How does HBO’s The Last of Us TV series shape up against its video game predecessor? Here’s an analysis of episode one’s heart-pounding intro.
Ever since its original release on PS3 in 2013, The Last of Us has captured the attention of gamers worldwide. The game has been remastered, has gotten a sequel, and has now been adapted by HBO to the small screen – all just a few months before the game’s tenth anniversary.
If you’re like me, you’re probably skeptical about game-to-film adaptations. Historically, we’ve been pretty disappointed. But if you’re a fan of The Last of Us, the game, I daresay you will not be disappointed. And if you’re not a gamer? Don’t hesitate to buckle in for a wild ride.
NOTE: SPOILERS beyond this point!
I’ll keep the spoilers to a minimum, but if you want to be pleasantly surprised by what the TV show offers, you may want to come back after you’ve watched the first episode.
Shot for shot and word for word, this is painfully familiar.
Like the game, HBO’s The Last of Us keeps the intensity high. If you’re familiar with that rollercoaster of an opening from the game, episode one’s opening will have you reeling from déjà vu. As Tommy, Joel, and Sarah drive from their once peaceful suburban life, their dialogue – “Are we sick?” – and many of the sights along the road – including the burning Louis farm and the helpless parents and their child – mirror the game almost perfectly.
For those of you who are new to The Last of Us, you won’t need to know the game to appreciate the cinematic spectacle of each scene. The anxiously dizzying drive into the city means the end of life as the Miller family knows it. Like the game, episode one of the TV series gives us that false sense of security by focusing on Joel’s teenage daughter, Sarah. Her tragic fate is well known to fans of the game, but somehow, I still found myself hoping against all odds that she might make it. Sadly, I was still holding back tears by the end of the intro.
What’s changed and why
Although there are many shot-for-shot replicas within the first episode, gamers will be greeted with new twists to keep them guessing. Familiar scenes from the game’s opening sequence break from the original script just enough to create an original and exciting take on those early moments of the cordyceps outbreak.
When Sarah wakes up alone after a movie night on the couch with her dad, the familiar suspense starts to kick in. But instead of an Infected at the back door, Sarah finds the neighbor’s dog and follows him to their open front door. (Because, of course, dogs always know.) That first encounter with an Infected was as surprising as it was terrifying, and no, I have not gotten that image of the feral grandma out of my head.
Side note: if you want another treat, return to that scene where Sarah is looking through the Adlers’ DVDs. Keep your eye on the background, and enjoy some eerie foreshadowing with Grandma in the wheelchair.
Fast forward to that perilous drive through the city. One of the critical differences in the TV series is the epic plane crash. This change probably isn’t very well-liked by fans of the game, but hear me out: with so many recreated shots from the game, the plane crash was a clever use of smoke and mirrors.
At the very moment where many Last of Us gamers almost certainly expecting Tommy’s truck to be T-boned, the Millers avoid a near wreck, and an airplane hurtles into the town, bursting into flames. But Tommy, Joel, and Sarah haven’t totally avoided a car crash, and after thinking the wreck has been avoided, another panicked driver slams into the truck.
I’ve been watching film adaptations of books and games for years, and no matter how good the adaptation is, it’s impossible to have a perfectly faithful recreation of the original material. But even if it is truly an impossible feat, HBO’s The Last of Us has gotten pretty damn close to perfect.
Just within the first episode’s opening, Joel is still incredibly dynamic. The cordyceps outbreak’s early moments are just as gripping as gamers will remember. And every audience member, gamer or not, will be absolutely hooked from the beginning.
The Last of Us, starring Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey, is available to watch on HBO.