Love Keeps ‘The Last of Us’ Alive



The final episode of HBO’s TV adaptation of “The Last of Us” was released Mar. 12.

Jonathan Lee, Staff Writer

WARNING: This article contains spoilers for The Last of Us.

Being a fan of The Last of Us video game series for many years, my expectations for the new HBO TV show adaptation were high. I was skeptical at first, since TV and movie adaptations of video games are notorious for being absolute piles of garbage. But when I sat down and watched the pilot episode, I was more than blown away by its quality in almost every aspect. After the first episode, I found myself impatiently waiting for the next one to be released, even though I had already played the game a hundred times before. I truly cannot remember a time when I have been more excited to watch a TV show. 

The creators of the show, Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann, who was the director of the game, were able to effectively tell the story of The Last of Us by creating a deeply emotional and engaging experience. The Last of Us expresses the effects of love and the dramatic acts people will commit for the ones they care about, as seen through the many relationships displayed as the story continues. Whether it be Joel and Ellie, Henry and Sam, or Bill and Frank, all these pairs prove that people will go great lengths and do terrible things to protect the person they love. 

After the outbreak of the deadly Cordyceps fungus, the world is destroyed by the infected, who have lost their minds. The few who remain have learned to survive through violence and sheer will.

The main protagonist, Joel (Pedro Pascal), is tasked with taking Ellie (Bella Ramsey), a 14 year old who may be humanity’s last hope, across the country for a group of activists who are trying to save the world. Joel is a hardened survivor whose life was shaped by the tragic death of his daughter on the day of the outbreak. As their journey continues, Joel and Ellie form a strong bond and begin to rely on each other more and more to the point where they have an almost father-daughter relationship. 

A lot of the plot from the game is kept in the show, but there is just as much new material and characters which keep the story fresh for people like me who are already familiar with the story. 

Some of the biggest changes are made with the origin stories of Bill and Frank, and Henry and Sam. The Last of Us hammers down one of its greatest themes through these changes: those who love each other will go great lengths to preserve that love, as it is necessary to endure and survive in such a terrifying and cruel world.

Besides Joel and Ellie, the show constantly weaves viewers in and out of other characters’ lives. No relationship in The Last of Us is left to waste, and all of them help in fortifying the idea that love overpowers everything else in the most heartbreaking and traumatizing ways possible. 

After the airing of episode three, some viewers called it a “filler episode” and claimed it was unrelated to the main plot of the show, but they couldn’t be more wrong. Through Bill’s final message, Joel realizes his purpose in the world. He is a protector, and must save the few people he cares for and kill anyone who gets in his way. Having already failed to protect not only Tess, but his own daughter 20 years ago, Joel vows to shelter Ellie from harm no matter what the cost. 

The story of Joel and Ellie teaches the theme of The Last of Us in the most upsetting and impactful way possible. To any sane and reasonable person, it is clear that Joel is not a good person, since he murders innocent people in terrible ways. Choosing to save a single life at the expense of the entire fate of humanity is an act of true selfishness, even though Joel makes this decision because of his unconditional love for Ellie, falling victim to his natural instinct to act as a father and guardian for her, because of his fear of losing yet another child. Through their journey, Ellie becomes Joel’s single purpose in life, and to endure in a world without her would make his life ultimately meaningless. 

The show makes many welcome changes to the story of The Last of Us, but even though I love this adaptation, there are a few things in the game that I thought were done better than in the show. 

For one, I thought that the performances in the game were a bit better. Even though Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey were told not to watch scenes from the game to prevent the adaptation from being too similar, I felt that scenes in the show were just worse versions of those in the game. Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson, the voices of Joel and Ellie in the video game, gave emotionally raw performances and displayed some of the best chemistry I have ever seen between two characters. In scenes between Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey, I felt that they weren’t able to bounce off of each other nearly as well, especially in scenes copied from the game. 

I think what made scenes from the show which were directly copied from the game worse, was that the dialogue was written with the original actors in mind. The lines said in both interactions feel more fluid and natural coming from the game than the show. I don’t think that the performances from Pascal and Ramsey were bad, quite the opposite — I just felt that Baker and Johnson played the characters better. 

I also felt that the show could have made more changes to the story, especially towards the end. Episodes three and five were my two favorite episodes, not just because of how deeply emotional and impactful they were but because they were so dramatically different from their portrayal in the game. Towards the end of the show, especially in episodes eight and nine, I became a little less interested with how similar it was to the game. I wasn’t disappointed by any means, but I just wish that Mazin and Druckmann had done a little more to change the show from the game. 

The Last of Us is a story about love, and the unrelenting weight it brings upon everyone who experiences it. It teaches that humans will do everything in their power to protect the ones they love, even if it means killing and lying in the process. Every character in The Last of Us relies on the love they possess towards another to survive and to bring hope into such a terrible world. Just as the Fireflies say, “When you’re lost in the darkness, look for the light.”