‘The Last of Us’ breaks new ground for video game adaptations

Gisselle Garcia, Contributing Writer

HBO Max’s original post-apocalyptic series “The Last of Us” is proving to be one of the best video-game-to-television adaptations to date, as well as one of the best post-apocalyptic zombie-type series’.

“The Last of Us” stays true to the video game, enough so that fans of the game can appreciate all the details. The narrative is compelling and entertaining enough for those who are just now hearing about the franchise to enjoy it just as much as the game’s original fan base.

The original game, “The Last of Us,” was first released in 2013 by video game developer Naughty Dog, and went on to sell about 20 million copies for Sony’s PlayStation consoles, spawning both a limited-run comic series and a hit sequel game, “The Last of Us Part II,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

Since then, the original game has received a remastered edition and is now being adapted into a nine-part series on the streaming service HBO Max, with season one concluding on March 12. The series has been renewed for a second season.

Unlike typical zombie movies where a man-made experiment goes wrong, the zombie-like humans in “The Last of Us,” known officially as the infected, become infected by a fungus, for which there is no known cure. The storyline of the series follows main characters Joel Miller (Pedro Pascal), a man who lost his daughter when the outbreak first happened, and Ellie Williams (Bella Ramsey), a girl who was bitten by one of the infected, but is seemingly immune to the effects.

Joel is given the task to transport Ellie as “cargo” because she potentially holds the key to finding the cure to the deadly fungal infection that has transformed much of humanity into the mindless infected. Together, Joel and Ellie journey across several states to find the rebel group known as “The Fireflies.”

As the pair journey on they go through rigorous challenges, facing various types of infected. What may come as a shock to those who haven’t played the video game, what seems to be even more dangerous are non-infected people who have turned against other survivors. The characters encounter the most grotesque infected, all very different from one another: clickers, runners and bloaters.

Although the infected play a huge part in the series, the surviving people also play a very important role. Throughout the game and series, it is demonstrated that humans can be even more monstrous than the infected.

The prime example of this is the Federal Disaster Response Agency, or FEDRA. They are the form of government in charge of the United States and their history in the 20 years since the outbreak isn’t great. They face accusations of senseless murder, rape and torture. Democracy is non-existent and residents don’t have a say in what goes on in their communities.

Although the series has an eerie and bone chilling aura, as the side characters’ stories are explored, it is made clear there is also a message of love. The series does a great job of expanding the individual characters’ stories and has representation for the LGBTQ+ community and for people with disabilities as well.

This alone makes the series stand out and makes it one of the best current shows with a growing viewership every Sunday when episodes release, with the season one finale garnering over 8.2 million viewers according to HBO, despite The Oscars airing on the same day. According to Forbes, there was an increase of at least 1 million viewers every week.

The visuals of an adaptation are very important to viewers who have experienced the original game. The viewers will want it to be a verbatim recreation of the video game with all the same gory scenes, costume designs, settings and dialogue. “The Last of Us” television series production designer, John Paino, has an important role to fulfill.

According to Insider, each episode cost around $10 million to make. In the same article, Paino said: “I can’t confirm the exact amount, but I have a feeling it was north of that. We built a lot because our show is set in the United States and Canada has a different architecture.” A large portion of the series production took place in the Canadian territory of Alberta.

The series has proven to be one of the first successful video-game-to-television adaptations, and the gaming community as well as new viewers’ reviews reflect that.

There is more to expect from Joel and Ellie’s story after their journey in this first season, with more new characters and insight into how the apocalyptic world continues to develop.