Last of Us HBO Series Review

the last of us

Reviews are pouring in for The Last of Us on HBO, which debuts next Sunday night, but the embargo has lifted for the first four episodes for those with early screeners.

The result is a series that is being universally praised, both by newcomers but also those who are fans of the original game. The mantra that it needed to be extremely faithful to the original seems to have panned out, and the result is an extremely high-quality series that looks to be a new flagship for HBO going forward.

Right now, the series has a perfect 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, albeit only from eight critics (update, now 29 critics, still 100%). Over on Metacritic, it has an 82, which may sound low given the scores of the last two Last of Us video games, but in the context of TV shows, it’s actually pretty high.

The show stars Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey as Joel and Ellie, two survivors navigating bandits and fungal-based zombies in a ruined America.

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The Last of Us Part 1 and 2 secured countless GOTY wins upon their releases, and many would consider them some of the best narrative-based games in existence (though Part 2 stumbled into its own manner of controversies, which is a topic for another day).

This first season of The Last of Us on HBO should be an adaptation of the entire first game, and it’s been implied that adapting Part 2 may take more than one season, given its size and dual perspectives.

As for these early episodes, a lot of people I trust are saying a whole lot of good things about it. Here’s The Washington Post’s Gene Park:

“HBO’s “The Last of Us” places a lot of faith in its source material’s writing. The TV adaptation doesn’t veer far from the script set by the video game.

That confidence is not misplaced…HBO’s take on the video game property finally answers the question: What if a big-budget TV or film adaptation stayed faithful to the source material, even repeating the same scenes, lines and big story beats? Because that’s exactly what the show does.”

This is significant praise because even as the “video game curse” has been broken by many recent properties (Arcane, Castlevania, Cyberpunk Edgerunners, Sonic), in all those cases, they are rarely direct adaptations of the games, but rather adaptations of the characters and worlds.

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Here, in The Last of Us, you have the same storyline, and in some places, the exact same script is being used onscreen. That really does not happen often with video game adaptations, and when it does, it often goes poorly.

Also, this is not “just another zombie show” as my Forbes colleague Erik Kain explains:

“Three other powerful pieces of The Last Of Us are plucked directly from the game. First, the scenery. The apocalyptic landscape from the game—toppled skyscrapers overgrown with vines and fungus; a grey cement world gone to green—creates a strikingly distinct setting.

And that setting shifts—from city to forest to small town, flooded hotels to overgrown museums. There are hints of HBO’s other post-apocalyptic masterpiece here—Station Eleven—though I suppose the zombies make it a little less poetic. The sameness that defined The Walking Dead for so many years is, blessedly, avoided.”

What you’re hearing is a collective sigh of relief from fans who were worried that somehow, despite the talent involved, this would get screwed up.

The opposite seems to have happened, a game-faithful adaptation that also works as a blockbuster HBO series. It’s a win-win, and more than ever now, I cannot wait until the premiere next Sunday.

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