The Last of Us TV Review

Plot: Twenty years after modern civilization has been destroyed, Joel, a hardened survivor, is hired to smuggle Ellie, a 14-year-old girl, out of an oppressive quarantine zone. What starts as a small job soon becomes a brutal, heartbreaking journey, as they both must traverse the U.S. and depend on each other for survival.

Review: Released in June 2013, Naughty Dog’s video game The Last of Us was universally acclaimed and has since been regarded as one of the greatest video games of all time. Despite an equally beloved sequel and adaptations in other media, a cinematic version lingered in development hell until game creator Neil Druckmann partnered with Craig Mazin, the award-winning writer of Chernobyl, for an epic HBO series. Led by Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey alongside a solid cast, The Last of Us is a faithful recreation of the video game that retains the dynamic characters and world players loved while expanding the drama and horror to new levels. This is a masterpiece of storytelling that elevates what those who have played the games have already experienced and opens up the story for anyone who doesn’t have a Playstation.

Spread over nine episodes, all of which were made available for this review, The Last of Us shares some thematic and stylistic similarities with The Walking Dead. Both series follow the survivors of an apocalyptic disease that decimates the modern world, resulting in factions of humanity resorting to base instincts to survive. While The Walking Dead focused on the interpersonal relationships of an ensemble of characters, the draw was still the dramatic tension between heroes and villains undercut by the threat of zombie hordes. The Last of Us distinguishes itself from The Walking Dead in the premiere episode by showing us the beginning of the fungal pandemic in 2003 before shifting twenty years into the future, where the story begins in earnest. Rather than belaboring the years in between, the series delivers the story’s genesis and then skips right to the meat of the tale. Clocking in at a feature-length eighty-one minutes, the premiere episode does not focus on the infected monsters, which is not the point of this series.

The Last of Us is truly about the people who live in a world full of monsters, both human and horrifying. The Walking Dead aimed to focus on the same thing, but The Last of Us is a far more intimate story despite the sweeping scale of the tale. The core of what made the game so good was the characters, led by Joel and Ellie. Here, Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey elevate the already excellent work that Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson lent to the game. Pascal, who already had reached peak pop culture status with his stoic turn on The Mandalorian, here plays a similar character and guardian to a young child who has a higher purpose. Pascal conveys both a paternal warmth as well as a quiet intensity that balances with Bella Ramsey‘s smart-ass yet whipsmart Ellie. Ramsey, who wowed audiences with her turn in Game of Thrones as well as in 2022’s Catherine Called Birdy, is perfect as Ellie and lends a different yet equally wonderful approach to her character as the original game did.

While the core of the game’s narrative is the same as the series, Bruckmann and Mazin have added additional scenes and character developments to build out this story for a season’s worth of story. All of the key characters from the game are here, including Tess (Anna Torv), Tommy (Gabriel Luna), Marlene (Merle Dandridge, reprising her role from the games), Bill (Nick Offerman), Riley (Storm Reid), and Henry (Lamar Johnson) as well as new characters like Marlon (Graham Greene), Perry (Jeffrey Pierce), Kathleen (Melanie Lynskey), and characters played by Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson. There is also Frank, played by The White Lotus’ Murray Bartlett, whose inclusion here is one of the most significant changes from the game. None of the changes are made to alter the ultimate ending of the story but they offer a branching alternative that accentuates where Joel and Ellie find themselves at the season’s end.

The series also includes some interludes to the past and other parts of the globe to add insight into the fungal infection that triggers the events of this series. Most zombie dramas or pandemic stories focus on threats that are viral in nature, so the unique pathogen in this story needs some explaining. That also means that the monsters and the infected are vastly different than the undead we usually see in stories like this. The special effects team has made some impressively horrifying designs for the spores and the fully infected results. If you have played the game, you know what you are in for, but echoing Craig Mazin’s realistic approach to the radiation-induced results in Chernobyl, the horrors shown in The Last of Us look tangible rather than CGI creations, lending this series an even scarier feel. Because of how realistic this story comes across, both in terms of characters as well as visuals, The Last of Us is that much more disturbing than standard zombie movies.

With game composer Gustavo Santaolalla returning to create an atmospheric score, The Last of Us is every bit the worthy successor to the game as it is a powerful standalone experience. Because this series does not afford the ability to try again if you fail to beat an adversary, the stakes feel higher here, and the characters are more vulnerable than when you are controlling their actions. Neil Druckmann’s video game took a horror story and turned it into a human drama with nuanced characters and stunning depth. Now, he and Craig Mazin have expanded that into one of the best post-apocalyptic stories brought to any screen, big or small. The Last of Us is a stunning accomplishment of writing, directing, and acting that once again has HBO raising the bar on what television can do. This series defies genre categorization and is just an all-around great series.

The Last of Us premieres on January 15th on HBO.

The Last Of Us




About the Author

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Alex Maidy has been a editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. A Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic and a member of Chicago Indie Critics, Alex has been's primary TV critic and ran columns including Top Ten and The UnPopular Opinion. When not riling up fans with his hot takes, Alex is an avid reader and aspiring novelist.