The Last of Us HBO show cast, set photos, first footage and everything we know so far

Pedro Pascal as Joel, with Bella Ramsey as Ellie, in the foreground in The Last of Us.
(Image credit: HBO via YouTube)

HBO's The Last of Us series may be the streamer's most ambitious project yet. And, some 18 months after we first learned it was being made, we finally have some actual footage to look at — albeit not much of it. And a new leak suggests we finally have The Last of Us' HBO Max release date.

We also know quite a bit about the show's cast, and it's fair to say that the combination has given folks reason to be very excited about the series. 

The news of the series was first broken last March by The Hollywood Reporter (opens in new tab), sending fans of the beloved video game into near-meltdown as internet hype and speculation ramped up with remarkable speed.  

HBO itself subsequently took to Twitter (opens in new tab) to confirm the news itself, posting a GIF featuring the crest of The Last of Us’ antagonist group the Fireflies.  

As a part of the initial announcement, we learned that Neil Druckmann (co-director on the first game and sole director of the sequel), is writing the show alongside Craig Mazin (Chernobyl). 

Mazin told The Hollywood Reporter, “Getting a chance to adapt this breathtaking work of art has been a dream of mine for years, and I'm so honored to do it in partnership with Neil [Druckmann].” 

More than a year on from its initial announcement and the anticipation around the series is only growing stronger, especially now that we’ve got teaser clips and casting news, as well as few tantalizing quotes from the showrunners. 

Here’s what we know so far about The Last of Us TV show coming to HBO. 

The Last of Us HBO Show latest news (updated Nov. 1)

The Last of Us HBO show release date leaks

It appears HBO Max leaked the Last of Us release date of January 15, 2023

We don't have an exact date for when we'll be able to watch The Last of Us on our television screens, however we now know that it won't be this year. Confirmation of that came in a HBO showcase (opens in new tab), which introduced 20 seconds of footage from the series with the caption: "Coming next year. The Last of Us. New series."

More recently released footage below confirms a 2023 release window.

That goes against our previous thinking, which was that we'd see it in late 2022. Pilot director Kantemir Balagov wrote "The Last of Us series (2022)" on his Instagram profile (opens in new tab), and Mazin had previously stated that production couldn’t get underway until The Last of Us Part II video game was released. He had said, “We can’t start on it right away because they’re still finishing up the second game. We’ve been talking about it for months, little plans and things. We’re going to dig in in full, full earnest once they wrap up their final work on the sequel.”

We do know that the show started production in Calgary, in the Alberta province of Canada, in July 2021 and is only recently thought to have finished. This news comes from the Director's Guild of Canada (via CBC (opens in new tab)). 

Speaking of the production of the series, a CTV News (opens in new tab) report revealed that The Last of Us has a wild budget, even for HBO. A local union president told the outlet that "This project well exceeds the eight figure per episode mark," which would make it as expensive, if not more so, than Game of Thrones was. 

The Last of Us HBO show first footage

In a recent HBO sizzle reel, got to see a clicker and hear from Bella Ramsey's Ellie. The bulk of The Last of Us' content starts at 0:40 in.

The very start of the clip also showed footage of apartment towers in ruins. 

The Last of Us HBO show plot

The Last of Us HBO show feature

(Image credit: Sony)

HBO has released an official synopsis of the show which reads: "The story takes place 20 years after modern civilization has been destroyed. Joel, a hardened survivor, is hired to smuggle Ellie, a 14-year-old girl, out of an oppressive quarantine zone. What starts as a small job soon becomes a brutal, heartbreaking journey, as they both must traverse across the U.S. and depend on each other for survival."

This will of course sound very familiar to anyone who has played through The Last of Us video game on either PS3 or PS4, as it’s literally the exact same storyline that game follows. This at least confirms that the show seems to be aiming to be faithful to the source material. 

In an interview with IGN (opens in new tab), Druckmann gave us further hints about how the show might differ from the video game. He confirmed that dialogue has been directly lifted from the game, but that some episodes would “deviate greatly to much better effect because we are dealing with a different medium“.

For fans worried that HBO may be getting too involved, stow your fears. Druckmann himself approved of the changes, "Some of my favorite episodes so far have deviated greatly from the story, and I can’t wait for people to see them."

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." So it definitely appears that the general structure of the game’s plot will be respected and it will resemble the story we all know and cried at back in 2013. 

The Last of Us HBO show cast

The minute The Last of Us show was announced the only question on everyone’s lips was: who’s going to play Joel and who’s going to play Ellie?

Fan casting was rampant, with popular choices for Joel including Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, and choices for Ellie including Masie Williams and Kaitlyn Dever. However, none of these came to pass. 

Instead, Pedro Pascal has been cast a Joel, and Bella Ramsey has been selected to portray Ellie. Both are alumni of HBO’s wildly successful fantasy series Game of Thrones, and the selections seem to have gone down well with fans. 

The Last of Us TV show — Bella Ramsey in Game of Thrones

(Image credit: HBO)

Pascal of course has experience escorting a young ward thanks to Disney Plus' The Mandalorian. Ramsey played the feisty Lyanna Mormont on Thrones, so should be capable of brings Ellie’s fiery side to the screen. 

After Variety (opens in new tab) broke the news of Nick Offerman cast in the minor role of Bill, Naughty Dog formally confirmed this bit on its Twitter (opens in new tab) account. As mentioned below, Bill was previously supposed to be played by Con O’Neil, but scheduling conflicts forced a change.

On Jan. 14, 2022, Deadline (opens in new tab) reported that Euphoria’s Storm Reid (who plays Gia Bennett, sister of Zendaya's Rue) will be playing Riley.

Deadline (opens in new tab) has learned that Gabriel Luna, who is most well known for playing Ghost Rider on Marvel series Agents of SHIELD and Rev-9 in Terminator: Dark Fate, has been cast as Tommy, Joel's younger brother who has started his own survivor community in the game. Pascal and Luna just about look like they could be siblings, so this seems like another decent casting decision to us. The outlet also reported (opens in new tab) that Nico Parker (Dumbo) is joining the series as Sarah, Joel's daughter.

In casting news that has got fans of the original video game very pleased, The Hollywood Reporter (opens in new tab) has exclusively revealed that Merle Dandridge will be playing Marlene, the leader of the Fireflies resistance group.  

This is quite significant news due to the fact Dandridge voices Marlene in the video game series so will be reprising her role for this television adaptation. Will more original cast members be appearing in The Last of Us HBO show? Time will tell. 

Previously, Deadline (opens in new tab) reported the casting of Con O'Neill as Bill and Murray Bartlett as Frank. O'Neill, as mentioned above, had to bow out. Oh, and Jeffrey Pierce, who voiced Tommy in the games, is playing a new character named Perry.

The Last of Us HBO show set photos

A set of four fungi and rubble-filled set photos (opens in new tab) have hit the internet. Of course, the bigger news is that these shots give us our first look at Pedro Pascal as Joel, while Anna Torv (Tess) and Bella Ramsey (Ellie) are seen from behind.

Pedro Pascal (Joel), Anna Torv (Tess) and Bella Ramsey (Ellie) filming The Last of Us

(Image credit: The Last of Us on HBO - Status aka @HBOsTheLastofUs on Twitter)

The Last of Us HBO show characters 

For a while, it’s been assumed that The Last of Us TV show will follow the storyline of the first game, which means a host of intriguing supporting characters featured alongside Joel and Ellie. 

This would include characters such as Tess, Joel’s sort of partner, Marlene, a member of the Fireflies group, and Tommy, Joel’s absentee brother. 

However, a tweet (opens in new tab) from Druckmann posted in March 2020 has got The Last of Us fans feverish with speculation. 

While the likes of Ellie, Tess, Marlene, and Maria (Tommy’s wife) were expected to be included in the series, Riley is a character that only features in The Last of Us’ DLC chapter Left Behind. This suggests that the scope of the HBO show will be expanded to include material covered outside of the first game. 

Even more intriguing is the currently unknown identity of the blanked-out four-letter name. Most fans have assumed this refers to Abby, a controversial character introduced in The Last of Us Part II. She plays a very prominent role in the sequel, so it would make sense for her to be included, although we’d assumed she wouldn’t show up until the show’s second season (should it make it that far).

It could however be a tease for Ellie’s mother, Anna, who is only mentioned by name in the video game — perhaps a flashback episode featuring her — or even Dina, a love interest of Ellie’s, who also makes her first appearance in The Last of Us Part II. 

Who this mysterious character is remains to be seen, but it seems likely that The Last of Us TV show won’t be limited by material only covered in the first video game. 

The Last of Us HBO show crew

Get ready for the grit: HBO's putting The Last of Us series in good hands. Craig Mazin (Chernobyl) is reuniting with HBO to adapt the video games for a series. More good news: Neil Druckmann, The Last of Us' writer and creative director, is signed on to write and executive produce the show. 

Other exec producers include Carolyn Strauss (Game of Thrones, Treme) and Evan Wells (Naughty Dog president). We also know that award-winning director Kantemir Balagov (Beanpole) will helm the pilot episode (via The Hollywood Reporter (opens in new tab)).

The Last of Us will be the first television series from PlayStation Productions, which is co-producing with Sony Pictures Television.

Rory Mellon
Deals Editor

Rory is a Deals Editor at Tom’s Guide based in the UK. He covers a wide range of topics but with a particular focus on deals, gaming and streaming. When he’s not scouring retailers for PS5 restock or writing hot takes on the latest gaming hardware and streaming shows, he can be found attending music festivals and being thoroughly disappointed by his terrible football team.