“The Last of Us” reaches whole new level


In Episode 2, Joel Miller (actor Pedro Pascal) shields Ellie (actress Bella Ramsey) from a clicker. Ellie was frightened by her first encounter with a clicker. SOURCE FROM HBO

Jude Winslow, Opinion and Entertainment writer

Back in August of 2022, the AMC Original Series and “Breaking Bad” spin-off “Better Call Saul” concluded its sixth and final season, going down as one of my favorite shows of all time. Since finishing the show, I have been searching for something comparable that makes me excited to tune in to watch on a weekly basis. Two months back, I was introduced to the new HBO series “The Last of Us” by a teacher who recommended it as a piece of well-made television. 

I was very skeptical when I first began watching the show because I am not typically a fan of zombie-themed shows, like “The Walking Dead,” another AMC series, along with its numerous spin-offs. But after finishing the first episode, I realized this series was more than just another mind-numbing zombie show.  

The lead protagonist of the series is Joel Miller, portrayed by “The Mandalorian” actor Pedro Pascal, a hardened middle-aged man who has survived 20 years since the initial outbreak and is tormented by his daughter’s death. The only other main character is Ellie, portrayed by “Game of Thrones” alum Bella Ramsey, a 14-year-old girl who displays much anger and has developed an immunity to the virus that has wiped out much of life on Earth.  

To give a brief synopsis, in 2003 a mass fungal infection of Cordyceps, a mutated virus that hijacks humans and transforms them into zombies, sparks a global pandemic. During the outbreak, Joel tries to escape with his family out of Austin, Texas but fails after his daughter Sarah is killed during an altercation with the military.  

The series then takes a 20-year jump to 2023 displaying how life has continued throughout the ongoing pandemic. Joel is now operating as a smuggler in a Quarantine Zone located in Boston, Massachusetts. Joel is hired by a resistance group named the Fireflies to transport Ellie across the country in order to develop a vaccine from Ellie’s immune DNA.  

For the past eight weeks, episode by episode, the outside world has expanded as Joel and Ellie travel across the country making their way toward the American West, introducing new characters and new side stories that each stand as individual installments into this connected storyline. 

In the critically acclaimed episode 3, the duo arrives at the town of Lincoln, Massachusetts fortified and protected by Bill and Frank, a pair of smugglers. Across episodes 4 and 5, Joel and Ellie come under attack in Kansas City, Missouri where the remains of the federal government have fallen to insurgents. 

Across episodes 6 through 8, Joel and Ellie pass over several communities, both peaceful and antagonistic, in the mountain west including Joel reuniting with his brother Tommy, as well as a flashback to Ellie’s origin of being infected and discovering her immunity to the virus. 

As I mentioned before, I was very hesitant to start this series mainly due to “The Walking Dead,” which implied by its title, features loads and loads of zombies that distracted from the story and the main characters’ story arcs as well. In contrast, “The Last of Us” focuses on the survivors and what they’ve endured.  

Something I dislike about the series is its rushed nature. In almost every episode a new interesting and compelling character is introduced only to be killed by the end before viewers get to understand them as people.  

For example, in the latest episode, an action-packed story about Ellie being kidnapped by a group of cannibals was condensed into a little under an hour episode that interfered with viewers’ ability to better understand the themes of the episode as well as its newly introduced character, David.  

“The Last of Us,” as you probably are aware is adapted from a video game of the same name. To understand the story better as a viewer, I read the plot of the original game. It was interesting to see how the two forms of media compared and contrasted.  

I was impressed at how the video game emphasized character development and its ability to contain layered themes throughout its leveled structure. The game’s creator Neil Druckmann co-created the television series with Craig Mazin, who famously created the limited series “Chernobyl.” The two minds crafted together a beautiful show that raises the video game franchise to another level.  

This theme is successfully achieved its focus on the story over gore and spectacle, for example, no infected are featured in either episodes 6 or 8, which helps develop the characters and focus on the main story of how the last of humanity continues on after the collapse of society.  

As I write this, the season finale has not yet aired. The first season has for the most part followed the same threads as the original game with some notable deviations. I’m predicting it ends with a big shootout in an abandoned Salt Lake City Hospital. 

In conclusion, I am giving “The Last of Us” 4 out of 5 mushrooms since the infection originates from fungi. I’m giving it this rating since it is practically brand new and as I mentioned, we have yet to see how the season comes to an end on Sunday night at 8 P.M. on HBO and HBO Max, and I encourage you to tune in if you are in need of a good watch.