How “The Last of Us” Brings Life to the Undead Genre


The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

In the HBO original series based on the game of the same name, a fungal virus has spread rapidly across the globe, transforming billions of people into ravenous, zombie-like creatures. However, the main opponent civilisation faces in the wake of such an event are not “the infected”, but rather the last remaining humans on earth themselves. The survivors of this pandemic are left to fend for themselves in a dysfunctional world torn apart by greed and power struggles.

The show takes place twenty years after the viral outbreak, showcasing a society that has completely crumbled under military rule. It follows Joel Miller (Pedro Pascal), a man hardened by the loss of his daughter, and 14-year-old Ellie Williams (Bella Ramsey), an orphan born after the pandemic began. When Ellie is bitten by one of the infected without turning, Joel is tasked with the arduous task of travelling cross-country and delivering her to a hospital where her immunity will be studied in the search for a cure.

It’s no secret that the heart of beloved stories often gets lost in translation when being adapted for the silver screen. The Last of Us is a rare exception, with many fans believing that the show exceeded all expectations, even handling particular subjects better than the game did. The show seemingly cuts and pastes scenes directly from the video game, with many scenes filmed shot-for-shot exactly as they were shown in the game.

While the show works to satisfy game players, it also caters for a wider audience and expertly draws viewers into the story. Unfolding over the course of nine cinematic episodes, the show favours immersive storytelling over the mindless violence that can typically be expected from “a zombie show”. Viewers come to root for morally grey characters that make difficult decisions as they struggle to survive. Characters betray one another, make sacrifices for “the greater good” and commit atrocities in pursuit of vengeance.

Despite the grim background, moments of warmth seep into the story. The character of Ellie is upbeat, optimistic and witty despite her circumstances, often balancing out Joel’s sombre mood. Whether it’s because of the love story told between two characters that spans two decades, the desperate attempts of a man in order to protect his brother or the slow-burn father-daughter relationship that develops between Joel and Ellie, viewers come to see that The Last of Us is ultimately a story about love — and how it persists, always.

Despite the show’s greatest marketer right now being the sparkly Pedro Pascal edits circulating on TikTok, it has so much more to offer than just eye candy — but make no mistake, it does have eye candy. The actors sell you on their characters, bringing their stories to life in a hauntingly impactful way. There are even some cameos from the voice actors of video game Joel and Ellie themselves, with the voice actress for Ellie taking on the role of Ellie’s mother in the show and symbolically birthing the character on-screen.

The Last of Us television show can be regarded as one of the greatest video game adaptations ever made, drawing in both players and new viewers with its gripping plot and emotional core. However, this is not a story for fans of happy endings — characters make questionable decisions as they grapple with morality, and there are many storylines with heart-shattering endings. Just like life, The Last of Us is deeply complicated and messy, but that’s what makes it so successful in its depiction of the start of the end.

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