The Last of Us

Pedro Pascal & Bella Ramsey star in a wild new survival / horror series set to become one of 2023's biggest drawcards.

If you’re missing the glory days of The Walking Dead, then The Last of Us has got you covered.

TV dramas based on video games are rarely as good as this new series from Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann -but Mazin was also showrunner on the acclaimed Chernobyl.

The nine part series takes place mostly in 2023, but there are flashbacks to 2003 (and even 1968) when evidence of a fungus known as cordyceps becomes evident in Indonesia.

In the USA normality for Joel (Pedro Pascal) and his daughter Sarah (Nico Parker) turns to chaos, not unlike scenes from September 11. With Joel’s brother Tommy (Gabriel Luna) it’s a fight for survival amid public panic, army, fighter jets and seemingly-normal folk behaving zombie-like in the streets.

By the time the series has flashed forward to 2023 America (and presumably the world as we know it) has been overrun -no longer just the stuff of Hollywood movies, it seems. Survivor Joel has teamed up with Tess (Anna Torv) in fortressed zone with ration cards and public executions, but which protects them from the mutants outside. To find his brother he will have to take risks, including a deal to smuggle 14 year old Ellie (Bella Ramsey) to the ‘Fireflies’ – a rebel militia. Ellie, it seems, may just have the answer to wiping out the cordyceps once and for all.

Even though these undead aren’t small-screen zombies, this series lands firmly in the horror / survival genre. Mutants are relentless, and worringly can move at lightning speed. Cities are ghost towns and terror is around every corner for the unwary. Nobody ever stays put for very long, determined to embark on a heroic quest generously littered with writers’ peril.

Pedro Pascal, best known for The Mandalorian, underplays his role save for when action scenes require a little brute strength. And if that isn’t at least once every episode, something is very wrong.

Bella Ramsey, who played Lyanna Mormont in Game of Thrones, steps up as young Ellie, bring resolve and a depth beyond her years. Anna Torv proves smart and gutsy as Joel’s smuggler accomplice, worlds away from her big haired Newsreader role.

Craig Mazin, who also directs a long opening episode, brings nuance to early scenes in 2003, subtly setting the unsettling before all hell breaks loose. He uses the camera to tell the story where others can’t resist dialogue which signposts.

The production design by John Paino, together with CGI, brings the post-apocalyptic world to life and with HBO you are assured of money on the screen. There were times I was reminded of characters from Planet of the Apes wandering onto ruins of fallen cities (spoiler alert?).

It all makes The Last of Us a wild ride from the couch, but without expecting you to leave your intelligence at the door. This will doubtless be one of the big drawcards of 2023.

But the truly scary part is that the kernel of the story -a fungus overtaking its host- is based in science, albeit with a little nudge from Hollywood.

After the last 3 years we’ve had, that makes it feel a little too close to home.

The Last of Us screens 1pm Monday on FOX Showcase / Binge

13 Responses

  1. Looking back on the year, this would probably have been one of my top 5 favourite international dramas of the year. Not quite the best for me to vote for in the end of year poll, though. Performances from Pedro Pascal, Anna Torv, and Bella Ramsey were all absolutely amazing.

  2. I have never played the game in fact had never heard of it, but this series is amazing. Episode 3 is rightly being raved about. What an amazing piece of television. I’ve not been so moved a storyline in many years that I can recall. When the episode closed I actually checked the running length as it felt like 15 minutes, and it was an hour or so obviously. Engrossing television at its absolute best.

  3. I thought the 1st episode was good. As others have mentioned, it felt a little drawn out, but I can take that being part of the big picture storytelling if subsequent episodes make it worth it.

    If episode 2 is anything to go by, then the makers of this series are on the right track… Because I thought it was excellent. I struggle to recall an episode of any show going by so quickly – which is usually a great sign!

  4. I’m usually a bit ambivalent when watching these TV adaptions of PC games concepts, the games story canon and main characters are supposed to be interactive after all. In recent on line reviews of episode one of The Last of Us some reviewers (who obviously also played the game) did make comparisons with familiar games scenes featured in the show but were not as complimentary of the screenplay extensions that drew out the 82 minutes of episode one’s screen time. Viewers not familiar with the Last of Us game, like myself, will watch it for its entertainment value, something that does seem secondary with some series productions nowadays. The Last of Us is really just a familiar horror / sci-fi trope filled melodrama, including some average acting, but you can understand why with The Walking Dead, Resident Evil, Black Summer etc being so popular, this show could be considered to be the next in line for long term ‘Zombie’ genre success.

  5. What a pilot! Outstanding in almost every way… the changes they made were subtle but for the better for a TV format. Pedro was masterful. Ramsay is growing on me already. And Torv has been the underrated star no one seems to have mentioned in their reviews… she was excellent. I just cannot wait to see how they tackle some of the big story beats. It’s the first time I’ve ever watched a tv show knowing exactly what is going to happen… it feels very different to how I normally consume my shows. I was still on the edge of my seat blown away by it all though!
    I enjoyed the games… Part 1 moreso than Part 2. I always thought they were just a little overrated in terms of gameplay, but definitely made up for with a really excellent story in which those who are unfamiliar will be in for quite the ride with this show!
    Did u play the games David?

    1. When playing the game you are constantly foraging for weapons, ammo and supplies, while on the look out and listening for The Infected. TV is passive it felt like an 80 minute cutscene to me. I played it in 2015 and thought the interface was excellent and Ellie was the best NPC I had encountered.

  6. Huge fan of the games. Haven’t finished 2 yet, I am not quite as sold on it as the first, but am slowly working through it. I’ve been subbed to Craig Mazin’s podcast with John August for years and have enjoyed that thoroughly. I finally gathered up the courage and watched ‘Chernobyl’ last year. I was right to be hesitant, but at the same time I was not disappointed. Leaping into this enthusiastically

    1. Respectfully disagree. The story is niche and broadening it out, watering down the nuances and child-proofing for a wide FTA audience would ruin it. I’m glad HBO made it, and I’m happy to pay money to see it.

      FTA is for NCIS and The Big Bang Theory (if we’re talking about intl content)

      1. NCIS S20 has been rating just over 100k in the Overnights on Ten; MAFS is the perfect FTA show now. US TV did make post-apocalyptic shows like Jericho and Jeremiah, they aired here around midnight. The Last Of Us is a Pandemic/Zombie quest show, but using a fungus like the one that infects ants and makes them aggressive so that they infect other ants. It’s an idea that was first used in humans in The X-Files episode Firewalker. The problem with The Last Of US is that no matter how well they make it, I have played the video game and I am still going really hate the ending. I will watch the exposition, and Anna Torv eps, as I liked her in Fringe.

  7. This sounds almost exactly the same as the JCVD 1989 ‘Cyborg’ (which comes on TV every now and then) which was set in 2019! Also very similar to ‘Z Nation’ 2014-18-a wildly unoriginal scenario for film and TV…

  8. Very much looking forward to this series…love all the actors, especially Pedro Pascal . Anna Torv has been a fave since Fringe and Bella Ramsay was great in Game of Thrones.

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