HBO’s latest show, The Last of Us, has finally reached the end of its first season, meaning everyone’s thoughts and predictions are abound. The first season of the series is based off of The Last of Us, the critically acclaimed game from Naughty Dog created by Neil Druckmann, one of the show runners and writers of the show. So let’s talk about it!
The show initially follows Joel Miller, played by Pedro Pascal, and starts off in 2003 on Outbreak Day when a fungal infection plagues the entire world, turning hundreds of millions of people into infected fungal beings. After tragedy strikes the Miller family, we jump 20 years into the year 2023, where Joel is suddenly thrust into carrying “cargo” across the country, that cargo being Ellie Williams, an immune girl.
For those who have not yet started or finished the season, we highly recommend coming back once you are fully caught up as there are major spoilers ahead.
Getting straight into it, The Last of Us is no picnic and it’s definitely not a fun road trip. It’s not as violent as The Walking Dead may have been and it’s certainly not a comedic journey like Zombieland. At its core, the show as well as the original game have always been about three key things: Humanity, love, and choice. And I think for a show that treaded carefully around some aspects of the source material, it excelled in not only showing the worst and best of humanity. But furthermore, it also provided additional story and depth to some characters many of us were curious about, and posed challenging questions about what we do in any given situation.
Throughout the season, we see a push and pull between Joel and Ellie, as they go from Ellie just being cargo to the two of them developing different levels of respect with each difficult and defining moment. In episodes 4 and 5, “Please Hold To My Hand” and “Endure and Survive”, the positions they find themselves are just barely hint at what is to come. Ellie’s reaction to her fatal actions and Joel’s reaction to the death of Henry and Sam can be seen as a parallel to his experience in losing his daughter Sarah in the first episode, as he mentions in the finale that he almost took his life a day later. There are brief and quiet moments where Joel and Ellie open up to each other that progress their relationship up until the end, and are pivotal to the way the season ultimately ends. There is trust built up but for how long?
The show keeps a steady pace in the way it tells its tragic and emotional stories. Players of the game will recall Bill and Frank’s story to be very minimal, but very obvious they were together. Druckmann and Mazin made appropriate changes to this story by expanding upon it in episode 3, and giving the audience one of the most beautiful and hopeful love stories. Not only do the characters of Bill and Frank represent life as a struggle against infected beings and other people, but also as a struggle when it comes to the natural course of life. You bicker, you love, you fight, you cry, and you laugh. In the end, it proved that even in a destructive and horrific world, a seed can grow into something beautiful, live a long and fulfilling life, and be content when the end has arrived.
But where there’s beauty, there is still ugliness, as we see in episode 8 with the introduction of a religious community led by a man named David. This episode unleashed a hard-hitting lesson that no matter what causes a world-ending illness or apocalypse, the hearts of humanity never change on its own. While religion itself often has a much more earnest purpose and a genuine message, there are always those with malicious intent who twist it to manipulate others. “I had a violent heart”, David says, and as the story escalates, with Ellie trapped in a cage and fearing for her life, a reminder that she is still a young girl, it’s clear David’s nature has carried on to this moment. It’s a reminder that who we are internally doesn’t change, and even if we haven’t really figured out who that person is, it’s bound to be exposed in the midst of an apocalypse.
But the finale touches upon the last key theme: Choices. There’s no denying that Ellie is stripped of any right to make her own choice, particularly when it comes down to sacrificing herself to make a vaccine or cure. Marlene intends to prepare her for surgery in the hopes her doctors can make a cure, even when there’s no guarantee of it. Meanwhile, Joel sets out to save Ellie, and proceeds to lie about how there is no possibility of a cure anymore. The show keeps its finale quiet and simple but says so much in the end. We hear the breaking of trust between Ellie and Joel, the beginning of a complicated road ahead. And I think while Joel projects his own daughter onto Ellie throughout the episode, Ellie does not reciprocate, especially at the very end, a catalyst for what is to come in the show’s second season.
There is much to be said about a show like The Last Of Us and I think if any newcomers came in thinking this was just going to be about wiping out zombies, chances are you are a changed person. As I said earlier, it’s not really about the infected. It’s about the people, the relationships and bonds each character has with one another, the choices that are made, and whether we still have humanity and empathy left. I think it’s also important to note that there is no true villain of the series. Antagonists, sure, but no one is truly wrong. Almost every character we come across has their own goal or mission, they’ve each been done wrong in some way or have hopes to save and cure the world. For most of them, the motivation to do what they do is understandable.
At the end of it all, there is no right or wrong, no black and white, no bad or good. It’s our job as the audience to sit and ponder the question of if we were in their shoes, would we have acted any differently? And looking back at such a well-told story over the course of just nine episodes, I believe that’s the beauty of The Last of Us.
If you’re looking for more of The Last of Us, don’t worry! Nerd Initiative’s very own, Nerdtooine will be discussing the show further on our live show, FANDOMS which airs Friday, March 17 at 9pm EST/6pm PST. You can join in on the fun on YouTube or Twitch. See you there!