“The Last of Us” S1E1 – Spoiler-Free Review

Oh. My. God.

A video game adaptations that DOESN’T totally suck? Is this real? For so long, the dreaded curse of adaptation has plagued video-games-turned-movies (and, for that matter, shows). There are many examples, but the most notable failed video game adaptations have been Resident Evil (almost every iteration, from the too-long movie franchise to the Netflix series), the messy Uncharted movie, and Doom.

Happily, I’m here to tell you the Good News: the curse has been broken. The Last of Us is a shining example of what an adaptation should be all about: honoring the source material while adding fresh elements that work.

For the uninitiated, The Last of Us was a highly successful 2013 action-adventure video game following a mismatched duo as they trek across post-apocalyptic America to deliver a cure for a pandemic that’s destroyed the entire world. The game swept award after award and raised the bar for other game developers, offering an emotional character-driven story that never strays too far into the action elements nor becomes too much of a soap opera.

Much like the game, HBO’s The Last of Us delivers all the hard-hitting emotional moments visual masterpieces. I think this success owes a lot to the fact that this is a television series rather than a movie, which might’ve eschewed some of the poignant character moments in favor of spending more time on the crowd-pleasing action-adventure moments.

My favorite aspect of the show, so far, is the fidelity paid to my favorite moments from the game. There’s a scene early on that absolutely ripped my heart out, and it’s pulled almost shot-for-shot from the video game. You’ll know exactly what scene I’m referring to if you watch the show, trust me. And there are plenty of fan-favorite moments like this, which I think is enough to calm the fear that this adaptation will stray far from the near-perfect source material.

I can’t say much else about the premiere episode of The Last of Us without going into spoiler territory, but I intend to write a full review of the show after the finale airs in Spring ’23. I would be remiss, however, not to mention the actors who made the first episode work so well.

Bella Ramsey, of Game of Thrones fame, absolutely shines as Ellie, one of the protagonists. Her body language, her sarcasm, her quieter moments…they all perfectly mirror the source material (which is funny, because Ramsey claimed in an interview that she’s never actually played the video games). I was skeptical about this casting choice at first, but I’m delighted to say I was wrong to be worried. Ramsey totally kills it.

Fellow Game of Thrones alumnus Pedro Pascal plays Joel, the jaded hero and main protagonist. From the very first time he appears on screen, he’s 100% the Joel we all know and love from the games. He’s a man who’s been through some truly horrendous events since the apocalypse, and his heavy grief practically bleeds out onto the screen regardless of what scene he’s in.

There are plenty of other great casting choices, but I’ll explore these further as the show goes on, since much of the first episode highlights the acting abilities of Ramsey and Pascal. All I’ll say for now is that I’m very pleased with the casting department, and I can’t wait to see how these characters develop as the show goes on.

I give the premiere episode of The Last of Us a solid 9/10, and I recommend it to anyone searching for an emotionally satisfying series premiere that doesn’t buckle under heavy expectations of fans of the source material.

Check it out!