HBO’s The Last of Us is Gripping and Utterly Fantastic

Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us has come a long way. Ever since it was first released for the PlayStation 3, the series has gone on to win the hearts of critics and players worldwide through its superb performances and masterful storytelling.

It’s no surprise that the game, after all of its accolades, has been turned into a drama series by HBO. Written and executive produced by Craig Mazin (Chernobyl) and Neil Druckmann, the hype level for the show is off the charts, and fans of the series can finally experience this via HBO GO as it goes live today.

Just last weekend, we were given the chance to join a private screening of the nearly 80-minute first episode and we found ourselves not only wanting more but also mind-blown at how much more than a 1:1 adaptation it is. Without spoiling it for anybody (the game is almost a decade old after all), we can safely say that all the good things you’ve seen or heard about it are absolutely true.

For the uninitiated, The Last of Us is the television series adaptation of the 2013 game from Naughty Dog, in which Joel, a smuggler with a very sad and traumatic past, is tasked with escorting and protecting Ellie, a 14-year-old girl, out of an oppressive quarantine zone.

The story is much more than that though, and this nine-episode first season explores their brutal and gripping journey as they both depend on each other for survival across an unforgiving landscape. The first episode focuses on the first few sequences of the game, right from the part where the breakout started to the part where Joel and Ellie start their adventure.

A bit of quick trivia: Pedro Pascal, who portrays Joel, and Bella Ramsey, who portrays Ellie, were both part of a well-known HBO series as Oberyn Martell and Lyanna Mormont in Game of Thrones. Talk about a reunion!

Performances from both Game of Thrones alumni were superb, and despite the qualms about Ramsay’s casting, she surprisingly captured the essence of Ellie very well. More than both, though, if there was one character that I felt was directly ported out of the game into the big screen, it would have to be Tommy, as portrayed by Gabriel Luna.

If you’ve played The Last of Us, then you’ll know exactly what happens during that fateful encounter. We could see it coming, of course, but it hit just as hard as the first time we experienced it. Having it play out in our minds while still reeling from its effects is simply a testament to how the team respectfully treated the source material while enhancing the experience. It completely floored us.

The Last of Us is not necessarily a 1:1 copy of the game, but major story beats are still followed. There’s a good mix of scenes that are familiar along with some additives that really elevate this specific format, capturing every inch of drama and emotion, especially from that heavy intro scene.

As far as first episodes go, you can expect a lot of “setting up” to happen, and whether you’ve played the game or not, every moment from start to finish is engaging as it is interesting. Characters are slowly introduced along with their complexities and really make us look forward to the next one with anticipation.

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Related – Read our review of The Last of Us Part I for the PS5!

Based on this episode alone, claims of being the “greatest live-action TV show adaptation of a video game” are not unfounded. History will surely be the judge, but the early verdicts are sound, and if anything, The Last of Us could certainly end the curse of live-action adaptations.

It is fitting, after all, that a game that preaches hope amidst despair be the one to end the cycle.

The Last of Us premieres today, January 16, 2023, on HBO Go.

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