The Last of Us Episode 1 Review

The Last of Us Season 1 Spoiler-Free Review

Regardless of what each viewer comes looking for in HBO's 'The Last of Us,' this exciting, intimate series will satisfy everyone.

I believe it’s mandatory to start an opinion piece about a series based on a particular source material with a disclaimer clarifying the author’s knowledge of the original work. Not owning a console has denied me from playing The Last of Us to this day, but the tremendously positive reception to the games and the announcement of HBO’s show was impossible to miss. I’m proud to have made it to the pilot episode without any spoilers ruining the experience of watching the story unfold for the first time.

Under normal circumstances, I’m not sure how interested I would be in adding yet another series about a post-apocalyptic world to my watchlist. The fact that the original story was released nearly a decade ago didn’t instill confidence in the series delivering an imaginative, unique narrative. Furthermore, I’m still waiting for the first great video game adaptation. Tomb RaiderSonic the Hedgehog 2, and even Detective Pikachu are not bad movies, but they’re also far from being masterpieces.

I couldn’t be more pleased to state that this is, in fact, the first video game adaptation that reaches the so highly desired status of excellence! Labeling or selling the series merely as an action or horror show is misleading viewers to anticipate just another rendition of The Walking Dead or its countless spin-offs. Craig Mazin (creator of Chernobyl) and Neil Druckmann (co-creator of the video game) come together to present a layered, intimate, extremely detailed study of humanity, love, and grief.

The Last of Us Episode 1 Review

The Last of Us manages to isolate itself from the vast majority of screenplays in the zombie apocalypse subgenre due to the total focus on its protagonists. Joel (Pedro Pascal, The Mandalorian) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey, Catherine Called Birdy) are two incredibly captivating leads with distinct arcs yet also many things in common. Both deal with the pains, regrets, and tragic events of their lives in significantly different ways, evoking immense emotional investment from the audience.

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While Joel has lost all the confidence and hope in the world, going about his day with despair, Ellie shields herself with a unique sense of humor and endless energy. If the former barely says a word, the latter cannot remain silent. Pascal perfectly represents Joel’s unfriendly nature and Ramsey brilliantly embodies Ellie’s wittier personality. If viewers can form a strong connection with Joel and Ellie in the first few episodes, The Last of Us quickly becomes a journey filled with inspiring interactions and memorable dialogue. Regarding the supporting cast, I’d rather not highlight or discuss anyone’s arc too specifically, but I must praise Anna Torv (Fringe) for her superb performance.

At the beginning of each episode, the spotlight shifts to a quick introduction and development of new characters who will somehow impact the protagonists’ arcs. The efficiency of this formula is undeniable. It manages to create empathy for the secondary characters instead of simply throwing these characters against Joel and Ellie while blindly trusting the audience to actually care about any of it. That said, it doesn’t always work. One episode features a romantic, sincere story, but it’s so far from the show’s main storyline and protagonists that it feels as if viewers have stepped into a spin-off.

Mazin is solely responsible for the script in almost all episodes, with Druckmann helping with the pilot, finale, and solo-writing episode seven. Concerning direction, both take care of the first two episodes but then open the doors to other talents. Out of the nine episodes, the fifth chapter is by far my favorite, directed by Jeremy Webb (The Umbrella Academy). It strikes a perfect balance between storytelling, character development, and action/horror sequences. On the other side of the coin, the eighth episode, directed by Ali Abbasi (Holy Spider), turns out to be the least interesting, most generic of the bunch.

The Last of Us Episode 1 Review Anna Torv

All that being said, the plot itself turns out to be the least relevant and exciting aspect. There are action sequences loaded with suspense and tension, as well as scary moments with the Clickers, humans infected by the virus. Still, despite the impeccable execution, there’s not really a mind-blowing set piece that will leave audiences speechless, especially if viewers are already familiar with other zombie media — TWDTrain to BusanWorld War Z, etc.

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Most episodes handed to the press weren’t the final product – visual effects, sound mixing, ADR, and other technicalities were still unfinished. Even so, Gustavo Santaolalla’s score (composer of the video game) easily stands out, surrounding countless emotionally powerful conversations with immersive guitar chords. The VFX that are indeed finished help with the visual world-building of the “abandoned” world and, together with the make-up department, offer frightening characterization to the Clickers, who I personally wish had more screentime.

The Last of Us is a more intimate, grounded version of a post-apocalyptic world. Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann construct a complex character study driven by fascinating protagonists, Joel and Ellie, exploring the grief, traumas, and tragedies of their lives through unimaginable moral dilemmas, emotionally heavy conversations, and devastating moments. If I was already excited to venture into the video game, now I can’t wait for that day to come.



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