HBO’s ‘The Last of Us’

Finally, a well-made video game adaptation

HBO Max added a new series to the dying zombie genre with the release of the first few episodes of “The Last of Us,” based on the Naughty Dog video game of the same title.

Having played the game multiple times, a poster in my room and a tattoo dedicated to the main character, Ellie, I was nervous about what yet another video game adaptation meant for a near-perfect game that I hold so close to my heart.

In 2022, Naughty Dog had tried its hand at adapting its other famous title, “Uncharted,” which received a well-deserved RottenTomatoes score of 41%. 

I was extremely underwhelmed by this film, which abandoned significant plot points that changed the games’ tone and the characters’ identity. It was clear that the film set out to be a big-budget action flick that appealed to a general audience, not the game’s original fanbase.

So, when “The Last of Us” series was announced, there was a sour taste left in my mouth from Naughty Dogs’ previous adaptation, leaving me to wonder what they would do to “The Last of Us.” But, as I sat there on a Sunday night, watching a video game come to life, I found myself in awe of both the accuracy regarding the video game and the meaningful additions in the show.

According to HBO, the series received 4.7 million viewers in the United States upon its initial release. The reception to the show has been phenomenal. The show currently sports a 97% critic score and a 95% audience score on RottenTomatoes.

I believe a well-made, on-screen adaptation of either a video game or a book should never be a carbon copy of the original source material; there should always be an artistic vision and additions. In video games, there are often elements that would not translate well on-screen, and this reasoning led to a significant change in the HBO series.

In the video game, the infection that causes humans to turn into fungus-like zombies is an airborne disease that can spread through spores in the air or saliva. In the show, the creators chose to change this and have the disease spread through mycelium-inspired tendrils from an infected being’s mouth.

This decision added to the onscreen horror, making the infected even more terrifying to watch. But the decision was not just aesthetically driven. At the end of episode two, showrunner Craig Maizen said, “While that works in a video game environment, in real life, spores move around everywhere. And it’s just harder to buy into the notion that spores localize and don’t spread.” This decision added to the realistic elements of the game, making the question of “Could this virus really spread?” more terrifying.

While the creators chose to make changes to the series, there was still a degree of accuracy I have not yet seen in an on-screen adaptation. The infected actors portray the movements of the infected perfectly, and many impactful dialogue lines from the game were inserted word for word into the show’s script.

The camerawork was another aspect of the show that adapted the video game’s mechanics in an immersive manner. The continuous shots that followed the characters made me feel like I was holding my controller in front of me.

The show also used practical effects, rather than relying on CGI. When the game was initially released in 2013, the graphics were ahead of its time, blowing players away with its life-like but still stylized qualities. Using prosthetics and makeup on actors makes the show feel as realistic as the game did at the time.

So far, the additions to the show lend themselves to diversifying the zombie genre and putting new fans of the series on an emotional ride. If you’ve poured as many hours and tears into this beloved game as I have, I recommend giving the show a try.