After over a year of hype and speculation, HBO’s television adaptation of the legendary The Last of Us video game finally premiered on Sunday, January 15. It’s supposed to be one of the best shows on HBO Max this year. With close ties to the original team who made the title at Naughty Dog, including head writer Neil Druckmann, fans of the Playstation classic have been anticipating this moment for a long time. The post-apocalyptic adventure is an ideal candidate to adapt for the screen due to visually stunning landscapes and rich characters with morally shaky decision-making.
This first episode, titled “When You’re Lost in the Darkness,” starts with a great prelude to the story of the main character, Joel Miller (Pedro Pascal). Joel lives with his daughter, Sarah (Nico Parker), in a typical suburban neighborhood in Austin, Texas, in the year 2003. The pair seem to get along pretty well, which is what makes their brief depiction heartbreaking when it comes to an end quickly. One night when Joel comes home from work, he finds Sarah barely surviving an attack from their next-door neighbor, an old woman who has been infected with a virus of some sort. The show wants you to know the culprit is due to cordyceps, a real-life fungus, with the cold open showing a discussion between scientists of the risk of a global pandemic due to this risk of infection back in the 1960s.
Joel isn’t alone in his quest to find a way out of the capital city of Texas. His brother, Tommy (Gabriel Luna), is seen as a hang-on in the moments before the outbreak, but he’s certainly there for his family when it counts the most. The siblings get lost in madness, and Joel is left to fend for Sarah alone. A soldier eventually shoots Sarah due to worries that she’s been infected, and this is the critical scene that sets up Joel’s character arc and destiny for the rest of the season. He now has to live out the rest of his life without his daughter in a world ravaged by hatred and agony, and Pascal plays this scene to perfection. Fans of the video game enjoyed the close parallels between the iconic scene in both the source material and this episode.
There is then a fast-forward 20 years into the future, which happens to be present-day Boston, Massachusetts. Joel is a smuggler in a quarantine zone that is being ruled with an authoritarian fist. He works in close company with fellow survivor, Tess (Anna Torv). Joel is infinitely more rugged now, a man who has seen countless atrocities that can only be imagined in the viewer’s mind. There aren’t a lot of major plot events in the last 45 minutes or so of this premiere. Instead, the showrunners set up for next week and future episodes by setting in motion the duo that will share the screen the most. 14-year-old Ellie (Bella Ramsey) is being held captive in the camp, and she’s introduced to Joel by a group called the Fireflies in an effort to trade her for valuables. The Fireflies are an opposition group to the harsh control of the quarantine zone by the Federal Disaster Response Agency (FEDRA).
The episode ends on an exciting note, as the audience gets the first classic twist of the narrative: Ellie is infected by the virus, but she seems not to be affected by its symptoms. She shows Joel and Tess the wound has healed, and the trio escapes from a soldier from FEDRA after Joel inflicts violent fisticuffs on the crony. The whole experience is a well-executed start to a nine-episode run, and we can’t wait for next week!
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