A TV series based on the hit video game The Last of Us is set to premiere on HBO on January 15th, kicking off with a pilot episode that is expected to have a running time of 85 minutes. In anticipation of the show’s premiere, writer Craig Mazin and the game’s creative director Neil Druckmann sat down for an interview with The New Yorker – and during the conversation, they revealed some of the differences between the video game and the TV series adaptation.
While The Last of Us is such a faithful adaptation that some of the game’s dialogue was dropped right into the TV show, Druckmann also felt it was freeing to be able to move away from the lead characters Joel and Ellie sometimes – something the game never did. As The New Yorker explains, “Whereas players could piece together what had happened to the rest of the world only through hearsay and environmental clues, the show could venture beyond America and move freely through time, showing characters’ lives before disaster struck. Crucially, however, the adaptation would retain the picaresque structure of the original, in which players progress from area to area, each with its own side characters and ways of life. What had been a standard convention in gaming would give the series a strikingly distinctive feel: rather than sticking with an ensemble, each episode would build a new world, only to blow it up.“
The violence is also expected to be more impactful on the show. As Mazin said, “When you’re playing a section, you’re killing people, and when you die you get sent back to the checkpoint. All those people are back, moving around in the same way. Watching a person die, I think, ought to be much different than watching pixels die.“
And there will be a major difference in the way Joel is portrayed. “In the game, Joel is near-superhuman … but Mazin told Druckmann that the Joel of the series needed to be less resilient. ‘We had a conversation about the toll Joel’s life would have had on him physically,’ Druckmann recalled. ‘So, he’s hard of hearing on one side because of a gunshot. His knees hurt every time he stands up.’ Mazin, who is fifty-one, said, ‘I guess there’s a tone where Tom Cruise can do anything. But I like my middle-aged people middle-aged.’“
The story of the The Last of Us video game is set years after a fungal plague wiped out much of humanity, transforming most into vicious zombie-like monsters, the story follows Joel, who’s living in a militarized quarantine zone. He has a close relationship with Tess, who operates in the black market of this community. Together, they’ve become known by the local criminal underworld for their ruthlessness. On a mission to reclaim their stolen guns, they run into the leader of the Fireflies, a resistance group, who tasks them with smuggling a young girl named Ellie out of the zone. This mission soon becomes much more than they were prepared for.
The cast of HBO’s The Last of Us includes Pedro Pascal as Joel, who is “tormented by past trauma and failure. He must trek across a pandemic-ravaged America, all the while protecting a girl who represents the last hope of humanity”; Bella Ramsey as Ellie, “a 14-year-old orphan who has never known anything but a ravaged planet and who struggles to balance her instinct for anger and defiance with her need for connection and belonging… as well as the newfound reality that she may be the key to saving the world”; Anna Torv as Tess, “a smuggler and hardened survivor in a post-pandemic world”; Gabriel Luna as Joel’s brother Tommy, “a former soldier who hasn’t lost his sense of idealism and hope for a better world”; Merle Dandridge as Marlene, “the head of the Fireflies, a resistance movement struggling for freedom against an oppressive military regime”; Nico Parker as Joel’s daughter Sarah; Jeffrey Pierce as Perry, “a rebel in a quarantine zone”; Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett as Bill and Frank, “two post-pandemic survivalists living alone in their own isolated town”; and Storm Reid as Ellie’s best friend Riley.
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson, who did the motion-capture performances for Joel and Ellie for the video game, are also in the cast of the show. Baker plays James, “a senior member of a group of settlers who must fight to keep their community alive in the face of increasingly brutal odds.” Johnson’s character is Anna, “a pregnant woman, alone and on the run, who must give birth under the most terrifying of circumstances.”
Mazin and Druckmann are also directors on the series, as are Kantemir Balagov (Beanpole), Jasmila Zbanic (Quo vadis, Aida), Peter Hoar (Doctor Who), Jeremy Webb (The Punisher), and Liza Johnson (What We Do in the Shadows).
The Last of Us is a co-production with Sony Pictures Television, PlayStation Productions, Word Games, The Mighty Mint, and game developer Naughty Dog. Druckmann serves as executive producer alongside Carolyn Strauss, Naughty Dog’s Evan Wells, Asad Qizilbash and Carter Swan of PlayStation Productions, and Mazin.
Are you a fan of The Last of Us, and are you looking forward to watching the TV series? Let us know by leaving a comment below. I have never played the game, but I’ll be giving the show a chance.