New episodes of The Last of Us will premiere on HBO every Sunday night, and we’ll be recapping them here every Monday morning. For this extra-long series premiere, critics Kyle Orland and Andrew Cunningham dive deep into the differences between telling a convincing apocalyptic story in games versus doing so in a TV series and will examine whether the source material ends up helping or hindering this adaptation.
While we don’t delve into every single plot point of the premiere episode, there are obviously heavy spoilers contained within, so go watch the episode first if you want to go in fresh.
Andrew: I have never played the game! Which is why I am here, obviously. I haven’t been avoiding it on purpose, it’s just that I play maybe half a dozen games a year at this point, and the vast majority of them are either Nintendo-hard 2D action-platformers or games about catching pocketable monsters. Every six months or so, when they release a new remastered version of The Last Of Us, I think, “Maybe this time,” but it just hasn’t happened.
I have a broad-strokes, Wikipedia-level familiarity with the major plot beats. I also have a few touchpoints for pandemic- or contagion-adjacent apocalypse fiction (top of mind: HBO’s Station Eleven show but not the book, Max Brooks’ World War Z book but not the movie) that I think are going to serve me well here.
Kyle: Speaking of plot beats, I was really looking forward to HBO’s take on the game’s iconic opening.
Andrew: You’re talking about the ’60s-era talk-show bit, there?
Kyle: No, that part was completely new actually, but I liked how it set things up. Probably useful given how much more “pandemic aware” we all are now compared to 2013, when the game came out. I was referring to the whole outbreak sequence leading up to Sarah’s death. While they stretched things out and fleshed out some characters a bit, I was really struck by how familiar some of the key moments were. That’s not just dialogue from the games, but even the camera angles and background items were eerily familiar at many points. Even these days, I feel like there aren’t too many video game cut scenes that could make the transition to “prestige TV” so intact.