“The Last of Us” Shocks Video Game Fans with Brilliant Casting and Character Development


Jei Jandura

The first episode of “The Last of Us” was released on HBO Max on Jan. 15, 2023.

Jei Jandura, Features Editor

HBO’s “The Last of Us” is an absolutely incredible show and serves as a brilliant adaptation of Naughty Dog’s 2013 game, the first truly great video game adaptation. When the show was first announced back in 2020, many fans of the game, including myself, were skeptical to say the least. After seeing so many games, from “Sonic” to “Mortal Kombat” to “Uncharted” (another Naughty Dog title), be adapted into subpar or barely passable film adaptations, the fear that “The Last of Us” would fall into this trap was prevalent in the minds of many. Thankfully, it didn’t. 

“The Last of Us” follows the story of Joel Miller and Ellie Williams as they travel across the US during a zombie outbreak. The writers covered all of it perfectly while also managing to cover some plot points even better than the original game and managed to create an interesting look at the cordycep-facilitated apocalypse.

I would be making a huge mistake if I didn’t talk about the brilliant casting in this movie. Bella Ramsey is a perfect Ellie. They nail the sarcastic and high energy fourteen-year-old and she does a brilliant job at showing off the complexities of Ellie’s character. Ellie is the type of character where it can be very easy to accidentally make her annoying, but Ramsey does a really good job at keeping her entertaining and moving. 

Pedro Pascal was definitely an interesting casting choice for Joel. When it was announced that he would be playing the brooding main character, a lot of people were a bit confused: he doesn’t really look all that much like Joel, and people were worried about his ability to stand up to Troy Baker’s beloved version of the character. Despite the fear that people had going into the show, however, I’m pretty sure it’s safe to say that people are perfectly happy with Pascal’s role in the show, and though I think that Troy Baker did a couple things better when he did both the voice acting and motion capture for Joel in the original game, I can’t help but absolutely love Pascal’s interpretation of the character. 

Now it’s great that both Pascal and Ramsey did a brilliant job in their roles, but what really makes their performances shine is their chemistry. The two work great together on screen and they really sell the father-daughter dynamic that the two have, which is great since the dynamic between Joel and Ellie is the most important part of the story. There are plenty of other side characters that are portrayed incredibly well in the show: Gabriel Luna as Tommy, Nick Offerman as Bill, Merle Dandridge as Marlene and Lamar Jackson as Henry being immediate stand outs. Though Joel and Ellie are the characters that the show follows, all of the characters are written exceptionally well, and it’s clear that the writers and actors cared a lot about each character getting the development that they deserve.

Something else that was done incredibly well was the filming and stylistic choices that were put into every episode. I’m a sucker for an apocalyptic style: cities being overtaken by vegetation and the darkness of the situation mixed with the brightness of the day–it just hits differently. Throughout the show we see some beautiful examples of this apocalyptic style while Joel and Ellie walk through cities with the camera often lingering on the plants and mushrooms that had been breaking down over the twenty years of apocalypse. Since darkness is a big part of the apocalyptic aesthetic that “The Last of Us” uses, they really took advantage of using shadows to convey certain aspects about characters,whether it be shadows over the eyes of a character making them appear soulless, or having characters be shaded in darkness during a time of turmoil. It is an effective choice and since the show is driven by it’s complex characters. It is awesome to see that sort of detail being put into it.

Now something that I have to mention is that this show can be creepy and one of the biggest reasons for that is the make-up design of the infected. The designs for all the stages of infection, from the newly infected runners to the bloaters that are created after years of infection, are absolutely perfect, an incredible adaptation from the game. They are so creepy and, as a self-declared coward, I found myself being absolutely terrified every time I heard a screech or a click. I was especially terrified during the first introduction to the infected, a scene that was very different from the original game so I had no idea what to expect. 

There are actually a lot of differences between the game and the show, and I think all of it is absolutely brilliant. The biggest difference is the amount of time they put into developing the characters with entire episodes being dedicated to backstories that aren’t prevalent in the game, “The Last of Us Part 1.” It’s a really interesting choice, a welcome one at that since I am always willing to learn more about the wonderful characters present in this show. They even changed certain aspects of the characters’ personalities in order to make them more relatable and to allow them to have more development, something that is much easier to do in a TV format. There are even some characters that aren’t even present in the game, yet they don’t feel out of place and they were perfectly written into the story. My favorite change, however, happens in the very first scene of the show: a scientific explanation for why cordyceps (a real life mushroom that controls ants) were able to take over the world, demonstrated in the form of a 1960s talk show. It’s a really interesting touch that allows for the viewer to immediately understand why everything happens the way it does, and it allows for the whole first episode to just be build up and backstory, which is sort of rushed through in the game. I think what caused this show to succeed while so many other video-game-turned-show/movie adaptations didn’t was because the show knew exactly how to stay loyal to the original material while also understanding what needs to be changed in order to make the show actually bearable to watch. A vast majority of the gameplay in “The Last of Us Part 1” is Joel crouching and shooting at people; in the show they spend much more time with Joel and Ellie bonding and Joel continues to shoot at people. The other Naughty Dog game-turned-movie was 2022s “Uncharted,” a movie that didn’t really follow any one of the games and instead tried to combine parts from all of them. The lack of a consistent story plus truly questionable casting made it so the movie just fell short when it comes to being an adaptation of a video game. Is it a good stand alone movie? Yes. Is it a good adaptation of the games? No. “The Last of Us” didn’t fall into the traps that “Uncharted” did and managed to make a show that is enjoyable to both fans of the game and those who are being introduced to this world for the first time.

I love this show. It’s gut-wrenching, it’s scary, it’s moving and it did a really good job at bringing one of my favorite games to the silver screen. It is so incredibly well done — I cannot overstate how well done it is. This show acts as a perfect piece of evidence proving that, for the most part, what HBO lacks in quantity of shows they make up for in quality. Pascal and Ramsey absolutely crushed it in their roles, and I cannot wait to see them return in season 2.