A common problem that arises in adaptions of games to or television is in how much of the source material must be changed for it to fit into its new medium. This is an argument frequently made against adaptions of books to screen. The conventions of one medium do not necessarily transfer to the other, and so sometimes sequences have to be changed, or even outright removed. Thus so with games.
The Last of Us’ first episode gives the indication that it will buck this trend, and provide a title that could stand alone without leaning on the reputation of its source material. We will primarily focus on giving a snapshot of the strength of the opening half of the episode, as it provides a microcosm of its strengths that it will hopefully continue.
From the outset, the originals tone – a grim melancholy, interspersed with a constant threat – are maintained, primarily through the retaining of the original’s opening theme, Gustavo Santaolalla’s ‘The Last of Us’. As the tone is suggested, so can it be built upon.
Our opening scene provides a flashback to a chat-show from the 1960s. Two scientists are being interviewed on the possibility of humanity being wiped out by a pandemic-scale virus or infection. One of the scientists (Jon Hanna), posits his theory that, if certain conditions were to change, such as the earth’s temperature increasing, then the real threat will be from something that cannot be counteracted by vaccines or other medicines: fungi.
As we cut forward to 2023, we follow our main characters, father and daughter Joel (Pedor Pascal), and Sarah (Nico Parker) through the day that their world’s collapsed. It starts small, the two eating breakfast on Joel’s birthday, and hearing about a significant event in Jakarta, Indonesia. They don’t really consider it newsworthy aside from Joel not knowing where or what Jakarta is.
Sarah travels to school, and on the way home stops off at a shop to have Joel’s watch fixed as his birthday present. As she stands in the shop, police cars and fire engines rush by, likely responding to an accident. As the shop owner fixes the watch, his wife runs out from the back room, speaking to him in panicked Arabic, and forcing Sarah out the door, telling her to go home as she locks the door.
By the time she returns home, the emergency services have been replaced by fighter jets flying overhead over her sleepy suburb towards the city of Austin, Texas. The stakes are obviously rising.
By 2am the next morning, Sarah awakes to explosions and shouting coming from the distance. What follows is a whirlwind escape with her father and uncle Tommy from the end of the world.
This is where the programme’s strength as an adaption is strongest: it builds a sense of terror, not through a constant threat of harm to our characters, but through an underlying and intangible sense danger. The high-octane drama of the end of the first half is only so effective because of this slow build.
To go into any more detail would be to spoil some of its finest moments, so suffice it to say, The Last of Us does well both as an adaption and as a stand-alone product. It is well worth a Monday evening.
The Last of Us airs on Sky Atlantic every Monday.