The Last of Us Will Invade Your Psych: The Deadly Walking. Beware of the Walking Dead. THE LAST MAN The Pathway. ‘The Strain’ The Standing. Sweet Tummy Invasion. No Station. Reaper Evil.
You’d be forgiven for approaching HBO’s The Last of Us with a dubious attitude considering the abundance of post-apocalyptic fodder that television has been giving up over just the past few years. When potential viewers realize that the series is based on a video game, a not insignificant portion of them will enter a mental defensive crouch.
These individuals have never played the fantastic, heartbreaking video game(s) in question, to be clear. After all, there’s only so many times one can observe grizzled, greasy-haired bands of armed survivors who appear to smell of runny cheese tiptoeing through collapsing cityscapes covered in lush greenery before saying, “No, sure, I got it, thanks.”
There are a number of these sequences in The Last of Us, as well as others that sound familiar: martial law is being enforced by militarized outposts. quaint enclaves of civilization that conceal a dark secret. Mistrust. Violence. the horrifying realization that a loved one has fallen ill, followed by the somber acceptance of what needs to be done to stop it.
However, these are all genre conventions that post-apocalyptic shows and their viewers agree to adopt and adhere to. You don’t just scoff at every spaceship in a science fiction book, do you? Alternatively, do you smirk each time a forensic investigator uses luminol?
No, what matters is what happens within its genre’s established rules – the specific blend of narrative fuel that powers the concerned show. Are the survivors the true stars of the show, or are the zombies, vampires, mutants, cannibals, and militaries?
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The fact that the survivors, specifically two, own The Last of Us in its entirety is satisfying. Joel, played by Pedro Pascal, is laconic and hard-bitten (though not yet really bit), while young Ellie, played by Bella Ramsey, may have the seeds of humanity in her veins.
She is looking for a place where researchers might be able to figure out how to recreate her odd immunity, and they team up to travel across the country with tangentially linked goals. He is looking for his brother.
They come across quasi-fascist government agents (referred to as “FEDRA”), anti-government freedom fighters and terrorists (referred to as “Fireflies”), raiders, revolutionaries, as well as some friendly faces. Two of these allies, a doomsday survivalist played by Nick Offerman and a cunning charmer played by Murray Bartlett, are given the screen time they require for us to get emotionally invested in their outcomes by the series.
That assurance is well-founded, as Offerman and Bartlett deliver the season’s standout performance. There are, of course, many situations in which our intrepid heroes battle or avoid the numerous fungi-adorned monsters faithfully remade from the video games, including runners, stalkers, shamblers, and, most notably, clickers (whose heads have turned into toadstools, and who echolocate their prey via some seriously unnerving sound design).
But just as The Sopranos was about RICO charges, The Last of Us is about the various mushroom baddies. This is to say that while they pose a threat and are constantly present, the focus of the show is on what the protagonists accomplish in spite of them.
And what they do is meaningfully get deeper and more intricate, at least in The Last of Us. In the early episodes, Pascal portrays Joel as if he has sealed his heart inside of his beskar steel armor from The Mandalorian, but as his bond with Ellie deepens, he starts talking more and taking more emotional risks in every scene, and it hits us with a wonderful gravity.
— The Last of Us (@TheLastofUsHBO) January 12, 2023
On Game of Thrones, Ramsey’s young Lady Mormont was a heartwarming surprise, but that character was written to accomplish one thing, and Ramsey did it well: be a badass. She had a lot more opportunity to show us in Lena Dunham’s Catherine Called Birdy last year.
She manages to give Ellie a toughness that leaves plenty of room for vulnerability, youthful foolishness, the pain of first love, sadness, wrath, and steely resolution, yet she’s still a complete revelation in this story.
Some viewers might object to the show’s decision to focus so much of its attention on two characters growing closer to one another rather than continually attacking them with swarms of CGI-enhanced fungi.
But The Last of Us succeeds in doing what Station Eleven achieved the year before by letting the creatures operate primarily as triggers to the nuanced emotional reactions of its humans.
The Last of Us is coming in 2023. Check out our Leedaily.com for more information about what’s on this week.