The Last of Us review: A fantastic TV show in its own right
Let's not undersell it.
To call The Last of Us TV show the best video game adaptation of all time would be underselling it. Sure, it's better than the Sonic movies, the Halo series and that naff 1990s Mario movie. But this HBO production is also a damn good TV drama in its own right, offering a beautifully-shot character study and plenty of thrills to boot. It deserves to be appointment viewing on Sky Atlantic and NOW.
Game of Thrones alumni Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey are perfectly cast in the central roles of Joel and Ellie, an unlikely duo that are forced to travel together through a zombie-infested wasteland. A father who lost his daughter and a girl that was forced to grow up without parents, sparks fly when they meet and their endlessly watchable chemistry never lets up.
Fans of the games will know the key story beats of this season (which is modelled closely on the first game in Naughty Dog's PlayStation franchise), but what's impressive is how well the show hangs together in spite of that. If you've ever watched a movie based on a comic or book that you love, you'll know the familiar thrill of spotting Easter eggs and fan-favourite moments that have survived the transition onto the screen. Gamers will feel that dopamine hit repeatedly here, but that's not all!
Impressively, showrunners Neil Druckmann (who wrote both the games) and Craig Mazin (who masterminded HBO's brilliant Chernobyl series) have found ways to expand on the source material in meaningful ways. We don't want to spoil any of the surprises, but suffice it to say that you'll know what we mean when you reach the emotionally charged third episode. That instalment, along with several other moments later in the run, take familiar elements from the game and really dig into them, mining deeper into the pre-existing material to find storytelling gold that gamers missed first time out.
Don't get us wrong, though. This is a faithful adaptation 90 per cent of the time. In fact, The Last of Us TV show feels so faithful to the source material that, at points, it almost feels like you're watching a YouTube supercut of scenes from the game. And that's a good thing, considering that a fair amount of the show's audience may never have experienced this story before. It's long been heralded as one of the best stories in gaming, and that core narrative still holds up marvellously in this new format.
Joel and Ellie are the heart of the story, and your own heart will grow a few sizes as you watch them bond, but there is a lot else going on besides their bantering and bickering. Pascal and Ramsey embody the characters tremendously, handling emotional moments and comic frissons with aplomb, as well as making you care about the action sequences. And there's an excellent supporting cast of interesting side characters as well, with a special shoutout going to Nick Offerman's terrific turn as their early ally Bill.
Speaking of the action scenes, what's refreshing here is that they're few and far between, used sparingly in a really wise way. 20 years into an apocalypse, it makes sense that our heroes would know how to avoid the 'infected' for the most part, which makes their occasional intrusions all the more scary when they do happen. An early episode features a really tense encounter with a 'clicker', a unique-looking zombie that uses sound to hunt its prey. This scene is highly effective in ramping up the scares, while a later horde-sized problem reminds you of just how big this outbreak was.
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Given that the zombie battles aren't occurring every five minutes, you might be wondering what this show is actually about. Well, the clue is in the title. It's about the 'Last of Us'. The survivors of this outbreak. The final vestiges of mankind. Over the course of its nine tightly-plotted episodes, this excellent season of television showcases an array of different survivors, each of which poses its own unique challenge to Joel and Ellie.
While a show like The Walking Dead might spend a whole season in one place, languishing over the intricacies of each settlement for 16-odd episodes at the time, The Last of Us cuts to the chase in every episode. Determined not to sit still, the show makes you care about each new place before subverting your expectations, pulling a few emotional gut-punches and then moving onto the next one.
As Joel and Ellie trudge through their grim road trip, you see the toll that each encounter takes on them. You see how their bond grows with each trauma. You worry every time they're separated, wincing and watching through your fingers as they are forced to defend each other. And when the season reaches its potent finale, you'll understand exactly how you got there. You might also find yourself rushing to play The Last of Us Part 2, the game that follows on from this season's story.
Everyone's a winner with this cracking season of television. If you've never played the games, you'll get to experience a brilliant piece of genre storytelling for the first time, with top-notch performances at every turn and heaps of character drama. And if you like the games, you'll love seeing this prestige TV adaptation, complete with one of the most unskippable title sequences in recent memory — no word of a lie, this blend of earworm music and eye-catching visuals puts House of the Dragon's opening credits to shame.
So, we'll say it again: The Last of Us is the best video game adaptation of all time, and it's also a fantastic TV drama in its own right. If you're on the fence about watching it, do yourself a favour and get involved as soon as possible. Trust us, you'll be infected in no time... infected, that is, with a hunger to watch the next episode.
The Last of Us will be available from 16th January on Sky Atlantic and streaming service NOW, with an Entertainment Membership for just £9.99.
Check out more of our Sci-Fi coverage or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to find out what's on this week.
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