The writers show off their ability to walk the line of tension and warmth with exemplary care.
Before the series adaptation, I was unaware of the prominence of The Last of Us among the gaming community. In all honesty, it was the announcement of Pedro Pascal in a leading role that initially perked my ears (bonus points for seeing the actor without his Mando helmet). It does seem I was not alone in my interests as, since the series’ release, TikTok has been consumed by thirst-edits and ‘daddy memes’ of Pascal, which he has responded to with good humour. The show has also received more formal appraisal from critics, who applaud the creators’ graceful handling of the media changeover. Co-creators Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann (the original game-developer), have worked closely on the project and it is this partnership that has brought such praise into fruition. Game Players have noticed the faithfulness to the original narrative as well as the writers’ attention to detail when it comes to replicating the screenplay in the series.
Episode 1 begins with the prediction of an evolved fungal disease that will assert mass dominance by taking over our brains, and you can forget about a cure (pan to faces of horror in the mock-studio audience). The words “pandemic” and “climate crisis” are thrown in here, such words that resonate a sense of familiarity in our modern world. Personally, I have never been particularly convinced by the premise of a zombie apocalypse and so the genre has always stood at arm’s length for me. Yet, this small incision of contextual reference immediately engaged me, and I find it a clever link by the writers that grounds the story somewhat in our reality. And so, it is with this idea that the series takes off. Protagonists Joel (played by Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (played by Bella Ramsey), are flung together, and Pascal takes on the role of the emotionally repressed father-figure begrudgingly tasked with escorting “cargo” before growing to love them – to fans of the Star Wars franchise, a reprisal role for Pedro. After seeing the first six episodes, I’m not convinced that this is Pascal’s best performance. His pairing with Ramsey, however, is quite compelling and it is the dynamic between these two characters that creates a strong core for the show.
For me, it is the quality of the side-stories, episodes three and five as of yet, that have made the watch especially worthwhile. Episode three in particular is heart-wrenching yet not quite crushing, kind enough to leave us with a bit of optimism to help us to steer through the bleak. Nick Offerman offers a compelling depiction in his role as Bill, displaying his sheer skill as an actor, something I did not expect, having only seen the actor in comedic roles. Furthermore, Offerman’s chemistry with Murray Bartlett is also desperately hard not to get attached to. It is in this kind of relationship portrayal that the writers show off their ability to walk the line of tension and warmth with exemplary care.
In the episodes to come there is promise of a dive into the backstory of the teenage protagonist, of which I am intrigued by, not to mention, more to come from the towering fungal monster that was introduced in the final minutes of episode 5… I brace myself for the destruction it may cause.