New episodes of The Last of Us are premiering on HBO every Sunday night, and Ars’ Kyle Orland (who’s played the games) and Andrew Cunningham (who hasn’t) will be talking about them here every Monday morning. While these recaps don’t delve into every single plot point of the premiere episode, there are obviously heavy spoilers contained within, so go watch the episode first if you want to go in fresh.
Andrew: We talked last week about my concerns that the show would struggle to feel like an “adaptation” as opposed to straightforward apocalypse fiction, and let me just say, without even having played the game, there was a lot that felt “video gamey” to me about this episode. Beyond the zombie encounters, there’s something about a bombed-out shell of a recognizable place—ruined but weirdly beautiful in places where nature has re-asserted itself—that feels specific to video games. Weird to think of a TV show as having “level design,” but that’s what the ruined museum and waterlogged hotel lobby put me in the mind of.
Kyle: Yeah, one reason for that is probably that this episode was direct by Neil Druckmann, who co-wrote and co-directed the games. So it’s not shocking that a lot of moments in this episode play out as pretty direct re-creations of the games’ first encounter with the clickers. I half expected a “mash the square button” prompt to appear on screen at a few points during the action scenes.For the most part I wish the show was a little less faithful and a little more concise here. The fights with the infected end up a lot less interesting as a passive observer, compared to someone controlling the protagonists.
Anything that did surprise you in this episode, as someone who basically knows where all of this is going?
Kyle: Well, from the start I was kind of surprised we went back to pre-outbreak times for that Indonesia scene. To me that mostly that felt like a lot of wasted time going over stuff we already knew. The whole point of the story is that it doesn’t matter precisely how the infection happened, humanity has to deal with the shitty aftermath regardless.It was a long way to go to set up the fact that bombs are a good solution to a lot of infected at once, which I think becomes relatively self-evident even without that scene.
But yes, put me down as “generally uninterested in flashbacks that show us things we could have assumed given already-available information.”
Kyle: Yeah, after playing through dozens of hours in the post-outbreak world of the games, I never found myself thinking “gee I wish we knew more about what caused all this.” But the showrunners seem to feel differently.This is probably unfair because I’ve grown to love Ellie through the games, but… do you love Ellie yet?
Andrew: I liked her in this episode! Yes, obviously, still a smart-mouth, and I am sure there are people who find her one-note, but you do get some moments of vulnerability and innocence in this episode that I talked about wanting to see more of last week. And as someone born post-apocalypse, she is a handy audience surrogate for explanations about the monsters and the world.All things considered, still just my second-favorite child who is being escorted through a hostile wilderness by Pedro Pascal on an expensive-looking sci-fi show. But there’s a surprising amount of competition in that category.
Kyle: All in all, I think they did a good job setting up Tess’ noble/technically cost-free-at-that-point sacrifice, paving the way for the core Joel/Ellie relationship that was always obviously going to drive the show (even if you haven’t played the games).
Andrew: Yeah, like I said last week (and, I suspect, will continue to say?), it’s all tropey as hell but well-done enough that you mostly don’t care? You knew the moment that Ellie and Tess seemed to be bonding that Tess was not going to make it out of the episode (the fact that there are, uh, fewer than three people in all the promotional material for the show is another giveaway).Even without foreknowledge of the games, you can see the Unlikely Bond between Joel and Ellie coming from a mile away. All the beats of both major monster fights were textbook. Will the monster walk by without noticing them? Will Tess manage to use the flaky lighter? You know the answer to both.