I'm not one for video games and usually say no to excessive gore, but I now hold one exception to both those rules: "The Last of Us," the killer HBO Max series starring "Game of Thrones" alums Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey.
So what sets this show apart from other hell-ridden apocalyptic worlds besides its exceptional CGI effects? The answer is the unique and extremely well-developed storyline surrounding the relationship between Joel (Pascal), a childless father with a doggedly determined will to survive, and Ellie (Ramsey), a witty and inevitably jaded teenage orphan.
The show manages to create a horrible reality for both these characters while still providing morsels of hope for the audience, who stay rooting for the duo. The series weaves together stories that introduce new characters in each episode, honoring the feel of the homonymous video game adventure it is adapted from — while also leaving room for plenty of action to keep the audience entertained.
The only constant throughout the show is the ever-intensifying bond, resembling a parent-child relationship between Joel and Ellie. The show diverges from the original source material in ways that are crucial for elevating this show from a faithful adaptation of a video game to an extraordinary piece of work on its own.
One of the most notable divergences from the video game is episode three, "Long, Long Time." The story follows surly, self-proclaimed survivalist Bill (Nick Offerman) — who had been prepping for doomsday well before Cordyceps swept the world.
After encountering lost traveler Frank (Murray Bartlett), Bill reluctantly welcomes the stranger into his home for a home-cooked meal and change of clothes. Despite initially being unnerved by Frank's optimism, Bill soon takes a liking to him. What follows is an amazing and intimate love story that takes place during the end of the world.
The episode portrays Bill and Frank growing old together, with their now shared home acting as an oasis. They grow strawberries, drink red wine and go on runs together. The episode is gorgeously filmed, and shamelessly, I cried like a baby while watching it.
It beautifully shows an unconventional love story between two men that likely never would have met or fallen in love in the context of a literal apocalypse. Frankly, it's so refreshing to see "The Last of Us" give its audience a dynamic we don’t really get to see in media: a romance between two older men with conventionally masculine traits.
The whole series includes similar moments of happiness and joy that pick you up from the dark place you start to crawl into while watching a show like this.
Ellie’s humor is a big contributor to this light we feel in the show, with her character creating comic relief throughout the series. In one example, she carries around a book of puns serenading the eternally grumpy (and rightfully so!) Joel with jokes.
I think that's why so many people are watching "The Last of Us" — the show wasn’t just created for a jaded, apocalypse-loving fan base. Though its action sequences and zombies are great, the show's not just a shooting game with dialogue — it has real substance.
The series concludes with Joel performing an act of true parental love for Ellie, giving a nod to the idea of morality in the face of darkness, one of the show's consistent themes.
"The Last Of Us" takes place in a horrifying world with little hope for normalcy. The bleak setting provides evidence that the world isn't habitable or bearable for everyone. But some humans can learn to adapt and survive. For the ones that do, love still lives in dark places — even in a world of eternal damnation.