The almost feature-length first episode of The Last of Us is a bonafide cracker. Based on the eponymous 2013 video game created by Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann, who also serve as writers on the show, The Last of Us tells of a world ravaged by an invasive fungus that turns humanity into hungry hoards of undead.
Starting with a talk show in the ‘60s where an archetypal eccentric scientist, Dr. Neuman (John Hannah), warns of a killer fungus, The Last of Us moves to 2003 where the television seems to be quietly babbling about incidents in Jakarta.
Sarah (Nico Parker) is a sweet, helpful 12-year-old spending time with her neighbours, the Adlers, and getting her father Joel’s (Pedro Pascal) watch fixed for his birthday. As the day progresses, there are more signs of disquiet including the watch repair shop shutting early at 3 in the afternoon rather than its regular time of 7 pm.
The Last of Us
There are signs of ungovernable rage among the infected and when Sarah wakes up at 2 in the morning, the world seems to have gone mad. Joel, his brother, Tommy (Gabriel Luna), and Sarah plan to leave town but everyone seems to have got the same idea and the roads are gridlocked.
A dreadful tragedy later, the scene moves 20 years ahead where Joel and Tess (Anna Torv) run a smuggling operation in the Boston quarantine zone. The Federal Disaster Response Agency (FEDRA) runs the quarantine zone like a dictatorship meting out harsh punishments for any infractions.
In his dealings with low lives, Joel comes across Marlene (Merle Dandridge), the leader of the resistance, who promises him the vehicle and supplies he needs if only he is willing to ferry a teenager named Ellie (Bella Ramsey) across the US.
Mazin and Druckmann have followed the original storyline, changing and expanding within the game’s framework. So the time frame has been shifted to the present, and the cordyceps fungus responsible for turning humanity into mindless cannibals is spread not through spores in the air as in the game, but through bites like all honest-to-god zombies.
The reason for this is probably because, in the game, players spend a considerable amount of time in spore-infested spaces wearing masks, which would not have made for very captivating television. There is, however, no lack of thrills in this superb adaptation of a beloved video game.
The casting is spot on. Despite Mahershala Ali and Matthew McConaughey being offered the role, it is difficult to imagine anyone other than Pascal as Joel as he finds himself once again in The Mandalorian territory, escorting yet another innocent through a dangerous world. He personifies Joel’s sorrow and guilt as well as toughness and resourcefulness.
Ramsey, who stole our hearts in Catherine Called Birdy, matches Pascal beat for beat as Ellie. The production design, while transporting us into a ravaged world, does not offer anything very different from all the post-apocalyptic backdrops we have seen before.
With the first season covering the first game and The Last of Us: Left Behind, the second season (which there most definitely should be) would be based on the game’s sequel as Mazin does not want the show to overtake the game’s narrative.
The radio code ensures a soundtrack peppered with popular songs from the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. The first episode, ‘When You’re Lost in the Darkness’ ends with Depeche Mode’s synth-heavy ‘ Never Let Me Down Again’ and according to the code, ‘80s means trouble…
Incidentally, what happened to the Adler’s dog, Mercy, who was the first to notice that Nana was behaving oddly?
The Last of Us is currently streams on Disney+ Hotstar