The upcoming The Last of Us TV show is arguably one of the most anticipated media events on the horizon. HBO is attempting to turn the critical-acclaimed video game into a television series that will capture the essence of one of gaming’s most beloved titles. It’s a tall order, but if any network can pull it off it’ll be HBO.
There are certainly signs that suggest the series will be a rousing success, but we've just learned about a few reasons to be skeptical.
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There’s no denying that video games have a shaky track record when it comes to being adapted for viewing audiences. Although recent efforts like last year’s Sonic the Hedgehog movie offer optimistic signs that studio execs are finally starting to learn from the mistakes of the past.
Nevertheless The Last of Us is a beloved property to millions of gamers across the globe, myself included. As someone who personally holds the game in high esteem, I seem to find myself wavering week to week on whether I’m hopeful or worried about the upcoming HBO series.
Here’s why I’m simultaneously excited and worried about HBO’s take on The Last of Us.
The Last of Us TV show has high hopes and hype
The biggest reason to be hopeful about The Last of Us TV show is that the game’s co-director (and sole director of the sequel) Neil Druckmann is fully involved in the production. He’s running the show alongside Craig Mazin (Chernobyl).
That level of involvement should give you a bit more confidence than the Uncharted movie starring Tom Holland. Yes, Naughty Dog has another IP in adaptation, but there is no involvement from any of the franchise’s creative leads. Which is concerning.
And since the characters of Joel and Ellie are as dear to Druckmann’s heart as ours, there's reason to think they won't get changed too much for the adaptation. If they're anything like their original counterparts in the games, these characters will shine on HBO.
For those who haven't played the games, let's walk through the two main roles: Pedro Pascal has been cast in the role of Joel, a worn-out survivor in a post-apocalyptic world who must travel cross-country while escorting Ellie, a young girl. Pascal is no stranger to looking after a young ward after his stint on Disney Plus’ The Mandalorian and seems perfectly cast for the role.
Bella Ramsey is taking up the mantle as Ellie. Fan-favorite casting choices included Maisie Williams and Kaitlyn Dever, but were not meant to be. Ramsey is most well known for playing the feisty but pint-sized Lyanna Mormont on HBO’s Game of Thrones. So while nobody saw her coming (and the other two are more experienced actors), she had such a strong presence on Thrones that she seems like a suitable enough choice.
It’ll be a while before we get to see the first onscreen taste of how Pascal and Ramsey play off each other, but both seem like as good of castings as any fan could have reasonably hoped for.
The other big advantage that The Last of Us TV show has is that the game itself already feels very cinematic, so it’s ripe for a live-action adaptation. Opposed to a video game that is beloved more for its core gameplay, The Last of Us has always been a story-driven experience first and foremost so it shouldn't be difficult to translate to television.
Druckmann said in a recent IGN interview that “HBO’s been great in pushing us to move away from hardcore action and focus more on the drama of the character.” So at least we have confirmation that the more video-gamey aspects of the source material will be streamlined.
Oh also, original game composer Gustavo Santaolalla (Babel, 21 Grams) is on board as the series' composer. Again, this is very good news, as The Last of Us has a fantastic score to begin with.
Why I'm worried about The Last of Us TV show
There are several tidbits of information that have come to light recently that have me wondering whether I need to park my anticipation and start worrying.
In the above interview, Druckmann confirmed that the television show will substantially deviate from the source material. Druckmann said "Some of my favorite episodes so far have deviated greatly from the story, and I can’t wait for people to see them."
While it’s obviously good news that Druckmann is happy with these deviations, rather than them being studio mandated, it’s concerning nonetheless. The Last of Us could fall into the trap that so many terrible video game adaptations have, of barely resembling the original game. I don't need the show to be a copy of the game: If Druckmann had only said these scenes 'deviated,' there wouldn't be much concern, it's the 'greatly' that's suspicious.
The Last of Us has an incredibly well-told story. I’m not sure what significant deviations are necessary other than obviously cutting down the number of combat encounters. You don’t need your characters getting into life or death scraps every few minutes in a television show.
Mazin told the BBC, "the changes that we're making are designed to fill things out and expand, not to undo, but rather to enhance." Which does sound at least somewhat reassuring that the show won’t be The Last of Us in name only, and will follow the general pathway the game laid out.
Druckmann has also hinted that the character’s iconic looks and wardrobe might be switched up, but this is less of an issue. The show won’t be a success or failure based on whether Pascal’s Joel wears the same red plaid shirt as the video game Joel did.
A tweet from Druckmann confirmed several of the female characters we can expect to see in the show. Not only does the post confirm that Riley, who originally only featured in the game’s DLC chapter Left Behind, will be involved but there’s also the inclusion of a mysterious blanked out four-letter name.
And now you have Ellie, Riley, Tess, Marlene, Maria, ⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️, and a few others! 😉 https://t.co/GMozU0TaZEMarch 8, 2020
The popular fan theory is that this cryptic tease is a reference to the controversial character Abby, who is a major player in the divisive The Last of Us Part II. While I personally adored the sequel and loved the complex nature of Abby’s character, I’d rather the first season of The Last of Us on HBO doesn’t attempt to bite off more than it can chew.
The implication that the first series will encompass at least some of the second game, as well as the first game (and its DLC), has me concerned that the show is going to be a bloated mess. I’d rather Druckmann and Mazin stick to nailing an adaptation of the original game first, and then have a crack at the much more narratively ambitious sequel. Walk before you try to run.
The Last of Us TV show outlook
On balance, there are probably more reasons to be cautiously optimistic than there are to be overwhelming pessimistic at this stage.
The creative team behind the series is strong enough to get excited about, and the actors who will be in front of the camera are of a suitably high-caliber. Furthermore, Druckmann being heavily involved should give any fans peace of mind that the IP will be treated with respect.
We won’t really have a firm idea of whether the series will be worthy to wear The Last of Us name until we get at least a first trailer. Until that day (which feels frustratingly far away) I’ll continue over-analyzing every scrap of information and keep my fingers firmly crossed that this will be a rare video game adaptation that doesn’t disappoint.