays out in 2023. As in our present, which is pretty damn eerie. The video game is in the future (the year 2033) which somehow feels safer.
If you’re familiar with the video game, you’ll probably also enjoy the fact that the same composer has been brought on for the series’ soundtrack. His name is Gustavo Santaolalla and the score is amazing.
The world after the end of modern civilization
As with any story that plays out after the collapse of modern civilization, you need to fear other people remaining as much as the infected. In The Last of Us, we follow Joel, a hardened survivor, who is also the character episode 1 focuses on. He is hired (very reluctantly) to smuggle the 14-year-old girl, Ellie, out of a brutal and oppressive quarantine zone in Boston.
Instead of this smuggling mission being a relatively easy job, it becomes a long journey, where they need to trek halfway across the U.S. Constantly depending on each other – and sometimes strangers – for their continued survival.
Obviously, the concept itself isn’t new; Surviving in a post-apocalyptic world where infected people are always lurking and those who survived are fighting for what’s left. But still, The Last of Us just manages to be better than many of the others that have come before.
To me, The Last of Us is better than when The Walking Dead was at its very best. It’s simply in another league altogether, and this is from someone who loved (for the most part) The Walking Dead (in the early days).
The cast delivers the magic
Apart from having amazing forces behind the camera to bring this video game to life, the cast of The Last of Us is paramount to making it all work. In that capacity, we’re lucky to have Pedro Pascal (The Mandalorian, Game of Thrones) as Joel and Bella Ramsey (HBO’s His Dark Materials and Game of Thrones) starring as Ellie.
Especially Bella Ramsey is perfect as Ellie. When looking at her, she is virtually channeling Ashley Johnson at times. Ashley Johnson is the actor Ellie was played by in the video game. And yes, she is also in an episode of this series.
Pedro Pascal is perhaps a less obvious choice, but aside from him not being able to grow that truly full beard, he does make for a very good Joel. Most importantly, the chemistry between Joel and Ellie as portrayed by Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey is spot-on!
So many amazing guest stars
Also part of the cast is a whole slew of amazing actors. From Gabriel Luna (True Detective) as Joel’s younger brother, Tommy, to Merle Dandridge (The Last of Us video games, The Flight Attendant) as the Firefly resistance leader Marlene. Another key character, Tess, a smuggler and partner of Joel’s, is played by Anna Torv (Mindhunter).
Episode 1 focuses on Sarah, Joel’s 14-year-old daughter, who is portrayed wonderfully by Nico Parker (The Third Day). Murray Bartlett (The White Lotus) and Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation) guest star as Frank and Bill. They are two post-pandemic survivalists living in their own isolated town. Episode 3 is all about them and it is amazing!
In another great guest starring capacity, we see Graham Greene as Marlon and Elaine Miles as Florence, a married couple surviving alone in the wilderness of post-apocalyptic Wyoming. Also, Lamar Johnson guest stars as Henry and Keivonn Woodard as Sam, brothers in Kansas City hiding from a revolutionary movement seeking vengeance.
That same revolutionary movement is led by Kathleen, who is portrayed by the ever-brilliant Melanie Lynskey. And Storm Reid (Euphoria, The Invisible Man) plays Riley, an orphan in Boston, who plays a key part in Ellie’s life before she meets Joel.
Get ready to love The Last of Us on HBO
The Last of Us series is written and executive produced by Craig Mazin (HBO’s Chernobyl) and Neil Druckmann (writer of The Last of Us video game franchise). Carolyn Strauss (HBO’s Chernobyl and Game of Thrones) also serves as executive producer. So does Evan Wells (the game’s developer, Naughty Dog) plus Asad Qizilbash and Carter Swan (PlayStation Productions).
Basically, this is like when Neil Gaiman got to create The Sandman and, in this case, the result is even better. I loved the Netflix adaptation of The Sandman comics, and The Last of Us has that same trademark. The kind where you can sense that it’s been adapted by someone who knows, loves, and respects the story as well as its characters.
There are nine episodes in season 1 of The Last of Us and not one of them is weak. We’ve watched the entire season for this review. My favorite is probably episode 3 – for a multitude of reasons – but as a whole, I absolutely loved watching every single episode.
I cannot wait for season 2 to be greenlit. Whether the next season will cover Part II of the video game or go another route altogether (perhaps cover the years in between) remains to be seen. I certainly can’t imagine that this series won’t be a huge hit. In fact, whoever is reading this, I envy that you now get to watch The Last of Us on HBO for the first time. Enjoy – and keep Kleenex nearby!
The Last of Us season 1 premieres on HBO Max in the US on January 15, 2023.
The series takes place 20 years after modern civilization has been destroyed. Joel, a hardened survivor, is hired to smuggle Ellie, a 14-year-old girl, out of an oppressive quarantine zone. What starts as a small job soon becomes a brutal, heartbreaking journey, as they both must traverse the U.S. and depend on each other for survival.