Naughty Dog’s 2013 hit game “The Last of Us” revolutionized video game narratives. Never before had gamers been graced with such nuanced, real characters and feature-film-like storytelling. The original “The Last of Us” has been remastered for the PlayStation 4 and Playstation 5, with a PC version also in the works. The game has spawned a comic book, a huge line of merchandise, and now an HBO series starring Pedro Pascal (“The Mandalorian,” “Game of Thrones”) as Joel and Bella Ramsey (also known for her role in “Game of Thrones”) as Ellie.
“The Last of Us” has been around for almost 10 years, so if you haven’t played it since the launch, you might need a quick review of some plot points and setting details. If you haven’t played the game, don’t worry; we’ll leave the spoilers out.
The Cordyceps Infection
For those completely ignorant of the story and setting of “The Last of Us,” you’re missing out on the delicious zombie-horror aspects of it. In this setting, the cordyceps fungus (that can only infect insects in our real world) manages to jump over to mankind. This fungus infects and takes over the brain of its host, which is already terrifying enough in insects. In “The Last of Us,” this fungus is the genesis of one of the game’s main enemies: the cordyceps-infected humans called “clickers.”
There are two methods by which unwitting humans become clickers: They’re either bit by one or breathe in enough of the fungal spores to trigger their mutation.
Our Intro to Joel
Joel is the game’s main character, whom the player controls for most of the game. In the opening scene, however, the player temporarily controls someone close to Joel. This scene is one of Joel’s defining moments as a character and really sets the tone for the player, so it will be up to Pedro Pascal to handle this scene with the gravitas that fans have come to expect – both from “The Last of Us” and Pascal.
Ellie and Joel’s Relationship
As you progress through “The Last of Us,” Joel is responsible for protecting Ellie, a young girl he encounters in his new life in the post-apocalyptic version of the United States serving as the game’s setting. After the events of the game’s prologue and our introduction to Joel, he is more than a little reluctant to become Ellie’s impromptu protector and guide through the cordyceps-ridden hellscape the world has become. After Bella Ramsey’s performance in “Game of Thrones,” where she played the young lord of the Mormont house and stood with the Night’s Watch against the White Walkers, we can be sure the actress will be able to play Ellie in a way that stays true to the game’s original vision for the character.
No, we don’t mean to imply that the cordyceps threat extends to insects too. As players quickly find out, the Fireflies are a group of rebel militia who oppose the rules inflicted on humanity in the quarantine zone where Joel lives when the main story picks up. The Fireflies is a complicated organization full of complicated characters with complicated motivations. Whether or not the Fireflies are up to any good is ultimately up for debate, but the important part for us is to remember that there is a rebellion out there and that Ellie and Joel find themselves at the heart of that rebellion’s objectives.
The First Clicker Kill
This isn’t necessarily a scripted plot point in “The Last of Us,” but it’s a moment those who’ve played the game will definitely remember. The first time you kill a clicker, your adrenaline is pumping so hard that you, the player, can practically hear your own heartbeat in your ears. HBO would be doing fans a disservice if they didn’t find a way to translate that heart-pounding, tense moment onto the screen.
Ellie’s Wintertime Exploits
Joel and Ellie’s adventures take them far from where they begin, and at some point, the mantle of “protector and provider” falls on Ellie’s shoulders. In order for our main characters to survive, Ellie resorts to actions few 14-year-old girls would volunteer for.
Because the world has devolved into a largely lawless wasteland, bandit troupes proliferate the countryside, adding additional elements of danger in a world plagued by fungal zombies. As is common in zombie games, movies, and TV series, oftentimes the scariest adversaries are mankind, weighed down by the gravity of what they’ve had to do in order to survive.
(Remember, we said no spoilers, so we’ll leave it at that.)
The Full-Circle Ending
While we won’t spoil the ending for players or viewers who want to go in blind, it’s worth noting that the ending of “The Last of Us” in some ways echoes our introduction to Joel, who finds himself in a situation reminiscent of his first scene in the game. This is a moment crawling with classic zombie tropes executed deftly and in a way that left players in awe at the end of the game. While we hopefully will have a few seasons before we get to this pivotal moment that ends the first “The Last of Us,” HBO has the sequel, “The Last of Us Part II,” to pull from after this climactic moment.
Watch the trailer: