If you miss the glory days of Walking DeadThen The Last of Us has you covered.
TV dramas based on video games are rarely as good as this new series from Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann, but Mazin also served as showrunner on the acclaimed Chernobyl.
The nine-part series mostly takes place in 2023, but there are flashbacks to 2003 (and even 1968) when evidence of a fungus known as cordyceps becomes apparent in Indonesia.
Back in the United States, normalcy for Joel (Pedro Pascal) and his daughter Sarah (Nico Parker) turns into chaos, not unlike the 9/11 scenes. Starring Joel’s brother Tommy (Gabriel Luna), it’s a fight for survival between public panic, the military, fighter planes, and seemingly ordinary people behaving like zombies on the streets.
When the series flashed forward to 2023, America (and presumably the world as we know it) was overrun, apparently no longer just the stuff of Hollywood movies. Survivor Joel has teamed up with Tess (Anna Torv) in a fortified area with ration cards and public executions, but one that protects them from the mutants outside. To find his brother, she’ll have to take risks, including a deal to smuggle 14-year-old Ellie (Bella Ramsey) to the “Fireflies,” a rebel militia. Ellie, it seems, may have the answer to eliminating cordyceps once and for all.
While these undead aren’t small-screen zombies, this series sits firmly in the horror/survival genre. Husks are relentless and, worryingly, can move at the speed of light. Cities are ghost towns and terror is around every corner for the unwary. No one ever stands still for very long, determined to embark on a heroic quest generously strewn with dangers for the writers.
Pedro Pascal, best known for The Mandalorian, underestimates his role except when action scenes require a little brute force. And if it’s not at least once every episode, something is wrong.
Bella Ramsey, who played Lyanna Mormont game of Thrones, steps forward as young Ellie, brings determination and depth beyond her years. Anna Torv proves smart and brave as Joel’s smuggler’s accomplice, worlds away from her bushy hair News reader role.
Craig Mazin, who also directs a lengthy opening episode, brings nuance to the early 2003 scenes, subtly setting up the haunting before all hell breaks loose. He uses the camera to tell the story where others can’t resist the dialogue he signals.
John Paino’s production design, coupled with CGI, brings the post-apocalyptic world to life, and with HBO, you’re sure to get your money’s worth on screen. There were times when the characters from came to mind Planet of the Apes wandering over the ruins of fallen cities (spoiler alert?).
Everything does The Last of Us a wild ride from the sofa, but without expecting to leave your wits at the door. This will undoubtedly be one of the great attractions of 2023.
But the really scary part is that the crux of the story — a fungus overtaking its host — is based on science, albeit with a little Hollywood push.
After the last 3 years we’ve had, this one feels a little too close to home.
The Last of Us screens Mondays at 1pm on FOX Showcase/Binge