The Last of Us – A Year Later

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Art of Lily K
| February 6, 2024
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The Last of Us was a hit both as a game and a TV show. There’s no question about it. It’s easily the best game to TV show adaptation as well (to be fair, that wasn’t hard to achieve to begin with). 

If you were one of the many who watched our weekly recap of The Last of Us titled The Rest of Us, you know that I was the Salt Queen. And I’ve stayed this way ever since. We hit the first anniversary of the show back on the 15th of January and I thought to myself: it’s time to do a rewatch on this and see if my problems with it are still as strong as they were. The short answer is: yes, the problems are still there maybe even stronger than before. The long answer is waiting for you in this article. 

I am also aware that I mainly focused on the negatives here but I still think that what they created is pretty amazing. 

Pedro Pascal as Joel
  1. The lack of infected throughout the entire show. 

This one is not just my complaint, but I think it is fair to say that I was the loudest about it. First of all this complaint DOES NOT mean that we needed constant action with the infected like we have in the game. Obviously, they are portrayed through very different media, so it shouldn’t be the same. BUT, the problem is with how nonchalantly Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) could walk around basically everywhere. Yes, the show did try to explain this in its own way – and then forgot about the rules it created – but what it did instead was erase the stakes. You see, in the game, you quickly understand why this whole “we need a cure” thing is so urgent since no matter which big city, forest or freaking tiny town they go through, danger lurks there all the time. This does not mean constant confrontation with the infected, but you feel a certain dread, knowing that they can be right around the corner any given time.

Now, the show created this hive-mind thing in episode 2 where if the characters stepped on the roots surrounding the buildings and the dead infected, it alerted the others nearby. I knew right at that moment that this series would show the middle finger to us. And it did. Episodes 3 and 4 literally had one infected each; everyone was just moving around easily. Then we got the fantastic episode 5 infected rumble at the end, and then they kind of disappeared again, missing from episodes where they should have 100% been present. Along the way, the show forgot about its own rules it set up previously, and with that, it sucked the dread (and the horror) element out of the entire thing. Once again, this is not a complaint about not having action. This is the fact that they could have easily had scenes where Joel and Ellie have to go around very quietly somewhere because we can hear or maybe even see a few infected. Or just have scenes where you can see them in the background. That’s it.

And with the lack of infected around the story’s main plot, the sense of urgency behind their whole journey becomes questionable. Why do they need this cure when entire city blocks are free from infected and can be closed off easily? Why do they need this cure when they can walk around for miles and miles without ever bumping into them? Do you see the problem? I can kind of forgive them for not including the sewer scene with Henry and Sam and I can forgive them for missing the big infected action from the David episode. But the fact they completely reduced it in the flashback episode with Riley and Ellie… Hell no. 

Watching the entire season again, this is still a problem and even more infuriating than it was before. It would have been so easy to just put a sense of dread in the entire show. As I mentioned previously, just HEARING the infected in the background, giving the characters a sense that they should be careful, could have done wonders to the entire FEEL of the show, not to even mention the story itself. Yes, the game is first and foremost about the changing relationship between Joel and Ellie, but if I hear one more person say that The Last of Us is not a survival horror game, I swear to God… anyway. I do hope that the creators will keep their promise and fix this in season 2. 

One of the worst things you can find in the dark: A clicker
  1. Losing focus

I liked the Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett) episode. I did, but, and don’t you dare come at me! It takes away from the Joel and Ellie storyline. I said it. This was one of the major plots that they completely changed from the game. You see, Bill (W Earl Brown) from the game has a much bigger impact on the Joel and Ellie story than what we have here. I think the fundamental bad decision with the change was the fact that Bill never gets to interact with the two main characters together. I get that Neil Druckmann wanted to change Bill’s story with Frank, where in the game, you only find the body of Frank as the two got estranged and Frank decides to take his chances out there instead of sticking with Bill.

Yes, they still include some very minor fighting between the two in the series, but really, the whole thing is fine-tuned so they can get a happy ending. Bill’s interactions with Ellie once you get to meet him in the game are not only funny, but they also hold up a mirror as ending up alone is Ellie’s biggest fear. Seeing the bitter old Bill who doesn’t have anyone is a big realization moment for our protagonist. The same goes for Joel, who lost Tess just before they reached Bill’s, and yes, they do shoehorn it in, but it really doesn’t have the same impact as it had in the game. Yes, they added a ton to Bill’s story, but at the same time, they took away from it. But most importantly, they took a lot away from the main story we are here for.

The Henry (Lamar Johnson) and Sam (Keivonn Woodard) story did a bit better I will admit, but there’s a but here too. Adding the whole: Henry and Sam were part of the local band, and Henry and the boss lady Kathleen (Melanie Lynskey)  butted heads; hence the brothers were forced to leave storyline was… unnecessary. In the game, Henry and Sam are in the same shoes as Joel and Ellie. They are trying to flee the city where a rouge band is hunting down any travelers. They are the absolute perfect mirror for Joel. He starts to soften up more once they go through all that shit with the two brothers, and the heartbreaking ending is what changes his view on Ellie. And yes, I know it was there in the series, but they took away so many crucial moments just to make space for the Melanie Lynskey storyline that it was a tad bit infuriating. 

The show constantly lost its main focus, and I am fully aware that it doesn’t have to be the same as it was in the game. But what still makes the game one of the best stories is its capability to showcase how, through a long journey, people can change. How the people they meet along the way can change their ways. Sure, a series gives you bigger space to breathe, but when you think about the 20+ hours of gameplay, well… does an 8-hour and 36-minute TV series (minus the intro and credits) really have that much wiggle room? I am not so sure. This is not to say that the message didn’t come through, but I do wonder if it only did for me because I played the game multiple times. 

Joel protecting Ellie (Bella Ramsey)
  1. Joel, the old man 

Take a deep breath in and out. In and out. In and… WHY THE HELL IS IT A TREND NOWADAYS TO MAKE PROTAGONIST WEAKASS BITCHES? I’m sorry; it just wanted to come out. I mean, let’s take a look at our favorites being brought back to our screens. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) was reduced in his movie to a weak old man just to make space for the new character. Ok. Sure. Dr. Grant (Sam Neill), Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), and Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) came back and instantly got reduced to pure amateurs and just near “how the hell did they survive before?” plotholes just to make space for the new crew. Why the hell are you even bringing them back then? This was a harder pill to swallow, not gonna lie, as Jurassic Park is near and dear to my heart. 

But then… you have a freaking killing machine in your hand like Joel (Troy Baker), because, let’s be fair, the entire freaking game made a point to tell you every second that he is the worst; people were properly scared of him at the beginning. I easily swallowed Joel being deaf to one of his ears in the series. I even said that it was a nice little addition; it raises the stakes and all. But then, when he got his ass handed to him multiple times, having panic attacks, and then they dared to change his scene with Tommy (Gabriel Luna) to him begging his brother to take over because he is not the same as he was before. EXCUSE ME? And then Tommy says sure? No, no, no… the game had a much bigger impact.

Joel literally tells Tommy (Jeffrey Pierce) that taking Ellie (Ashley Johnson) off of his hands is the least he can do, and they get into a fight because of that. Do you know why Tommy decides to do it in the game? Because he sees how attached Joel is to Ellie already, and given what happened with Sarah, Joel’s daughter, at the beginning, Tommy realizes how dangerous it is to let his brother continue. Joel didn’t have to cry and tell his brother he was weak now; they did it without words. It was so freaking good. 

The fact that they wanted to make Joel look more realistic… realistic to what my dudes? You do realize that you are making a series where Fungus spores infect people and turn them into monsters, right? Sure, add some level of realism, but reducing what Joel was capable of… that ain’t it. And then they were fools enough to include Joel’s rampage in the hospital the same way like he wasn’t having problems or any panic attacks in the previous episodes. I couldn’t believe that the man who was having panic attacks just two episodes ago was capable of the same level of massacre as he did in the game. 

As you can tell, watching a year later didn’t change my opinion regarding this. 

Ellie

Now that I have complained about every single thing regarding The Last of Us adaptation, I will still say that this series was masterfully done. Yes, I know it is a bit contradicting to say this after all that you just read, but I did genuinely enjoy it. They managed to capture many things that made the game incredibly good, and we’ve seen time and time again how many adaptations failed to do that before. Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey are honestly some of the greatest castings ever, and there can be no complaint about any of the cast. We also had Jeffrey Pierce, Ashley Johnson, Laura Bailey, and Troy Baker all make their appearances, though. The cinematography, sound design, and visual effects; everything was top-notch in the end.

But just because it was a great adaptation does not mean that I am blind to its flaws. 

I really hope that they will improve a lot of things for season 2, as I previously mentioned. Compared to the series as a whole they are small details, but details that mean a lot at the end of the day nonetheless. But mostly, I really hope they won’t chicken away from The Last of Us Part 2’s storyline. That would be a huge bummer. 

See you all next year with The Rest of Us, when we will once again recap every single episode week by week.

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