HBO adaptation of The Last of Us pushes its universe far beyond PlayStation games

For writer Craig Mazin, the worst HBO series The Last of Us are they clickers, blistering or other horrors the legendary Sony PlayStation game the series is based on. This is the moment when a lone scientist realizes that a fungal infection of the brain will reduce the world’s population to savage cannibals. This scene appears in a newly created flashback for the series – it wasn’t in the 2013 game or its sequel 2020.

“It’s terrible for me,” Mazin said during a Zoom panel interview ahead of the show’s January 15 premiere on HBO Max. “It justifies everything, and the more real we can make the periphery, the more real the center will feel.”

Mazin applied the same curiosity to real disaster when he created Chernobyl is a popular 2019 HBO miniseries.. For The Last of Us, the memories and the pseudoscientific source of the infection were deduced from a conversation with series co-creator Neil Druckman, who wrote the game and is also the creative director and co-president of developer Naughty Dog. He reveled in the opportunity to expand the Last of Us universe beyond what we see in games thanks to an expert’s reaction to this apocalyptic revelation.

“Not only is it scary to hear a scientist say it’s over, but the moment she takes it for herself and sees the drama on her face is something unique to this. [adaptation] that I’m so happy that we can show it,” Druckmann said.

Flashbacks aren’t the only change that fans of the game will notice – the timeline has been shifted so that the outbreak takes place in 2003 (instead of the game’s 2013), and the post-apocalyptic narrative takes place in 2023 (instead of 2033). ). Because the game was set in the year it was released, Mazin and Druckmann agreed that changing the timeline makes sense since it doesn’t fundamentally change the story.

“If I watch the show in 2023 and the action takes place in 2043, it becomes a little less real. I thought it would be interesting to just say, “Look, things are going well in this parallel universe.” now.’ So it was just about helping people communicate a little more,” Mazin said.

“In practice, it hasn’t changed much, other than we got a slightly different palette of props, sets and cars. Interestingly, as we progress through the series, we continue to find new places and new relics from the old world. [always] returning to the atmosphere of 2003”.

Driven by grief

The story relies more on connected human drama. Over the course of nine episodes of the first season, we follow miserly smuggler Joel Miller, who is accused of escorting jolly teenager Ellie around the post-apocalyptic United States (we won’t say why for the sake of spoilers). The couple is played by Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey.

Ellie is sitting in a room with grass on the floor while Tess is talking to her in The Last of Us.

The mysterious teen Ellie (left) is at the center of the story, and characters like Tess (right) are quick to realize just how important she is.


“Ellie knows there’s something about this guy – there’s something more to him, he’s not just some grouchy asshole for nothing,” the actor said. “She sees the shared experience; Ellie has lost a very important person in her life. [as well]. When you see someone who has also gone through something similar, you want to connect with them. [even though] Joel is very resistant to this.”

more than survive

The duo search for Joel’s idealistic brother, Tommy, who has found purpose in trying to fix this horrifying world. He is played by Gabriel Luna, known for his roles in Agents of SHIELD Marvel and Terminator: Dark Fate.

Worried Tommy holding a gun and looking at the camera in The Last of Us.

Characters like Tommy find new purpose in a shattered world.


“He wants the same as his brother at the beginning, which is his family, to plant a seed and watch it grow,” Luna told me via video chat. “He is looking for a world where you can live with nature and is no longer actively trying to kill you all the time. He thinks we can really go back to it.”

This return to civilization appears to be spearheaded by the Fireflies, a group of rebels who resist the military’s heavy-handed authoritarian control of the survivors. They are led by Marlene, played by Sons of Anarchy and Stewardess actor Merle Dandridge. She told me that fireflies represent “hope” as they look for a way to empower people.

Marlene clutches a gunshot wound in her stomach as her ally watches on from The Last of Us.

Merle Dandridge (left) plays Marlene in The Games and The Show.


This choice of actors will delight fans as she also voiced Marlene in the games. (Play actors Joel and Ellie Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson also appear in undisclosed roles.) She also confirmed that the work she did for the 2013 original came in handy when she returned to star in the series, but the legendary status that the series achieved in later years opened up new avenues for exploration.

“I have completely overhauled my preparation. And I checked with Neil to make sure I understood correctly, because over time your memory can destroy the real facts, ”she said. “The great gift of having existing source material that is so loved, widely distributed and broadcast everywhere is that you can go back and watch it and [immerse yourself]”.

Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann will reveal more in a companion podcast that will air backstage on the show, HBO reported on Monday, with episodes of the podcast airing every Sunday. It will be hosted by actor Troy Baker, who plays Joel in the games.

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