The Last of Us (TV series)

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The Last of Us
The Last of Us TV logo.svg
Genre
Created by
Based onThe Last of Us
by Naughty Dog[a]
Written by
  • Craig Mazin
  • Neil Druckmann
Starring
Theme music composerGustavo Santaolalla
Opening theme"The Last of Us"
Composers
  • Gustavo Santaolalla
  • David Fleming
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of seasons1
No. of episodes2
Production
Executive producers
Producers
  • Greg Spence
  • Cecil O'Connor
Production locationsAlberta, Canada
Cinematography
  • Ksenia Sereda
  • Eben Bolter
  • Christine A. Maier
  • Nadim Carlsen
Editors
  • Timothy A. Good
  • Mark Hartzell
  • Emily Mendez
Running time46–81 minutes[2][3]
Production companies
DistributorWarner Bros. Television Studios
Release
Original networkHBO
Picture format
Audio formatDolby Atmos[b]
Original releaseJanuary 15, 2023 (2023-01-15) –
present (present)

The Last of Us is an American post-apocalyptic drama television series created by Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann for HBO. Based on the 2013 video game developed by Naughty Dog, the series is set twenty years after a mass fungal infection caused by a mutation in the genus Cordyceps, which sparked a global pandemic. The infection causes its victims to transform into hostile, cannibalistic creatures resembling zombies. The series follows Joel (Pedro Pascal), a smuggler tasked with escorting the teenage Ellie (Bella Ramsey) across a post-apocalyptic United States. Guest stars include Nico Parker as Joel's daughter Sarah, Gabriel Luna as Joel's younger brother Tommy, Merle Dandridge as resistance leader Marlene, and Anna Torv as Joel's smuggler partner Tess.

The Last of Us, said to be the largest television production in Canadian history, was filmed throughout Alberta from July 2021 to June 2022. It is the first HBO series based on a video game, and is a joint production by Sony Pictures Television, PlayStation Productions, Naughty Dog, the Mighty Mint, and Word Games. The first season consists of nine episodes written by Druckmann, who wrote and co-directed the original game, and Mazin. The score was composed by Gustavo Santaolalla, who composed for the game, and David Fleming.

The Last of Us premiered on January 15, 2023. It received acclaim from critics, who praised the performances, writing, production design, and score; several called it the best live-action adaptation of a video game. Across linear channels and HBO Max, the series premiere was watched by 4.7 million viewers on the first day—the second-biggest for HBO since 2010—and over 22 million within twelve days. In January 2023, the series was renewed for a second season.

Cast and characters[edit]

Main[edit]

41 year-old man smiling at something to the left of the camera.
18 year-old girl talking to something to the left of the camera.
Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey portray the lead characters, Joel and Ellie.[5][6]
  • Pedro Pascal as Joel, a hardened middle-aged survivor who is tormented by the trauma of his past. Joel is tasked with smuggling a young girl, Ellie, out of a quarantine zone and across the United States.[5] Unlike in the games, which required Joel to have moments of near-superhuman abilities in order to allow the player to progress, he is more vulnerable in the series—he is hard of hearing in one ear due to a gunshot and his knees ache when he stands.[7] Pascal became available for a new series after the release of the second season of The Mandalorian, attracting several offers for projects from large networks, of which he chose The Last of Us,[5] partly to work with co-creator Craig Mazin.[8] Mazin and co-creator Neil Druckmann had been considering Pascal for some time. He accepted the role within 24 hours;[9] The Mandalorian producers gave Pascal permission to work on the series.[10] He is reportedly earning $600,000 per episode, making him one of the highest-paid American television stars.[11] Pascal was chosen for his ability to portray a tough, tortured, and vulnerable character who suppresses his emotions until necessary.[12] A non-gamer, Pascal watched his nephew play the beginning of the first game because he lacked the skill to play it himself; he found Joel to be "so impressive" but was concerned about imitating the games too closely, instead choosing to "create a healthy distance" and allow the showrunners to decide the characterization.[13] Pascal based Joel's voice on his own experiences growing up in San Antonio, Texas, paring it back from the Southern accent used in the game.[14] In the video games, Joel is portrayed by Troy Baker.[15]
  • Bella Ramsey as Ellie, a 14-year-old girl who displays much defiance and anger but has a private need for kinship and belonging. She is immune to the Cordyceps infection and may be the key to creating a vaccine.[6] In keeping with the games, she is a lesbian.[16] Around 105 actors had been considered for Ellie;[9] the producers sought a performer who could portray a resourceful, quirky, and potentially violent character.[12] After watching Ramsey's audition tape, they spoke to David Benioff and D. B. Weiss—showrunners of Game of Thrones, in which Ramsey had a recurring role—who assured them of her talent. Ramsey secured the role less than a month after her audition.[10] She received news of her casting during production on a different project. She said the show feels "like the biggest thing [she has] ever done"[17] and was immediately comforted Pascal would perform alongside her for the entire experience.[18] Ramsey was aware of the game before her audition,[19] but was encouraged not to play it to avoid replicating the original performance, instead watching some gameplay on YouTube to "get a sense of it";[20] she still had not played it after filming the series.[21] Ramsey wanted her performance to be reminiscent of the games without copying them.[22] Ramsey, who is English, learned an American accent for the role,[23] and had to cut off over 15 inches of hair.[19] In the video games, Ellie is played by Ashley Johnson.[15]

Guest[edit]

  • Nico Parker as Sarah, Joel's daughter.[24] Parker watched videos of the game years before getting the role.[25] She wanted to "stay away from the game version" and provide her own interpretation of the character;[26] she felt intimidated at the prospect of portraying Sarah's death due to its impact in the game.[27] Pascal felt an instant bond with Parker, with whom he filmed scenes first.[28] In the first game, Sarah is played by Hana Hayes.[29]
  • John Hannah as Dr. Neuman, an epidemiologist who issues a warning about the threat of fungi during a talk show in 1968.[30]
  • Merle Dandridge as Marlene, the head of the Fireflies, a resistance movement hoping to gain freedom from the military. Dandridge reprises her role from the video games,[31] the only actor to do so; Mazin and Druckmann felt, unlike most other actors from the game, she physically resembled her character, only requiring a wig.[32] Dandridge revisited the game in preparation.[33] She was consistently surprised by the physical elements on set, having only portrayed Marlene within a motion capture stage and suit during the games.[34] She found the character had "a heavier stillness" in the show, which she attributed to the weight of living in the post-apocalyptic world.[35]
  • Josh Brener as the host of a talk show in 1968.[36] The concept of the talk show was inspired by Dick Cavett and his long-running series The Dick Cavett Show.[37]: 8:43 
  • Christopher Heyerdahl as Dr. Schoenheiss, an epidemiologist on the 1968 talk show who is skeptical of Neuman's warning.[36]
  • Brendan Fletcher as Robert, a thug and black market arms dealer in the Boston Quarantine Zone.[38] In the first game, Robert is played by Robin Atkin Downes.[39]
  • Anna Torv as Tess, a hardened survivor and Joel's smuggler partner.[40] Torv and Pascal decided Tess and Joel had been lovers for some time but, like in the game, were subtle about their relationship.[41] She felt her performance required consistent truthfulness due to its subtlety.[42] Torv was aware of the games but had not played them; she watched the cutscenes after her casting.[26] In the first game, Tess is played by Annie Wersching.[43]
  • Gabriel Luna as Tommy, Joel's younger brother and a former soldier who maintains idealism in his hope for a better world.[44] About a month after the casting of Pascal and Ramsey, Luna was asked to submit an audition tape; he performed one scene from the game and one from the first episode.[45] He was familiar with the work of Mazin and executive producer Carolyn Strauss, and had previously worked with HBO on True Detective.[46]: 1:02  Six days after submitting his tape, he was offered the role by Mazin, Strauss, and Druckmann;[45] according to Luna, they instantly knew he was "the one".[46]: 1:53  He was enthusiastic for the role, having lived in Austin, Texas—Joel and Tommy's hometown—around the same time as the show's setting,[46]: 2:20  and was given a PlayStation 5 during production to play the games as research.[47] He provided input for Tommy's costume, such as the Texan plant Indian paintbrush on his boots and his First Nations-crafted belt buckle, which he felt Tommy "found and treasured because it was just so well-made".[48] Luna believed Tommy desires a family like his brother's and a world in which people can return to peaceful living.[33] He could relate to Joel's actions as an older brother, particularly as he had been the patriarch of his own family alongside his single mother.[49] Luna partly took inspiration from Texans such as Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson, particularly Kristofferson for his relaxed attitude.[26] In the video games, Tommy is played by Jeffrey Pierce.[50]
  • Christine Hakim as Dr. Ratna, a mycology professor at the University of Indonesia who advises the government to bomb Jakarta to slow the spread of the infection.[51] Hakim was contacted for the series via Instagram. She was initially hesitant to accept the role as she was caring for her mother and husband amid the COVID-19 pandemic but was convinced by her grandniece, a fan of the game. She brought her traditional batik scarves and Indonesian jewelry, which the costume department accepted for use in the series.[52]
  • Murray Bartlett as Frank, a survivalist living in an isolated town with Bill.[53] Bartlett was unfamiliar with the source material but was drawn to the show after he read the script.[54] He researched the game after receiving the role and found it cinematic, citing the characters, narrative, and themes.[55] Frank is seen briefly in the first game as a corpse, but has no dialogue.[56] Druckmann expected some fans to be upset by Frank's inclusion in the show due to the divergence from the game's narrative.[7]
  • Nick Offerman as Bill, a survivalist who lives with Frank. Con O'Neill was initially cast in the role, but was forced to drop out due to scheduling conflicts.[57] Mazin felt inspired to cast a comedic actor like Offerman because "funny people have soul", citing performances like Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad and Bob Odenkirk in Better Call Saul.[58] In the first game, Bill is played by W. Earl Brown.[53]
  • Melanie Lynskey as Kathleen, the leader of a revolutionary movement in Kansas City. Kathleen is an original character[59] created by Mazin as the leader of a group of hunters who appeared in the game.[60]
  • Lamar Johnson as Henry, who is hiding from a revolutionary movement in Kansas City with his younger brother Sam. In the first game, Henry is played by Brandon Scott, and his scenes take place in Pittsburgh.[61]
  • Keivonn Woodard as Sam, a deaf, artistic child who is hunted by violent revolutionaries alongside his brother Henry.[61][62] In the first game, Sam is played by Nadji Jeter.[61]
  • Graham Greene as Marlon, who lives with his wife Florence in the wilderness of Wyoming. Marlon is an original character for the television series.[61]
  • Elaine Miles as Florence, who lives with her husband Marlon. Florence is an original character.[61]
  • Rutina Wesley as Maria, the leader of a settlement in Jackson, Wyoming. In the games, Maria is played by Ashley Scott.[63]
  • Storm Reid as Riley Abel, an orphaned girl who is growing up in post-apocalyptic Boston.[64] Reid was unfamiliar with the game prior to her casting; when approached to star in the show, she asked family and friends for their opinions on the game.[65] Riley originally appeared in a downloadable content pack for the first game, The Last of Us: Left Behind, in which she is portrayed by Yaani King.[64]
  • Scott Shepherd as David, a preacher who is the leader of a cannibalistic cult.[66][67] Druckmann felt the series allowed a deeper look into the character's complexities than the game.[9] In the first game, David is played by Nolan North.[68]
  • Troy Baker as James, a senior member of a group of settlers.[69] Baker previously portrayed Joel in the video games,[70] while James was played by Reuben Langdon in the first game.[39] Mazin and Druckmann considered Baker's inclusion in the series important.[32]
  • Jeffrey Pierce as Perry, a rebel in a quarantine zone. Pierce previously portrayed Tommy in the video games.[53] Perry is an original character in the show who, according to Pierce, "has huge implications for things" that occurred in the game.[71]
  • Ashley Johnson as Anna,[69] Ellie's mother,[72]: 7:20  a lone pregnant woman forced to give birth under frightening circumstances.[69] Johnson previously portrayed Ellie in the video games.[70] Druckmann was unable to explore Anna's story in the games but considered it personally important to include in the series;[72]: 7:20  after the game's release, he wrote a short story about Anna, which was later intended to be adapted into an animated short film or released as downloadable content but "it fell apart".[73] Mazin and Druckmann considered Johnson's inclusion important due to her relationship with the games.[32]

Episodes[edit]

No.Title [74]Directed by [75]Written by [76]Original air date [74]U.S. viewers
(millions)
1"When You're Lost in the Darkness"Craig MazinCraig Mazin & Neil DruckmannJanuary 15, 2023 (2023-01-15)0.588[77]
In 2003, a mass fungal infection sparks a global pandemic. Joel flees with his daughter, Sarah, and brother, Tommy; Sarah is killed by a soldier. Twenty years later, Joel lives in the Boston quarantine zone managed by the Federal Disaster Response Agency (FEDRA), working as a smuggler with his partner, Tess. When Tommy fails to contact them from Wyoming, they buy a car battery from a local dealer, Robert, but are double-crossed when he sells it to the Fireflies, a rebel group opposing FEDRA. Attempting to retrieve it, Joel and Tess discover Marlene, the Fireflies' leader, who begs them to take Ellie to the Massachusetts State House in exchange for a working truck. While sneaking out, the three are caught by a soldier who tests them for the infection, revealing Ellie is positive. Joel kills the soldier and Ellie claims to be immune.
2"Infected"Neil DruckmannCraig MazinJanuary 22, 2023 (2023-01-22)0.633[78]
Two days before the outbreak, in Jakarta, a mycologist learns of the oncoming pandemic and advises the government to bomb the city to prevent it from spreading. In the present, Ellie explains to Joel and Tess that she is being transported west in hopes of being used to find a cure. Discovering the path to the State House is swarmed with infected, they cut through a museum, where they are attacked by blind infected known as "clickers"; Ellie is bitten. They arrive at the State House but find the Fireflies dead. Tess reveals she was bitten, while Ellie's bite begins to heal, proving her immunity. Joel shoots an infected, which alerts the swarm to their location. Tess convinces him to escape with Ellie while she stays behind, blowing up the building and killing herself along with the horde.
3"Long Long Time"Peter HoarCraig MazinJanuary 29, 2023 (2023-01-29)TBD
4"Please Hold My Hand"Jeremy WebbCraig MazinFebruary 5, 2023 (2023-02-05)TBD
5"Endure and Survive"Jeremy WebbCraig MazinFebruary 12, 2023 (2023-02-12)TBD
6"Kin"Jasmila ŽbanićCraig MazinFebruary 19, 2023 (2023-02-19)TBD
7"Left Behind"Liza JohnsonNeil DruckmannFebruary 26, 2023 (2023-02-26)TBD
8"When We Are in Need"Ali AbbasiCraig MazinMarch 5, 2023 (2023-03-05)TBD
9TBAAli AbbasiCraig Mazin & Neil DruckmannMarch 12, 2023 (2023-03-12)TBD

Production[edit]

Development[edit]

A 51 year-old man with a grey beard smiling to the left of the camera.
44 year-old man with short black hair and a beard smirking to the left of the camera.
The Last of Us was created by Craig Mazin (left) and Neil Druckmann (right). Druckmann wrote and co-directed the video game.[79]

A film adaptation of Naughty Dog's 2013 video game The Last of Us was announced in March 2014, to be written by the game's writer and creative director Neil Druckmann;[80] it had entered development hell by 2016,[81] and the partnership ended and rights relinquished by 2019.[82] Due to the extensive development of a film based on Uncharted, another game series by Naughty Dog, Druckmann ensured specific plot points were included when negotiating a deal with film and television studios; he felt more closely connected to The Last of Us's creation and development than Uncharted's[7] and always wanted to be involved in its adaptation in some manner.[9] In 2018, writer and director Craig Mazin was approached by PlayStation Productions with a list of video games for potential television adaptation; he was disappointed to discover The Last of Us was being adapted into a film at the time as he felt television was a better fit.[82] A fan of the video game, having played it about twelve times,[83][84] Mazin was introduced to Druckmann through Shannon Woodward, a mutual friend, in 2019.[82] Druckmann, a fan of Mazin's series Chernobyl, agreed with Mazin that The Last of Us required the length and pacing of a television series.[83] They pitched the series to HBO about a week after meeting.[82]

In March 2020, a television adaptation was announced in the planning stages at HBO, expected to cover events of the first game. Mazin and Druckmann were named to write and executive produce the series, while television producer Carolyn Strauss and Naughty Dog president Evan Wells were named executive producers,[79] and Gustavo Santaolalla, who worked on the games, the show's composer.[85] The show was announced as a joint production of Sony Pictures Television, PlayStation Productions, and Naughty Dog;[86] it is the first show produced by PlayStation Productions.[79][87] It is produced under the company name Bear and Pear Productions.[88][89][90] Johan Renck, Mazin's collaborator on Chernobyl, was announced as executive producer and director of the series premiere in June 2020;[91] he dropped out by November due to scheduling conflicts as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.[92][93] HBO greenlit the series on November 20. PlayStation Productions's Asad Qizilbash and Carter Swan were named executive producers, and Word Games a production company.[86]

In January 2021, the Mighty Mint joined production, and Kantemir Balagov was announced as the pilot episode's director.[94] He had been interested in adapting the game for years and was set to direct several opening episodes;[95][96] in October 2022, Balagov said he left the project a year prior due to creative differences.[97] Rose Lam was added as executive producer in February 2021.[44] Pre-production in Calgary, Alberta, began on March 15;[98] Mazin arrived in May.[99] Ali Abbasi and Jasmila Žbanić were announced as directors in April.[100] In July 2021, the Directors Guild of Canada revealed Peter Hoar was assigned to direct,[88] followed in August by Mazin,[89] in September by Druckmann,[101] and in January 2022 by Liza Johnson and Jeremy Webb.[102] In February, Druckmann confirmed he directed an episode and felt his experience reinforced and reflected his experience in directing games.[103] After several months traveling between Calgary and Los Angeles, Druckmann struggled to fulfil obligations at Naughty Dog and returned home to advise remotely, feeling confident in Mazin.[7] The season's original ten-episode count was reduced to nine during production;[104][105] the first two were combined after HBO executives felt the first would not compel viewers to return.[37]: 22:27 

The Last of Us is believed to be the largest television production in Canadian history, expected to generate over CA$200 million in revenue for Alberta.[106][107][108] Sources suggested the budget was between US$10 million and US$15 million per episode;[108][109] The New Yorker claimed the series budget exceeded each of the first five seasons of Game of Thrones.[7] Calgary film officials felt Alberta was chosen for production partly due to the government's 2021 decision to remove its tax credit cap of CA$10 million per project. Canadian artists union IATSE 212 claimed the production led to a 30 percent increase in union membership and employment.[110] The production team included five art directors and hundreds of technicians.[108] The game's art director, concept artists, and environment artists provided feedback on costumes and sets.[12] Production designer John Paino referenced the video game but focused on references used by Naughty Dog during development. He created an image collage which included a photograph of reassembled chairs, which Mazin considered the show's mandate: "the built world is unbuilt and rebuilt".[111] Paul Becker choreographed the series,[112] and Barrie Gower was the prosthetics designer, responsible for the designs of the infected.[113] Elastic created the show's title sequence; Mazin enjoyed the idea of the fungus appearing beautiful despite its destructive nature.[114]: 0:40  Visual effects studio DNEG,[115] supervised by Alex Wang, consulted with Naughty Dog's concept artists when creating the infected.[7]

On January 27, 2023, less than two weeks after the series premiere, HBO renewed the series for a second season.[116] The first season covers the events of the first game and its downloadable expansion The Last of Us: Left Behind (2014);[117] Druckmann and Mazin suggested a second season would immediately cover the sequel, The Last of Us Part II (2020), to avoid filler,[10] though Mazin felt it would require more than one season.[117] He does not want the series to overtake the games.[118] The writers ensured characters remained true to their developments in Part II in case the show received more seasons.[119]

Casting[edit]

Two men with dark hair, both wearing thick jackets, embracing each other.
Pedro Pascal (left) and Gabriel Luna (right) on set in Canmore, Alberta in November 2021

Casting took place virtually through Zoom due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[12] For International Women's Day on March 8, 2020, Druckmann confirmed several of the characters from the games would appear in the show, including Ellie, Riley, Tess, Marlene, and Maria.[120] On February 10, 2021, Pascal and Ramsey were cast as Joel and Ellie.[5][6] Earlier that day, it was reported Mahershala Ali was offered the role of Joel after Matthew McConaughey turned it down;[121] The Hollywood Reporter noted Ali "did circle a role" in the show, but a deal was never formed.[6] Any actresses considered for Ellie for the canceled film adaptation—such as Maisie Williams and Kaitlyn Dever—had aged out of consideration by the time the series was in production, resulting in a reset of candidates.[10] The producers primarily sought actors who could embody Joel and Ellie individually as well as imitate their relationship.[72]: 14:42  Pascal and Ramsey did not meet before filming began but found they had instant chemistry which developed over the course of production.[122]

Luna's casting as Tommy was announced on April 15, 2021,[123] and Dandridge was confirmed to reprise her role of Marlene from the video games on May 27.[31] In May, Classic Casting circulated a casting call for extras from Calgary, Fort Macleod, High River, and Lethbridge; anyone over 18 could apply, and those with vehicles from 1995 to 2003 were recommended.[124] It was announced Parker was cast as Sarah on June 30.[24] Pierce, Bartlett, and O'Neill's casting as Perry, Frank, and Bill was announced on July 15,[53] followed by Torv's as Tess on July 22.[40] On December 5, 2021, Bartlett claimed Offerman would appear on the show in a role close to his;[125] two days later, Offerman was announced to be playing Bill, replacing O'Neill who was forced to drop out due to scheduling conflicts.[57] On December 9, Žbanić revealed the casting of Greene, Miles, and Wesley.[126]

Reid's casting as Riley Abel was announced on January 14, 2022.[64] In February, Mazin distributed a casting call for a boy aged 8–14 who is deaf, black, and proficient in American Sign Language or Black American Sign Language; Deaf West Theatre confirmed this was for the character of Sam, who will appear in two episodes filmed in March and April.[62] In June, Druckmann announced Baker and Ashley Johnson would star in the series;[70] their character names were revealed in December.[69] Lamar Johnson and Woodard's casting as Henry and Sam was announced in August, alongside the official announcement of Greene and Miles as Marlon and Florence.[61] Lynskey's casting as Kathleen was announced alongside the teaser trailer in September,[59] while Shepherd's casting was revealed in the first trailer in December.[127] Wesley's role as Maria was announced on January 9.[63]

Writing[edit]

A post-apocalyptic drama,[128][129][130] the series was written by Mazin and Druckmann.[79] Druckmann was convinced Mazin was the ideal creative partner for the series after witnessing his passion for the game's story;[10] Druckmann referred to Mazin as the story's "co-parent".[131] Mazin said the series may represent a paradigm shift for film and television adaptations of video games due to the strength of the narrative, noting "it would only take [HBO executives] 20 minutes on Google to realize The Last of Us is the Lawrence of Arabia of video game narratives".[132]

Druckmann felt the most important element of adapting the game was to "keep the soul", particularly the character relationships, whereas the gameplay and action sequences were of minimal importance.[133] Mazin said the changes were "designed to fill things out and expand, not to undo, but enhance".[134] He said the series would avoid episodic storylines, such as random encounters not present in the original story. Content cut from the game would be added to the show, including one "jaw-drop" moment Druckmann described to him.[135] Druckmann said some scripts borrow dialogue directly from the game, while others deviate; some of the game's action-heavy sequences were changed to focus on character drama at the encouragement of HBO.[136] Druckmann said the series was taking the opposite approach to adaptation than the film Uncharted (2022); while Uncharted tells a new story with moments from the games to give "an Uncharted flavor", The Last of Us is a closer adaptation, allowing alterations such as changing character perspectives in a manner unachievable in an immersive game.[103] Unlike creating the games, Druckmann felt he was able to "unplug" from the characters when writing the show due to the immersive nature of video games.[7] The writers found the series an opportunity to delve into backstories of characters who the game otherwise ignored, wanting to better understand their motivations.[137]

Druckmann was open to changing any aspects of the games but always wanted a strong reason,[138] ensuring he and Mazin considered the impacts on events later in the narrative.[117] The game's outbreak takes place in 2013, while its post-apocalyptic narrative occurs in 2033; this was changed to 2003 and 2023, as the writers felt the story taking place simultaneously with the show's release was more interesting and real, and did not fundamentally change the story.[33][139] The writers added the outbreak's origins to the series to ground the narrative; following COVID-19, they recognized audiences are more knowledgeable about viral pandemics than they once were.[140] Borrowing from an approach he had used in writing Chernobyl, Mazin began the series with a segment of a fictional 1960s talk show explaining the origins of a fungal infection, implying humanity knew of the potential risk for some time.[141] For the show, the writers removed spores as the vector through which the infection is spread in the games, replacing it with tendrils that form a unified, interconnected network, inspired by the idea of mycelium.[140] The writers felt the game's gas masks did not translate well into television and spores were not a realistic threat, and found replacing it with an interconnected network increased tension.[142] Visually, the fungal infection was inspired by jellyfish stings after Žbanić sent an image to Mazin during preproduction.[82] The writers avoided making "a zombie show",[140] acknowledging the infected creatures were ultimately a vessel through which the characters are pressured to make interesting decisions and reveal their true selves.[12] Rotten Tomatoes listed the titles of the first three episodes in December 2022,[143] and the fifth through eighth in January 2023.[144]

Filming[edit]

Filming took place in High River and Fort Macleod in July 2021,[145][146] in Downtown Edmonton in October,[147] and in Canmore and Calgary in November.[148][149]

The series filmed for 200 days, with around 18–19 days per episode, amounting to 2–3 pages of script per day.[82] Supervising location manager Jason Nolan began preparation work for the series in January 2021, leading a 115-person team that found and transformed more than 180 locations.[150] Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, cast and crew quarantined for two weeks after entering Canada.[17] Ksenia Sereda worked as cinematographer alongside Balagov, Mazin, and Druckmann,[151][152][153] Eben Bolter with Hoar and Webb,[154][155][156] Christine A. Maier with Žbanić,[126] and Nadim Carlsen with Abbasi.[157] Filming began in Calgary, Alberta, on July 12,[98][158] a week later than originally scheduled.[159]

Filming in High River and Fort Macleod took place in July,[145][146] replicating Austin, Texas, for the first episode,[160][45] before moving to Calgary in August.[161] The Boston quarantine zone was constructed over several months near Stampede Park.[111][107][150] Balagov's work completed production by August 30;[151] he later left the project entirely.[97] Hoar's episode finished on October 5.[155] Around CA$372,000 was spent for a four-day shoot in Downtown Edmonton in October,[147] including at Rice Howard Way and the Alberta Legislature Building.[162][90] Filming took place in downtown Calgary and Beltline later in October.[163][164][165] Druckmann's episode was completed by November 7.[153] In November, production occurred in Canmore, Alberta,[148] replicating Jackson, Wyoming,[166] and at Mount Royal University and the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT).[149] Žbanić's episode completed production by December 9.[126]

In January 2022, Northland Village Mall in northwest Calgary was decorated for production.[167] Filming took place in Okotoks and Waterton Lakes National Park in February,[168][169] and Airport Trail in northeast Calgary saw closures for three days in March.[170][171] Webb's episodes entered production in March 2022[172] and continued until the end of principal photography in June.[173] Calgary was used to replicate Kansas City, Missouri in March.[174][175] Production continued in Calgary in April and May, including around the Calgary Courts Centre, Kensington, and Victoria Park,[176][177][178][179] and moved to Olds in late May and early June.[180] Production concluded in the early hours of June 11,[181][173] two days later than originally scheduled;[98][158] Additional photography took place in Kansas City on October 4.[182]

Music[edit]

Santaolalla and David Fleming composed the score for the television series;[85][183] the former wrote its opening theme.[184] He said Latino viewers "will recognize touches" of his music,[185] and drew on his experiences in film and television, having composed the themes and some tracks for Jane the Virgin (2014–2019) and Making a Murderer (2015–2018).[185]

Release and promotion[edit]

To promote the show, Troy Baker, Ashley Johnson, Bella Ramsey, and Pedro Pascal presented Best Action Game at The Game Awards in December 2022.[186]

While the series was originally indicated to begin airing in 2022,[187][188] HBO and HBO Max chief content officer Casey Bloys denied this in February 2022 and clarified it would begin in 2023.[189][190] For The Last of Us Day on September 26, 2021, HBO shared the first image of Pascal and Ramsey in costume,[191] followed by the first still from the series at Summer Game Fest on June 10, 2022.[192] The first footage of the show was revealed in a HBO Max trailer during the premiere of House of the Dragon on August 21, 2022, featuring Pascal, Ramsey, Parker, and Offerman.[193][194] The September 2022 release of The Last of Us Part I—a remake of the original game—was partly based on the potential to introduce show viewers to the games.[195] The first teaser trailer for the show was released for The Last of Us Day on September 26, 2022, featuring the first footage of Luna, Dandridge, Torv, and Reid, and confirming the 2023 release window and Lynskey's casting;[59] the teaser's music, "Alone and Forsaken" by Hank Williams, was featured in the game and used in one of its trailers.[196] The teaser received over 17 million views in less than 24 hours across Twitter and YouTube.[197]

Following leaks from Sky and HBO Max,[198] on November 2, HBO announced the series would premiere in the United States on January 15, 2023, and released the first official poster.[105] It is broadcast on HBO in the United States, and is available to stream in 4K resolution on HBO Max;[4] it is released on Binge in Australia,[199] Crave in Canada,[62] Disney+ Hotstar in India,[200] Neon in New Zealand,[201] and Sky Group channels and Now in Germany and Austria,[202] Italy,[203] Switzerland,[202] and the United Kingdom and Ireland.[202][204] The first episode received its red carpet world premiere in Westwood, Los Angeles on January 9,[205] followed by theater screenings in Budapest and Sydney on January 11,[206][207] and New York City on January 12.[208] A short clip of Joel and Ellie hiding from a Clicker was released on November 16 to tease the show's appearance at CCXP the following month.[209] Posters for eleven characters were released on November 30.[210] Dandridge, Druckmann, Luna, Mazin, Pascal, and Ramsey appeared on a panel at CCXP on December 3,[211] where the first full trailer was released, revealing the first appearances of Baker, Ashley Johnson, and Shepherd.[127][212] Baker, Ashley Johnson, Pascal, and Ramsey presented at The Game Awards 2022 on December 8.[186]

In December, HBO announced Baker would host a companion podcast alongside the series, featuring Mazin and Druckmann.[213] In January 2023, Pascal and Ramsey were featured on the cover of The Hollywood Reporter,[10] while Pascal was on the cover of Wired.[8] HBO released the first behind-the-scenes featurette on January 6,[214] and several press outlets published interviews with cast and crew based on roundtable discussions from the previous month.[117][139][35] Ramsey appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live! on January 9,[215] alongside a clip from the series.[216] A season trailer was released after the airing of the first episode on January 15,[217] and a two-hour trial of The Last of Us Part I was made available for PlayStation Plus Premium members.[218]

Reception[edit]

Critical response[edit]

The performances of guest stars Anna Torv, Nick Offerman, and Murray Bartlett (L–R) were widely praised by critics.[2][219][220]

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, The Last of Us has an approval rating of 97% based on 160 reviews, with an average rating of 8.75/10. The website's general consensus reads, "Retaining the most addictive aspects of its beloved source material while digging deeper into the story, The Last of Us is bingeworthy TV that ranks among the all-time greatest video game adaptations."[221] Metacritic calculated an average of 84 out of 100 based on 41 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim".[222] Several reviewers considered it the best live-action adaptation of a video game,[223][224][225] with GameSpot's Mark Delaney saying it "feels like the beginning of a new era" for the genre.[184]

The cast's performances received widespread acclaim, with critics singling out the chemistry between Pascal and Ramsey for praise.[223][226][227] Evening Standard's Vicky Jessop said the two "steal every scene they're in",[228] while Rolling Stone's Alan Sepinwall called them "compulsively watchable and almost instantly endearing".[2] Empire's John Nugent and /Film's Valerie Ettenhofer referred to Pascal's performance as the best of his career, citing his ability to portray nuance and rare vulnerability.[219][229] TechRadar's Axel Metz described him as the "perfect real-world manifestation" of Joel.[230] Several critics found Ramsey gave the show's breakout performance for her balance of comedy and emotion,[2][225][231] with Time's Judy Berman calling her "the show's greatest asset"[232] and IGN's Simon Cardy applauding her for "making her mark" on Ellie, a character already considered iconic long before Ramsey's portrayal.[220] The performances of Torv, Offerman, and Bartlett were highly praised,[2][219][220][233] with the latter two being described by Complex's William Goodman as "career-best"[234] and by Inverse's Dais Johnston as "Emmy-worthy".[235] CNET's Sean Keane found Lynskey gave her character a "quiet menace" and called Shepherd's performance "charismatic".[236]

Reviewers praised the differences from the original game's narrative implemented by Mazin and Druckmann,[184][231][237] and some believed the scenes lifted directly from the game were among the weakest and led to issues with pacing.[66][237][238] Variety's Daniel D'Addario felt the show relied too heavily on action sequences,[239] while TechRadar's Metz wanted more action.[230] IGN's Cardy wrote the series "often shines brightest" during its quietest moments.[220] Critics overwhelmingly considered the third episode the season's best,[219][232][233] and some named it among the greatest episodes of television overall.[225][240] The Hollywood Reporter's Daniel Fienberg felt it elevated the series to a new level,[3] and Empire's Nugent called it "moving, surprisingly romantic, and one of the finest hours of television in recent memory".[229] Some critics found the first episode well-made but too familiar,[2][3] and /Film's Ettenhofer considered it the season's weakest.[219] RogerEbert.com's Brian Tallerico found the final two episodes rushed.[241]

Several critics lauded the production design.[229][234] Digital Spy's David Opie wrote "every set feels like it was ripped straight out of the game".[233] Conversely, Slant Magazine's Pat Brown felt environments appeared too manicured and carefully placed.[66] Inverse's Johnston praised the use of lighting to highlight the humanity of both the characters and creatures, and called the cinematography "something other video game adaptations could only dream of".[235] TV Guide's Keith Phipps called the series "visually striking",[129] and IGN's Cardy wrote it "is often a sight to behold".[220] Santaolalla's score received praise,[184][220] with CNET's Keane feeling it added "a yearning of sadness to the narrative".[236]

Ratings[edit]

The premiere episode had 4.7 million viewers in the United States on its first night of availability, including linear viewers and streams on HBO Max, making it the second-largest debut for HBO since 2010, behind House of the Dragon.[242] That figure increased to over 10 million viewers after two days,[243] 18 million after a week,[244] and 22 million within twelve days.[116] In Latin America, the series premiere was the biggest HBO Max debut ever.[245] The second episode had 5.7 million viewers on its first night, an increase of 22 percent from the previous week, the largest second-week audience growth for an original HBO drama series in the network's history.[244]

In the United Kingdom, the video games increased their sales following the premiere: The Last of Us Remastered by 322 percent over the previous week and The Last of Us Part I by 238 percent, with both reentering the charts as a result.[246]

Viewership and ratings per episode of The Last of Us
No. Title Air date Rating
(18–49)
Viewers
(millions)
Ref(s)
1 "When You're Lost in the Darkness" January 15, 2023 0.166 0.588 [77]
2 "Infected" January 22, 2023 0.185 0.633 [78]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ The Last of Us was developed by Naughty Dog and published by Sony Computer Entertainment. Neil Druckmann was the writer and creative director, and Bruce Straley was the game director.[1]
  2. ^ a b c 4K UHDTV, Dolby Vision, and Dolby Atmos are only available through HBO Max and some international partner services.[4] The originating HBO TV channel does not have a 4K feed and is limited to 1080i HDTV and Dolby Digital 5.1.

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