While Naughty Dog is finishing up The Last of Us Part 2 for the PlayStation 4, which is set to be released later this year, the crucial first story of haggard Joel (Troy Baker in the game) and young Ellie (Ashley Johnson in the game) is being reworked for TV, presumably as a limited series (though nothing’s been confirmed either way). Here’s why this writer and this network mark the ideal jumping off point for this new story to unfold.
Joel and Ellie’s Relationship
Is The Last of Us the first reluctant surrogate father-style story to grace our screens, be it in a movie, TV show, or game? No, of course not. Movies like True Grit, Paper Moon, and (most often compared to The Last of Us) Logan have explored this — as have TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In games, Telltale’s The Walking Dead, back in 2012, gave us something very similar with its characters Lee and Clementine. But still, The Last of Us’ Joel and Ellie resonate strongly, and loudly, amongst this crowded “dystopian daddy/daughter dance” genre.Sure, you could tell Joel and Ellie’s story over the course of a two-hour movie, but you’d lose a ton of important intangibles in the process. With a TV series, given the game’s story, they wouldn’t even have to meet until the end of the first episode. Or it could even be held off until the second episode. When you’re adapting a game, you have to take into account the amount of time players spend with these folks.
Obviously, The Last of Us could be developed as an ongoing show. Ideally, especially since it was being turned into a single movie, a miniseries would be the best format. HBO, while known for their iconic game-changing shows, has also nicely corned the market in limited series too – like Sharp Objects, The Outsider, Watchmen (which is now being labeled as such, in retrospect) and — naturally — Chernobyl.
Joel, whose personal tragedy we witness during the outset of the 2013 Cordyceps fungus outbreak, is a shattered soul. It’s 20 years into this ravaged dystopian world and his personal care space is microscopic. Enter Ellie, a teen girl who Joel, after a series of violent happenings, must escort across the entire country. It’s a relationship that takes time. Joel must find his heart again. Both of them must take turns caring for the other, doing seemingly impossible deeds in order to survive the wilderness, outlaws, and the Infected. And all of it culminating in a supremely twisted and emotional ending (if it keeps in line with the game).
Not Another Walking Dead
Yes, there are definitely similarities to The Walking Dead. Any scorched Earth zombie story is going to overlap. And we’re not just talking about Walking Dead’s Telltale games, but the long-running hit (even if it’s not as big a hat as it used to be) TV series on AMC. So yes, it’s a little unfortunate that there not only already exists a TV show that’s very similar to The Last of Us in many ways, but that it’s also been on for a solid decade. Nothing can be done about that though. The Last of Us must utilize what it’s got and play to its strengths – namely Joel and Ellie. And the idea of a cure.
That’s right, a cure. A theme that The Walking Dead saga has never dealt with in any of its many iterations. The one thing that could help drive the AMC show to a close (though the comics didn’t need it).
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The Last of Us feels more vital in certain ways, with higher stakes to explore, because it’s not just about the survival of the main characters but of humanity as a whole. Ellie is precious cargo. She gets bit by an Infected human and, after weeks, doesn’t turn. Realizing that her blood might contain an anti-serum, a rebel group called the Fireflies need her transported to a lab in Salt Lake City. This creates a much different driving narrative than just a ragtag group of survivors constantly looking for shelter. Also, in order to skip over all of that shelter business, The Last of Us’ story jumps 20 years ahead right out of the gate. The wasteland world is mostly settled now.
So, as those who’ve played the game know, The Last of Us doesn’t deal in zombies in the traditional sense. Its world is still overrun with altered humans but they’re victims of a fungal brain infection who now exist as predatory monsters. We know… not a huge difference. But also, the longer one of these “Infected” remains “alive” out there in the ruins of civilization, the more it mutates into a grotesque fungus beast. Eventually, in “Clicker” form, the victim’s head is now just a giant open toadstool, making it so the creature has to track things using echolocation.
At HBO, these bogeymen have the potential to become the new White Walkers of pop-culture. Some operate on a zombie level while the more advanced cases hunt you down like the monsters in A Quiet Place. All while making creepy, unsettling clicking noises like nightmare cicadas. Some you run from, others you creep past. They’re truly a fiendish lot.
Craig Mazin was only known for writing high-concept comedies for decades before HBO’s Chernobyl hit. He penned the sequels to The Hangover along with Identity Thief and more. If not for Chernobyl, everyone would be wondering what the hell this guy was doing landing a gig adapting The Last of Us (aside from the fact that he’s a huge fan of the game).
But even though it stands as his only produced drama, Chernobyl made such an impact in 2019 that no one doubts Mazin now when it comes to being able to deliver scares and unleash terror. Since the danger in Chernobyl was, for the most part, invisible, the story utilized all of our senses to portray the burning poison that resided within the broken reactor. Banging pipes scared us. Shrieking radiation meters scared us. The darkness chilled us to the bone. It was, in a way, last summer’s best monster movie.
If we were just looking at Mazin’s resume prior to 2019, you’d see a writer who was totally in tune with a game like Borderlands, given that franchise’s trademark snark and ultra-violence. But with Chernobyl you can see a talent who can bring alive a terrifying trek into the dangerous unknown.
Chernobyl operated on both macro and micro levels. On one hand, viewers saw a lot of Soviet government officials trying to contain a huge disaster. Then, in Episode 4, “The Happiness of All Mankind” (which IGN readers voted as the Best TV Episode of 2019), we took a break from that and delved into a fiercely harrowing story about soldiers tasked with killing all the stray animals in the abandoned neighborhoods. It was arguably the most mortifying part of Chernobyl, and a sign that The Last of Us TV series will be able to find the deeper pockets of nuanced trauma that fans will want to see.
What do you think of the announcement that HBO will be adapting The Last of Us? Let’s discuss in the comments…