Video Games: ‘The Last of Us’ Episode 1 Review

Screenshot of Pedro Pascal as Joel and Bella Ramsey as Ellie in HBO Max’s ‘The Last of Us’. Copyright goes to Naughty Dog, Playstation Productions, and Sony Pictures Television

Hey! Hallie here!

The first episode of ‘The Last of Us’ is finally out and it did not disappoint. We still have eight episodes of this series left, but the first episode alone is already a masterclass in adapting a video game to a more widespread form of media. ‘The Last of Us’ isn’t the type of story I’m usually drawn to. I don’t consume much horror media and zombie apocalypse stories have never been my thing. But ‘The Last of Us’ drew me in solely because of the characters, particularly Joel, Ellie, and their heartwarming father/daughter relationship. Though we haven’t gotten much of Joel and Ellie’s relationship yet, the introductions of both of these characters were immediately excellent, and the emphasis the show is already putting on the characters is so promising. I only have a few problems so far, but most of this will be me gushing about episode one. SPOILERS AHEAD for both episode one and the video game. They’ll be light but I may mention later events in the game, so if you’re coming into the show completely blind tread carefully!

The Immune:

Sarah: Anyone who knows the video game expected to start out the series with Sarah and her tragic death. The set up for the apocalyptic virus in the world of ‘The Last of Us’, as well as the future relationship between Joel and Ellie, relies heavily on this character. The only issue is that Sarah is part of the prologue of the story, which means focusing on her for too long could easily feel like she’s slowing down the plot. The game avoids this by making her the playable character in the prologue. Playing as Sarah makes audiences instantly empathize with her because we’re viewing the horrifying events of essentially the apocalypse from her point of view. That means we don’t have to spend as much time with the character to care about her. The only time we stop playing as Sarah is after she hurts her leg, where we become Joel as he carries her out of the city, taking up the role of protecting her all the way until her death. This, once again, is the perfect way to absolutely devastate players with the death of Sarah without having to go too much into the character. Shows don’t have this luxury. Fortunately though, the show did a perfect job of finding their own way to endear the audience to her. It treats the prologue as a day in the life of Sarah. We see her make breakfast for her dad, prepare his birthday present, go to school, help out the neighbors, banter back and forth with her dad and her uncle, and fall asleep watching TV. Not only does this do a good job of making us care about her, but it also builds tension. Throughout the day we see various hints as to the horrible events that will unfold later, but of course, Sarah doesn’t notice them. It makes it even more terrifying as they unravel to reveal the end of civilization as the characters know it.

Joel: He’s our main character and the main playable character in the video game. A lot of people have a very strong love for this character. Just ask anyone who was part of ‘The Last of Us’ fandom when we figured out about the fate of Joel in ‘The Last of Us Part II’. Because of that, there’s a lot of pressure to get him right. So far I don’t think fans have anything to complain about. Pedro Pascal completely embodies Joel. I expected him to be amazing, but I didn’t expect him to genuinely be Joel come to life. From his interactions with Sarah to the jaded man we see after the time skip, Joel’s characterization is perfect. I especially liked how much emphasis they put on the trauma he experiences after the death of Sarah. He’s extremely untrusting of any government officials, especially the military, after Sarah was shot by a member of the military. His distrust shows at first in his general distaste for the guy he’s corresponding with, but by the end of the episode he’s actually punching his face in. This was a deviation from the game, where the situation where Tess, Ellie, and Joel are stopped by the military is a very minor setback that only emphasizes that Ellie registers as infected when scanned. But here it causes past trauma to flair up, which makes way more sense for the character. His violent reaction even frightens Ellie, which might change their interactions in the future. What I found most interesting so far about Joel in the show though, is his relationship with Tommy. After the time skip in the game, Tommy and Joel are no longer talking because of various disagreements. In the show, Joel is desperately searching for Tommy who he believes is still working for the Fireflies but hasn’t reported in. It will be interesting to see how they play with this different situation.

Ellie: She’s absolutely incredible in the series so far. First of all, anyone who was hating on Bella Ramsey for being cast officially needs to shut up. She’s clearly perfect. Her constant cussing is hilariously accurate, as is her sarcasm and general sass. She doesn’t take anyone’s shit and I respect her for that. I also love how she deals with Joel when she first meets him. She cusses him out, of course, because he easily brushes her off after she attempts to attack him when she believes he’s an intruder. But after that she makes it a point to either irritate him or outsmart him. She pokes into his belongings in his room, tricks him into revealing what the radio codes mean, and cares very little about his reactions to her talking his ear off. In other words, she’s exactly like Ellie from the game. I thought it was interesting to approach the character’s introduction with her being a prisoner of the Fireflies rather than a guest of Marlene’s. She gives them a fake name and everything, and though Marlene does have a history with her like she does in the game, Ellie doesn’t figure that out until right before Marlene gives her over to Tess and Joel to smuggle out of the city. It makes sense that the Fireflies would hold her prisoner at first to make sure she didn’t turn. Plus, I loved how much Ellie sarcasm we got from her exasperated reaction to her captors. We haven’t gotten a ton of Ellie so far, but I can’t see them going wrong with her at this point.

The Infected:

The New Spreading Mechanism: I don’t hate this but I don’t like it either. Neil Druckmann has stated that, because we’ve lived through an actual global pandemic at this point, he doesn’t feel that the way the disease spreads in the game works anymore. In the game fungi and the bodies of infected who have progressed far enough to have fungus-like growth on them produce airborne spores. If you inhale the spores you become infected. But now knowing how easily viruses pass from person to person, it’s easy to see how spores would get stuck to someone’s clothes or stay on their skin and quickly take out the entire human population. To avoid this, now there are strange tendrils that come out of the fungi, as well as the mouths of the infected, that can infect other people. It’s all way too Doctor Who for me. The tendrils look like Sci-Fi tentacles, which don’t really fit with the genre or the fungal theming. And I don’t see the point of them. In both the game and the show the virus still passes from bites, like many other zombie franchises, and there’s nothing wrong with that. They could have just gotten rid of the spores and stuck to that. But instead we have weird octopus tentacles. We’ll see if they can change my mind on this.

That’s all for episode one. There are a few other things I could talk about, like Tess and her romantic relationship with Joel or what we’ve seen of Marlene, but I don’t have a ton to say about that so far. I’m sure I’ll have more to talk about in later episodes. For now, the sets are right out of the game, the characters have been perfectly adapted, and the story even improves on the game’s story at some points. I know that some people are looking for this show to justify its existence considering how good the video game is, but I don’t think that’s as necessary as those people believe. Unlike projects like Disney’s live action remakes, ‘The Last of Us’ wasn’t a past movie, it was a video game. Meaning a transition to a bigger screen is more about introducing the story to a wider audience than it is about anything else. I think the show’s doing a really good job of bringing more people into this universe and I can’t wait to see what the next episodes bring!

Don’t do anything fun until I get back!


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