The Last of Us: A Prime Example of a TV Adaptation Done Right


“The Last of Us™ Remastered_20140810112502” by Néstor Carvajal is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Friday, September 26, 2003.

A chaotic scene erupts in downtown Austin, Texas. Cars and trucks peel out of driveways and alleys. Squadrons of police cars with sirens wailing and lights flashing fly down the highway at top speed. Fire engines with engines running block roadways, and buildings often ablaze right next to them, but with no firefighters to be seen. The reporter on the radio goes quiet. Cell reception drops out completely. A dog barks frantically in the distance. Gunshots ring out nearby. Helicopters buzz and oscillate overhead. People scream and yell and cry out in terror as they run frantically through the streets, running from other people; crazed people; people that seem more like entities than humans, with their sinister sounding snarls, jerky body movements, violent behavior, and the internal remains of others smeared across their chests and faces.

Then, suddenly, a U.S. Air Force bomber above loses control and falls out of the sky, crashing into the ground in a great, cacophonous mushroom-shaped explosion. The detonation consumes a great number of buildings and knocks you to the ground.

This is the opening scene of HBO’s latest and hit new television series The Last of Us, a show that follows Joel, an average working-class man who lost his daughter that very day to a trigger-happy U.S. Army soldier, and Ellie, a teenage girl who is simply trying to survive this catastrophic event while also holding a secret that could just be the cure for whatever this chaos may be.

The show is a classic post-apocalyptic series, like The Walking Dead, with a few key differences. The first difference is that unlike The Walking Dead, where a parasitic infection infiltrated the human body and consumed the entirety of the world’s population, The Last of Us is based on a fungal infection known as Cordyceps, which is an actual fungus in real life, making the series even more horrifying.

Cordyceps infiltrates its victims via contact with spores from the organism or, in the case of the show, through direct contact such as a bite or scrape. Once infected, the fungus takes control of the host’s mind, overriding all normal functions and transforming it into a lifeless, emotionless entity driven by nothing but pure animalistic instinct.

The second is that the “zombies” in this series are not the slow kind you’d find in TWD. Slow zombies are relatively easy to kill, quick to outrun, and only particularly dangerous in confined spaces and large numbers. But with The Last of Us, the zombies are the fast kind — the kind that you might see in World War Z. These zombies run at full speed towards their prey without any regard for their own safety, travel in massive hordes, and come in four main varieties: runners, stalkers, clickers and bloaters.

On top of all of that, the series is not based on a completely new and original idea; it’s actually an adaptation of the video game of the same name. The game, released in 2013, gained critical acclaim for its graphics, gameplay, and storytelling, making it an extremely popular and compelling game for players to get their hands on and enjoy.

I have watched the series up until the most recently released episode, and it’s absolutely incredible.

Episode 1 of the series does an excellent job of immediately placing the situation of the story into a real world perspective. At the very beginning, we see two scientists in 1968 discussing the Cordyceps infection which, at that point in time, had not yet spread to humans. These scientists were quick to note this. However, they also remarked on a terrifying prospect: if the environment around the fungus were to change — for example, if the world heated up by a few degrees — then the fungus could mutate and transfer to humans, causing devastating global consequences. Further, the scientists ended their grave report to the audience with the plain and simple fact that there would be no possible or tangible cure for such an infection. In essence, if this ever occurred in the real world, everyone would be screwed.

And screwed they certainly were, as the events of the show unfold and display.

Episodes 2 and 3 offer a broader perspective of the impact that such an infection had on the world, especially after 20 years of time. In these episodes, we can see both similarities and stark contrasts. For example, in Boston, the only populated area is the Quarantine Zone, run by the authoritative and mostly corrupt FEDRA (Federal Emergency Disaster Response Agency). Outside of that area, we see streets overrun with flora, animals freely roaming about once heavily populated areas, infected gathering in swathes, waiting for a new victim, and entire skyscrapers destroyed and collapsed on each other.

The filmmakers did an excellent job of using computer generated images to make regular old cities look absolutely devastated and destroyed; just as one would expect a city to appear 20 years after a catastrophic outbreak such as this one.

Just recently released a few weeks ago, this stunning series works fantastically as an alternate version of the game and a standalone series. One could have never played the video game before and would still be able to understand the general flow of the story’s plot. Granted, it is not a perfect replica of the original; characters have been changed, locations have been altered and the chronology of some events have been moved around. However, it is that slight but noticeable variation that makes this series so appealing; it adds a level of intrigue and suspense to the show that allows even people who have already played the game and know its ending to be a little bit surprised by the events of a particular episode.

I am personally very hopeful for the future of this series. Just a few days after its debut, The Last of Us was pre-approved for a second season, paving the way for a fully completed story by early 2024 to late 2025. While I have already seen a playthrough of the game, and therefore know most of the major events, plot twists, and an insane number of character deaths, seeing it in television format will be a rather intriguing sight and I am hopefully curious to see how the filmmakers will change and adapt the story for TV.

Overall, The Last of Us maintains itself as an action-packed and suspenseful series that deeply embeds itself within the audience’s personal fears and apprehensions. It beautifully crafts a zombie genre storyline that bases itself on a real-life infection that never becomes overbearing or “jumps the shark”, as many critics of the still-running The Walking Dead series note. I rate this show as a 9.5/10 and highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in the genre or has played the game.