The Last of Us: The mind and matter that gave a video game adaptation a mass marketed appeal



Pedro Pascal playing Joel Miller (Left) and Bella Ramsey who plays Ellie Williams.

Any successful story must first be founded in an equally fitting medium. When Neil Druckman helmed the release of 2013’s action-adventure video game “The Last of Us,” a trifecta of art, artist and artform had been achieved. 

Ten years later, the new wave of zombie horror that shook not only gaming culture, but mainstream entertainment at its core, has begun to sail towards the shipwrecked waters of game to televised adaptations. Whether this altered format will do the acclaimed story justice, the opening two episodes hint at a refined blueprint on how to maintain a thrilling narrative amidst a drastic shift in presentation.

Finding its home in the sci-fi sanctioned hub of HBO MAX, “The Last of Us” follows a strong-edged smuggler Joel as he is tasked with protecting a young girl named Ellie. As Ellie holds the only known immunity to the fungi based mutation which ravaged the world, both her and Joel must venture across a post-apocalyptic U.S., surviving both the human and non-human dangers that wander the wasteland.

In serving the pre-established fandom that Druckman helped create, “The Last of Us” show must climb the same mountain of storied success that its video game predecessor hiked back in 2013. Although it has a head start from its amassed fan base, these few extra steps forward dually serve as a weighted vest over the shoulders of everyone involved.

Fans are biting at the necks of those both in front and behind the camera to hold up the bar that had been set over a decade prior. 

In bringing back Druckman to co-write his zombie-art, baby of a project, a matchup of storytelling gurus was made when paired alongside the mind of Craig Mazin, a former collaborator within the HBO brand. Having created the 2019 miniseries “Chernobyl,” earning him critical acclaim and award that contests the heights of Druckman’s own successes, “The Last of Us” had found its collective mind. Now it needed its faces.

Finding an actor to play the trauma riddled character of Joel, whose past has etched an eternal frown onto his stone-faced demeanor, the project warranted someone of mainstream relevancy. Thankfully, the current Disney+ hit in “The Mandalorian” matched their search with a simple answer. Pedro Pascal was their Joel, but who would be their Ellie?

Coming off the recent closure of yet another one of HBO’s fantasy reared stories, “His Dark Materials” saw young actress Bella Ramsey tiptoe into pop culture notoriety. Having also played a small role within the HBO titan “Game of Thrones,” Ramsey’s role as Ellie sees her as the top billed protagonist. Fusing the work of celebrated storytellers alongside a pop culture flagstaff in Pascal, and faith in rising star Ramsey, “The Last of Us” was set to premiere.

Two of the series’ nine episodes have since been released, and what some regard as surprise and others an inevitability, “The Last of Us” is a hit that millions have tuned in for. I am of the party who is not surprised.

Acknowledging its gaming background instead of adhering to it, “The Last of Us” is an inherently great story that takes full ownership of its new medium. Former attempts at gaming to big or small screen adaptations have often been tailored toward the established fanbase.

Druckman and Mazin knew the longevity their story held, as what made the gaming community so enthralled with the arcs of Joel and Ellie was the story itself. The average consumer has to be the basis when projects such as this come to be. The gaming community may revere the title for all it has done to improve the medium, but the television industry is a completely different monster and will not bat an eye at turning this well versed story into another aimless shipwreck.

Thankfully, HBO chose a creator who, after mastering one medium, was then set on a path to conquer the next. A creative mind that stuck to his image, Druckman chose a range of actors that fit his story both from a visual lens as well as an emotional one. The pieces of the puzzle were present. All they needed was to be put together around the common goal of mass appeal.

Seven episodes lie ahead in the show’s first season, and it was renewed for another this last Friday. There is much story left to be told in this record setting adaptation. Every Sunday you can tune in on HBO to watch “The Last of Us” and see how the triumph of one medium can mean the success of another.