The Last of Us episode 1: A triumph of brutality

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The Last of Us becomes the best adaptation of a video game from the first episode and is close to perfection. There is a struggle to think of a successful video game adaptation that respects the source material and a never-ending list of subpar adaptations that deviate too much and that are just plain bad. Looking at you, Uncharted (2022) and Assassins Creed (2016). It may seem simple but the key elements to making a good adaptation of a video could simply be to respect the source material and needing more than 2 hours to tell the story of a 20 to 30 hour story. With some truly exceptional adaptations under its belt and shows of immense quality, HBO proved they could take on the beloved story of Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey). 

The series 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 and heart-breaking journey as they both must traverse the U.S. and depend on each other for survival.

The first 35 minutes focus on Sarah Miller (Nico Parker) the day before the world turns. There is a lot of time spent with Sarah, far more than the game, to flesh her out and does a great job of getting the audience attached to her. The family dynamic between Sarah, Joel and his brother Tommy (Gabriel Luna) expands in the opening moments with some changes made to deepen the bonds to each other. Rather than changes, the scenes feel like expansions that could fit seamlessly into the game. Tied with the natural charm and excellence of Parker as Sarah, when the emotion comes to a head at the end of the opening part, viewers who played the game and those who did not, will feel a deeper devastation compared to the game that hits harder and more brutally.

Flashforward 20 years, Joel is hardened and works with Tess (Anna Torv). There are some great additions added to show the brutality and grittiness of the world. Visually, it looks almost exact to the game, but somewhat more depleted, and hopeless. Joel, we see burning the bodies of the infected, and while he comes off stoic and hardened, there is a deeper grief and a PTSD from the events 20 years previous that Pascal masterfully pulls off. This is a different version of Joel to the game, and the expansions Pascal makes creates a heart-wrenching and brutal portrayal that is an instant favourite and one that original fans and new will love and appreciate. While Pascal is the perfect Joel, Bella Ramsey is truly exceptional as Ellie the very instant they are on screen. It takes mere seconds to see how perfectly cast they are and leaves no room for doubt. Ramsey shines in their scenes with chemistry between each character showing through and adding a ferocity to Ellie and promising more to come.

Most of the cast and changes work seamlessly and to the advantage of the story, but there are some things that were jarring. Full disclosure, as a huge fan of the game it was hard not to compare it to the source material, but there was an open mind and optimism going in. Changes in the character of Robert (Brendan Fletcher) are forgettable and dealt with faster than in the game. For Tess, so far, the casting seems off. Tess is made as more of a leader and Joel a lapdog, with the show making a point of showing them as a romantic couple in one fleeting moment that felt out of place. Opinions on Tess may change as the episodes go on, but so far, it is the weaker part of the series.

Overall, the changes (or expansions) work excellently and in conjunction with the original material. Joel is given more depth and drive that is more family-focused on his mission in the flash forward. Casting is excellent, visually, it seems some camera work is taken exactly from the game. Fans of the game and newcomers will enjoy this series and be hooked for the coming weeks. Bella Ramsey is instantly perfect casting with the promise to showcase more of their talent. The world of the series is devoid of hope, gritty, and brutal, but there is beauty in it. 

There are many contenders for the MVC of this episode and the choice is hard, but it goes to Ellie Williams for the incomparable talent of Bella Ramsey and how tremendous they are as Ellie. 

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The nine-episode first season of the HBO Original drama series THE LAST OF US debuts SUNDAY, JANUARY 15 at 9:00p.m. ET/PT on HBO and will be available to stream in 4K on HBO Max.

The first episode was screened for review. 


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