HBO’s The Last of Us Review: Expanding Upon the Original Series (While Remaining Faithful)
March 15, 2023 Andrew Cheng

The first season of HBO’s The Last of Us concluded just two days ago after nine episodes. As a long-time fan of Naughty Dog’s beloved franchise, I…actually enjoyed the TV adaption. It’s largely a faithful adaption of The Last of Us Part I, though it does diverge from the main narrative of the game in several instances.

But these diversions do expand upon The Last of Us’ worldbuilding in a meaningful way, further exploring the background of certain characters in the original game. These moments are what set HBO’s adaption apart, and it’s great that the TV series is not just a direct retelling.

That being said, there are some aspects of the TV series that I’m not thrilled about. But whether you’re an existing fan or completely new to the franchise, HBO’s The Last of Us is certainly worth watching.

Just like the game, The Last of Us TV series follows smuggler Joel (Pedro Pascal) and teenager Ellie (Bella Ramsey) as they journey across the US ravaged by a fungal pandemic. Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson – the voices of Joel and Ellie respectively in the game – also make an appearance in the adaptation as different characters, and it’s great to see them play a part here.

Without going into spoiler territory – this is a spoiler-free review, of course – the two of them play characters that are quite involved in the main narrative of the TV series. Suffice to say they are not minor characters, and fans of The Last of Us will not be disappointed by their appearances in the adaptation.

What about the diversions in HBO’s The Last of Us? Well, it’s a little tough to talk about this in detail without revealing some spoilers, but I do think it’s one of the TV series’ best qualities. These “extra narratives” don’t come from the source material (the original game), but they do feel well-thought-out and engrossing. These moments are not limited to just one episode either, which is great.

Speaking of which, there are also some changes to the main storyline in this adaptation of The Last of Us. Some moments are “cut short,” in a manner of saying, and several key sequences (mostly action-packed ones) are changed up as well in the show.

For the most part, I’m okay with some of these changes as they still retain the emotional impact; the means have been revised, but the ends are still the same. However, some plot points do feel a little rushed from these changes, unfortunately enough.

On top of that, as most action sequences are removed from HBO’s The Last of Us, the Infected are not portrayed as much as they should be. Sure, there are some terrifying encounters with Clickers and Runners in the show, but it’s not on the same level of intensity or dread as the game.

Granted, this could be a creative decision to put more focus on the “human” aspect of The Last of Us in the TV adaptation. But in my opinion, the Infected play a big part in the worldbuilding of the franchise. The fact that they don’t get much screen time in the show is underwhelming, to say the least.

Anyway, let’s move on to the performances of Pedrol Pascal and Bella Ramsey as the iconic Joel and Ellie, and I’d say they do justice to their respective characters. This is especially the case with Pedro, who played a very convincing Joel. From his gruffness, jadedness, to his relationship with Ellie throughout the show, he’s very much…Joel.

Bella’s portrayal of Ellie, however, is quite a bit different from her game counterpart, though this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I have to admit, it took me a while to warm up to Bella as Ellie due to how different she in from Ashley’s version, but I do end up liking her take on the character as the show progresses.

Personally, I’m excited to see how Bella’s version of Ellie will play out in the second season of the TV adaptation.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoy HBO’s The Last of Us. While there are some aspects of the TV show that I’m not a fan of – the cut down action sequences, for example – I’d definitely recommend folks to watch it. It’s a great show for newcomers to be acquainted with the franchise, and existing fans will catch some neat Easter eggs here and there.

After completing the first season of The Last of Us, I’m actually thinking of giving The Last of Us Part II another playthrough to continue the narrative of the story. Needless to say, I’m more than thrilled to see how HBO will adapt the second game, which is hinted to be split into multiple seasons.