The Last of Us Part II Cost a Cool $200 Million to Develop

Sony’s confidential PlayStation secrets just spilled because of a Sharpie by Tom Warren and Sean Hollister for The Verge

It looks like someone redacted the documents with a black Sharpie — but when you scan them in, it’s easy to see some of the redactions. Oops.

I modified the image slightly, so I could read the text better.

Someone is in big trouble over in Sony’s legal department.

While the development time for The Last of Us Part II wasn’t a surprise, the cost to make it was. Now, $200 million also isn’t a surprise; massive AAA first-party exclusives fall in this range. Just look at Horizon Forbidden West in the previous sentence above.

For context though, The Last of Us Part II sold 4 million copies in three days. If all of those were just the base game at $59.99, Sony recouped the development cost and then some at $239,960,000. In 2022, the game reached 10 million copies sold, although the profit made is unknown due to discounted sales throughout that time. The entire series (four games) has sold 37 million copies.

I think the $200 million investment for Part II has paid off. I wager the investment in The Last of Us Part III will pay off even more so; not sure if the multiplayer game will see the light of day though.

Happy 10 Year Anniversary to The Last of Us

Ten years ago, my summer kicked off with a game that would change my life and countless others. Who knew a decade ago that I’d name my daughter after Ellie.

I don’t have anything big planned for today. I should, but have just run out of time. I just wanted to acknowledge this significant milestone. 

If you’d like to see, read, or listen to any of my coverage on The Last of Us or Naughty Dog, check out my hub for Chasing the Stick. The franchise is bigger than ever today with the TV show and inevitable Part III. The multiplayer game is in limbo, becoming the studio’s longest developed game to date.

The Last of Us has stood the test of time and will be around for many more years to come. Congratulations to Neil, Bruce, and the team at Naughty Dog. Endure and survive indeed.

The Last of Us Factions Multiplayer Game Delayed

Naughty Dog via Twitter

The Last of Us Fans,

We know many of you have been looking forward to hearing more about our The Last of Us Multiplayer Game. We’re incredibly proud of the job our studio has done thus far, but as development has continued, we’ve realized what is best for the game is to give it more time.

Our team will continue to work on the project, as well as our other games in development, including a brand new single-player experience; we look forward to sharing more soon.

We’re grateful to our fantastic community for your support – Thank you for your passion for our games, it continues to drive us.

I’m washing baseboards right now, but I had to pause to at least share this news. Something has been up with this game. It’s nearing a total of eight years in development; likely six in the “current” goal/iteration/ambition.

I’m gonna stew on this. Much to think about.

The Last of Us Ep. 9 – “Look for the Light” Thoughts & Impressions

Well, here we are (seven weeks later 😅). This particular review has been hanging over me. Sure, I’ve been quite busy with work, podcast production, and buying a house: I have excuses. But I haven’t been able to shake the weight of finishing up my season review of The Last of Us. It’s surrounded by completed tasks on my to do list; a constant, blank reminder to come back.

Part of me needed time from the finale. I came out of it with disappointment and I kind of just sat in that. I poured myself into those other tasks—those excuses—all the while letting the finale be mulled over in the back of my mind. Not being on social media allowed me to be alone with my thoughts. I think I only discussed the finale with Abby, Logan, and one friend who brought it up at ultimate frisbee.

It’s time though.

The finale of The Last of Us is stunted. Clocking in at just under 43 minutes, there is no time for it to come into its own. The bulk of it sticks strictly to the game and that adherence is a hinderance. The strongest moments are not from the game, but new material brought into the light of the tiny silver screen. But those wonderful new elements have zero no time to grow or have no payoff. The rushed nature that I have been talking about since episode five compounds in the finale.

The cold open returns and was the defacto highlight of the episode. Ashley Johnson plays Ellie’s mother, Anna. Perfect casting. No one else could have done this. Ashley has given life to Ellie both in her decade long performance has her in the game and now on the HBO adaptation.

There’s real tension and suspense watching this pregnant women, in labor, trying to fight off the infected. We also get an explanation to Ellie’s immunity, something the games never really broached. Turns out this was all an original story and pitch back in 2014. There’s more to this story and one we may yet see come to light. It’s so fast, raw, and powerful. The show can do that because there is no box to be contained in. This story is new and the show shines because of that.

Later on, Joel and Ellie have a classic heart to heart before the final battle moment. We see Joel open up about some scar on his head, which turned out to be an attempted suicide on day two of the apocalypse. It’s a scenario that feels so grounded and it’s one I never considered for Joel. But this scar, as far as I recall, had never been mentioned before, never brushed off, or focused on. So we get this moment of vulnerability without any meaningful build up. It’s shock value that cheapens the weight of the actual moment between the two characters.

I think a little before that particular exchange, we get the legendary giraffe scene. It was great to see a real giraffe, a choice I was hoping they’d make. I feel like the scene lacked punch though. The show follows the game beat for beat, which includes the ladder “prompt” and subversion. This loses all its umpfh. These two have never done the ladder retrieval on the show. There’s no expectation to subvert. This narrative beat was entirely sculpted around gameplay. Now, the actual giraffe encounter is strong. A little is lost since we don’t control the pace of departure. I always linger and this, again, felt rushed. We have a lot of story to get through and only checks playhead 22 minutes to go.

During Joel’s hospital massacre, a tonal mismatch of the highest degree occurs. As Joel is ratta tat tatting through the Fireflies, we hear Gustavo Santaolalla’s All Gone (No Escape) sweeping underneath. A melancholic song that pulls your heart along its desperate notes. In the game, this emerges as Joel carries Ellie out of surgery to escape. In the show, it plays while Joel mows down mercenaries. The juxtaposition is so jarring. It lends tender, clinging hope to the most gamey part of the show rather than the paternal affection and desperation Joel displays during the actual escape. I’m saddened by this emotional mismatch.

My last complaint/nitpick/issue/etc. lies in the camera work of the infamous final scene. When Joel lies to Ellie outside of Jackson, the cameras are tilted ever so slightly to give power to Joel in the scene. From Joel’s perspective, the camera is looking down on Ellie; and Ellie’s angle is looking up to Joel. Sure, there is the physical height of it all, but in the language of cinema, this gives Joel the power in the scene. In the game, the camera is square with both protagonists. I felt this tilt diminishes Ellie’s understanding, hesitation, and growth throughout. In fairness, this is something that could pay off cinematically in future seasons, should they mirror this conversation dynamic as roles and power shift.

Here, at the end of season one, I am bummed, yet hopeful. This debut is too crammed and squanders what time it does have with the audience. Trying to fit the entire first game was a necessity from a “we have one chance” perspective. Now with multiple seasons in the works, the crew has time to slow down, explore, and grow.

HBO’s The Last of Us was at its best when it did its own thing; when it tried to expand upon the world. Some new bits were strong, while others were weak. Time was the enemy here.

As a fan, it was strange to look at something new, yet familiar. The shape of the thing was a rough approximation for what came before. The details were where differences stood out. Being so close, so familiar at times, creates an urge to reject. It can put you in a place of denial even. By the end, I wanted space from it all. I wanted the original back. Heck, I might play both games this summer.

And here, at the end of it all, I can’t help, but compare it all to Sarah and Ellie. I am Joel. I’m older. I long for the joy of new Naughty Dog stories. My reaction is to reject the 2.0, the replacement, the adaptation. By the end of my adventure with season one, I am not the Joel at the end of the game. I’m closer to the Joel at the ranch outside of Jackson. I’m scared to get close, guarding myself off as we tread on some mighty thin ice. Perhaps over time, with full understanding of what the show is and what the games are, I can see the show for what it is rather than what it is not. Perhaps with the space to breath both the show and myself can understand one another and grow. There is hope and opportunity in the space between. And when I consider that, I think it will all be okay.

I did it. I reviewed an entire season of television. Dang man. TV criticism is tougher on paper. I have no clue if I’ll do that same for season two, but thankfully I have time to figure that out. It wouldn’t be a TV episode review from me without my observations. Hopefully I can parse my notes seven weeks removed.

  • The amount of Part II music was apparently “sooooo much.” I was always excited to hear Gus and Mac’s newer music utilized in Part I scenarios.
  • Sticking with the Part II energy, the house in the cold open had major Ellie farm vibes.
  • I found it interesting that Anna and Marlene knew each other their entire lives. Not sure that was a detail in the games.
  • Anna reminded me quite a bit of the American Daughters easter egg in Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. I would love to know the story behind that poster.
  • Pretty sure I spotted that Pedro Pascal is double jointed in his thumb.
  • Marlene’s cold delivery was stellar.
  • Given how swiftly Anna was killed, feels like there was no chance for her to write her letter to Ellie. Perhaps she did in between scenes, but felt like that didn’t happen in the show.

The Last of Us Ep. 8 – “When We Are in Need” Thoughts & Impressions

Sometimes throughout the season, I wish I wasn’t intimately familiar with the source material. This episode was the biggest disappointment so far, as a fan.1 Winter is a part of the game ripe with superb performances, gripping scenarios, and an ending that sticks. When translating Winter to TV, the old adage of “the book is better than the movie” rang so true.

I understand that Hollywood cannot fit everything in to a show. I get that these performances are the vision and interpretation of the writers, directors, and actors. It is not supposed to be the same. It should stand shoulder to shoulder or be better, like episode three did with Bill and Frank. The cut corners rob the end pacing of the story.

I want to focus on the elements I enjoyed first though. The star of the episode was hands down Troy Baker. His role as David’s right-hand man was executed with a quiet conviction. At times, Troy was more David-like than Scott Shepherd. Any time Troy was one screen, he stole the scene.

The sound design and music hit home for me as well. The scene where David’s folk is eating and all you hear is spoons clanking into the bowls with a ravenous fervor. The sound makes the hair on your neck stand up as sadness and fear swirl around in your stomach, while theirs swirl with the remains of neighbors. Immaculate sound design.

Combative scenes use music from The Last of Us Part II to great effect. I like them tapping into the well of Part II‘s music. This is a far more effective use of resources than trying to layer themes and motifs on top of the base game. Let the work speak for itself rather than cramming in all you can.

I would be remiss if I did not call out my favorite moment from Winter. They did use the Joel “pop your goddamn knee off” line. Granted, I felt Pedro’s delivery was rushed, but this moment is top tier. It is a real window into Joel’s past actions, more than a line or story told in passing. I got both Alone and Forsaken and the knee? Maybe the season wasn’t so bad after all.

Or maybe it was.

This episode floundered who should have stolen the show—David. From the quiet, calm, and intelligent performance by Nolan North in the game to the religious, abusive, lost version on HBO, I am shocked at how they ruined David. I felt like Don Corleone looking upon the aftermath of his son’s massacre.

My biggest grievance is with the added layer of religion. It feels like another attempt to add on Part II narrative elements. The writers give David this unnecessary shroud of creepy pastor. Instead of elevating the character of David or changing him in a meaningful way, they cut off his imposition at the knees. It’s a crutch that David never needed, but now he is falling all over himself. The original character was far more effective with his bond built with Ellie (built during gameplay). Being a cannibal and a predator was enough. This new trait muddies the waters, leans into stereotypical cult Hollywood writing and weakens a striking villain.

This episode bummed me way out and, honestly, it doesn’t improve from here. But, like fans of books over movie adaptations, they can never take away the original version. The attempts to strip gameplay scenarios proves how effective that hands-on interaction is for telling a powerful story. It also may be showing how lacking a story like The Last of Us can be outside of its intended medium. Without the intimate connection, the ability to walk a mile in the character’s shoes, do the highs and lows reach the same levels? Is David’s effectiveness bound to fighting off Infected alongside him?2 Do Joel and Ellie work has this father/daughter bond without putting the audience in each role?

It’s odd to see a show so bound to the original source material that when it branches away, it more often fails than succeed. Yet, remaining so true to the source in other areas shows how essential the original medium is to elevating that tale. It’s a catch-22. And sometimes, I wish I wasn’t so familiar with the source material.

I am sorry this review (and the finale review) are so late. I’ve been tied up. And honestly, reviewing these last two episodes makes me a bit sad. It’s a rough and rushed end to an adaption that started strong. I am hopeful that future seasons lean into the knowledge of said future seasons to craft a better adaptation. We shall see, but until 2024 or 2025, here are some observations I made during the episode that didn’t make the cut of being mentioned in the review.

  • The girl in David’s “flock,” Joyce, is the daughter of the man Joel killed at the university. Feels a bit on the nose, but a nice touch to this world. 👀
  • Joel had a very nice knife to the neck stealth kill that felt gamey.
  • Ellie does not eat the meat that David offers up. In the game, she does and that conveys her true level of hunger. I kinda wish she partook on the show, but maybe seeing real people eat other “real” people is tougher for audiences to swallow?
  • I wish the kept the bunny kill. Overall, I felt like Ellie was more incapable in the show. Like Joel hadn’t spent off camera time teaching her to survive like he did in the game. Felt strange to me.
  • Yet, Ellie’s killing of David is far more gruesome and, once again, reminds me of a particular scene in Part II. I do think it went on for a few swings too long. And I found it interesting that Joel doesn’t find her inside the burning building, but outside of it.

1. That would be until the finale, but we watched them back to back. It was a quick one-two punch.

2. I’d wager no in David’s case, far more tied to delivery and how the character was written versus rewritten.

Noclip Documentary on The Last of Us Part I

Re-Making The Last of Us Part I – Noclip Documentary by Danny O’Dwyer on YouTube

Watched this yesterday shortly after it went up. I was amped to get another proper documentary chronicling the development of The Last of Us. It’s been a decade since the last one.

I was hoping for more insight on the origin of this remake, but Danny (at least in the final doco) does not ask about the PlayStation Visual Arts Group’s attempt at the remake. There was a lone direct mention of PlayStation Visual Arts at 12:14. The public facing story, which I wager has some truth to it, is that Naughty Dog started the project when remaking cutscenes to utilize in The Last of Us Part II.

I haven’t even played Part I yet (I know, I know). The documentary focuses heavily on the graphics/visuals and staying true to the original intent while leveraging modern hardware and tech. There was further confirmation regarding the animation team going back to old reference footage and hand animating the faces on PS5, just like I wrote about last year.

It’s neat to see more behind the scenes at Naughty Dog, but I was expecting a bit more insight to come to light. This felt more like a rehash of the press tour when the game came out last year. And this documentary coincides with the finale of the HBO show and the PC release of Part I…I hope Naughty Dog returns to producing documentaries alongside their games. I wish most studios would.

The Last of Us Prequel – From Animation to DLC to Second-Party to HBO

I’m mad I didn’t catch this story sooner. This one first1 broke back in late January, but more layers have revealed themselves since the finale of The Last of Us on HBO. It has been quite the drip feed, so let’s chronicle the whole thing Chasing the Stick-style.

I wouldn’t be the writer I am today if I didn’t throw in a little bit of context. Back in February 2014, Laura Hudson of Wired had an interview with Neil Druckmann about the Left Behind DLC.

WIRED: So you think there are more stories to tell in this world?

Druckmann: I still have this script written, this story about Ellie’s mom [for] an animated short we were going to do, but it fell through. I’d love for that to see the light of day sometime, maybe as a DLC or a comic book. We’re brainstorming the next [Naughty Dog] project right now…

I wrote about this in Chasing the Stick, pointing out Neil’s openness to a sequel, which is where their passions were found. This animated short was just an example at the time to express possibilities in the world of TLOU.

Turns out that the idea would see the light of day, just ten or so years later. The finale of the first season opens with Ellie’s mom, Anna, and a part of her story.2 At the end of January 2023, in an interview with Jordan Moreau at Variety, Neil added a bit more to the backstory of this lore.

[Variety]: What were you most excited to get to do in the show that you didn’t have in the game?

Druckmann: The one that shows up very late in the season is Ellie’s mom. I had written a short story after we had shipped the game already. It was supposed to be an animated short, but it fell apart and didn’t come to be. There was a moment where we almost made it as DLC, but it fell apart.

In our conversations, I brought it up to Craig and he was immediately excited by it, or as he would say “activated.” We brought it to life in the most beautiful, poetic way, which is Ashley Johnson playing Ellie’s mom and she was the original actor for Ellie.

This is the nugget that I wished I caught two month ago. “There was a moment where we almost made it as DLC…” is quite the development—lost Naughty Dog DLC! Pre-production on this may have begun, but could have been canned as Neil and Bruce Straley had to take over Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End‘s development.

As the rest of the season goes by, we finally arrive at the finale itself and the plot surrounding this video game thickens.

During a press conference, Neil reveals that Naughty Dog also talked to another developer to make an entire Anna game. My buddy and co-host, Logan Moore, had the story over at

“We were talking to another game company to potentially do it as a whole other game,” Druckmann said of the project. “[But] that deal fell apart to tell that story.”

Druckmann also went on to say that if this game would have become a reality, it would have revealed more details about Ellie’s biological father, which is something that has never been touched on in The Last of Us video games and TV show. The story of this game would have then culminated in the scene featuring Ellie and her birth that was unveiled in the TV adaptation. Regarding Ellie’s father, though, Druckmann said teased that there could be a chance of this story one day being unveiled in a new manner.

“I will say there was some stuff written for the mom and the dad when we were talking to this other game studio to potentially do a whole Anna game. The climax, of which, was this scene,” Druckmann said. “I’m reluctant to say anything about it because as I’ve now found out several times, stories that I think are failures and will never see the light of day sometimes see the light of day.”

This is one of the first mentions of exploring both of Ellie’s biological parents. I find it interesting to have the climax be what is shown on HBO. This origin story of Ellie’s immunity and the end of Anna’s life is now known. We could see this crop up in a game someday, making it the first time in the series that a story beat from outside a video game makes the jump to its original medium.

While we don’t know the developer that was in discussions to make this prequel, we do know who introduced Naughty Dog to them: Greg Miller. On the Kinda Funny Screencast via VGC,

…there was a much more full version of this story that went more back in time that was going to be made into a video game by Naughty Dog, by a different game studio, that Greg Miller introduced me to that studio and we had talked to them for quite a while to do this thing and then it just kind of fell apart, it didn’t quite work out.

I am fascinated by this. Throughout Naughty Dog’s history, other developers have been handed the keys to their IP in one way or another. There were PC ports and the far more popular(?) PlayStation spin-offs. The Jak series had two, while Uncharted had one on Vita. I would have to go back and check the count for Crash Bandicoot before the sale of the IP.3 The Last of Us hasn’t had a spin-off before.4 This notion that an outside team could/would work on the IP is par for the course.

So what happened? What team was in talks with Naughty Dog? What kind of game was the original concept? That’s the story I want to learn about now. With Neil revealing more and more with each interview lately, I hope we learn at least the team considered.

There’s one more angle to the whole Ellie’s parents story and that ties into the epilogue of Uncharted 4. In Cassie’s room, there is a poster for a comic dubbed American Daughters and it features a very pregnant woman that looks a whole lot like Ellie. I have always been of the mind that this is Ellie5, but I could see this being an angle or part of this whole game/narrative idea.

This is pure speculation on my part, but what if there was a story that had the past and the present at play. Anna and Ellie are pregnant and their stories have parallels. We saw a very loose version of this play out in Part II with Dina and Mel. This poster easter egg/tease could have been a byproduct of the pre-production cycle on this Anna game. It seems quite glaring, but perhaps it was yet another slip of the team to tease a game before its announcement, a la Uncharted 3‘s teaser for The Last of Us. That feels like a stretch, but it wouldn’t be the first time that Naughty Dog has dropped an easter egg like that in their games.

Anna’s story has grown from animated short to Naughty Dog DLC to a second-party game to debuting on HBO. While I would love to know more (and I suspect we will learn more over time), I think the biggest takeaway is that what is dead may never die. This story has been through the pitch ringer and finally came to fruition 10 years later on a TV show. Makes you wonder what other ideas Naughty Dog has been sitting on and mulling over for the past decade.

1. Technically, it broke back in 2014, but all the recent talk should have started in January. Man, I am mad I missed this.

2. I might discuss this more in my review of the finale episode, but Anna clearly doesn’t hand off a letter to Marlene. That letter, along with the knife, are quite touching objects to find in the game. Sure, a letter can be retconned in to the show, but it’s a shame not to see that created on the screen.

3. Seems to just be Crash Bash.

4. There was the prequel comic series American Dreams and the now-in-development board game. You may consider those to count.

5. The red undershirt and revolver that is clearly Joel’s gun convince me this is Ellie and not Anna.

The Last of Us Ep. 7 – “Left Behind” Thoughts & Impressions

I am of two-minds about this episode of The Last of Us. On one hand, the downloadable content (DLC) has been visually replicated. The story of Riley and Ellie stays true and faithful. On the other, this flashback feels…unnecessary. There is an obtrusive element lingering over the episode.

Let’s focus on the positive first. The world of Left Behind is stunning. The setting is all about beauty in destruction and the joy of discovery. Ten years ago, the concept of Ellie and Riley exploring an abandoned mall was a novelty. Naughty Dog took the familiar and represented it like a ancient temple. Nowadays, malls do feel like relics. Some of that initial charm feels swapped for warm nostalgia; time moves ever forward.

Coming back to this particular chapter of The Last of Us nine years later, there’s a bit of depth added to the dynamic between Ellie and Riley. Seeing Ellie in gym class and in the principal’s office wouldn’t have worked in the game, but it makes perfect sense for TV. Ellie’s interaction with said principal helps create tension between the ladies—FEDRA vs Fireflies. It’s texture that fans would have had to pick up on between lines or in the comic book run. I enjoyed this addition.

There is undoubtable temptation to replicate the DLC. From the amber glow of the ivy draped carousel to the cool electric hum of the arcade, the sets were always cinematic dreams. These translate to the television screen effortlessly*.1 I think succumbing to this temptation has led to this episode’s bloated feeling.

Left Behind was an additional chapter released eight months after the original game. This story, which is both prequel and interlude, was never integral to the core story. So in a season that only has two episodes left, we take a break and go back to a time that doesn’t build upon the foundational relationship. Sure, this backstory is a nice detour, but the ride is heading in the wrong direction.

I wager part of the decision to include this episode was the aforementioned cinematic temptation paired with not knowing if season 2 would be green lit. I think Left Behind would have felt much better as a HBO special, like Euphoria did in 2020/21. This could have been a great surprise in between seasons, given the crew more time to expand and enhance the supplemental narrative, and – most importantly – given season 1 a much needed additional episode to focus on Joel and Ellie together.

It’s like I said in my last review, we are on borrowed time. Now there are only two episodes left. The closer to the finale we get, the more I wish for more time.

Woof! I am behind. Writing this review slipped through the cracks of me producing two new episodes of The Max Frequency Podcast. Abby and I still haven’t seen episode eight yet; we were too tired on Sunday and have been busy ever since. Heck, we’ll be missing the finale too.2

It bums me out to see the show waning in its connection and development. The first three episodes started strong and the rest have felt both rushed and bloated. I think the desire to strip gameplay segments has led to cutting powerful narrative moments. There’s a little baby with the bath water going on here. In the spirit of digressing from that digression, here are more observations that I picked up on when watching this episode.

  • Neil Druckmann wrote this episode and it shows. This was/is, of course, his baby. I picked up on some subtle polish this go around that enhanced the original story though. Good work.
  • Finally, the first Naughty Dog easter egg (that I have caught)! The FEDRA principal(?) has the red paw print on his keys.
  • The entirely cut the Firefly Winston’s tent. I always liked that character and his place in the world. Gives lore and backstory to Boston and Ellie. Wish he was included instead of some random dead body with a whiskey bottle.
  • Nice inclusion of Mortal Kombat II, which was added in to the Part I remake as well. Although, I wish Angel Knives and Black Fang were used somewhere.
  • Speaking of the arcade, there didn’t seem to be any Jak X: Combat Racing machines because Jak X didn’t exist in 2003. More proof that the decision to change the timeline was a bad call.

1. I understand it took immense effort to recreate these scenes and sets. I meant more the concept translates effortlessly. You get what I mean.

2. Turns out, we caught the finale live! A baby miracle occurred and our Eloise was asleep by 7:45. We were able to watch both episode 8 and the finale. I have just been so behind on my writing here; in part due to making new episodes of The Max Frequency Podcast, as well as visiting family. Those lines just prove how long this draft has been sitting in my folder. 😅

The Last of Us Ep. 6 – “Kin” Thoughts & Impressions

We are on borrowed time. The sins of Kansas City are following our heroes and the remaining run time of the show. Craig and crew are beginning to step on the gas as the show tries to wrap up the entire narrative of the game in one season.

And yet, we get a slow build up for this episode and are plopped straight into The Last of Us Part II with a full-blown recreation of Jackson and plenty of references to boot. It was arguably the most fan-service of the entire season so far and it was handled in a deft manner. This was a logical substitution for the gameplay heavy dam section of the game. And, assuming the set is still there or in pieces somewhere, they can reuse it in season two.

Joel continues to become a wholly new incarnation on HBO. I want to stress I am glad there are deviations from the game. The show should stand alongside the original. But man, this Joel is not being set up for events to come the same way. I worry for future pay offs and how they will feel. Relationships feel rushed and time feels short. Knowing where the show is going is hurting being in the moment. I wonder if people new to The Last of Us will look back and feel the imbalance and rush I sense now. 

We also witnessed what I believe to be the worst deviation by far. Non-players have no idea what they are missing. The whole college lab experience is truncated to a five minute excursion with no time for tension to even be established. Joel’s injury is transformed into a stab wound by a Hunter, rather than the impalement he suffers in the game. Comparing the show to the game, it’s no contest which scene is superior.

The director of the episode, Jasmila Žbanić, did an interview with Variety on the episode and they asked about this change. Here was her response:

I got it in the script, and I really liked it because it was more subtle. Ellie thinks they made it, and then it’s a shock. Otherwise it would be immediately over. I really liked how Craig wrote it. They travel, she’s hopeful, they go on together — and then it’s a shock.

I am going to go out on a branch and guess that Žbanić hasn’t played the game, because the parts she likes happen in the game. 

The whole slinking out of the University happens in one cut to a back door by a bush. The tension of escape has zero time to mount. We blink and Joel is stabbed, then our duo ride away with Ellie blindly popping off shots. The game has tension is spades. The escape, the stumble, the escape post-fall, all while Ellie helps and saves Joel’s life. They ride off and the he falls, just like the show. 

Not only is the raw shock value dropped, but Ellie is robbed of development. Her capabilities in combat are solid. The bond between the two is deepened further in these life and death situations. The show strips that away as Ellie is incapable of even hitting an enemy during their mad dash away. The most shocking thing from this episode as that they made this change.

And why make it? Time. A two-parter in Kansas City and tons of Jackson time forces the creators hands to cut more and more of the back half of the game. With this weekend’s episode focusing on the DLC Left Behind, we are naturally getting less time with Joel and Ellie. Their bond is what The Last of Us is built off of and I can’t help but feel like the connection is not being enriched on-screen. As a fan, it is a frustrating loss, but I guess the masses just don’t know what they are missing. Ignorance is bliss. 

This seems to be the harshest I’ve been on the show to date. The episode wasn’t all frustration. There were stand out moments, but I felt like they detracted from my through line theme in the review. That’s what this list of observations is for; fleshing out the little things that I picked up on in the episode.

  • That dog must not be very good at its job. If a cordyceps detector can identify Ellie is sick and this dog always knows when someone is infected, then that doggo should have let loose on Ellie. Not that I wanted that to happen, but I was scratching my head.
  • Joel’s PTSD continues to be built upon and we finally get a picture of what the team was building toward. Chest pains become frequent (heck, they may have debuted in this episode, I forget if they were in Episode 5). Joel freezes up with the dog. This all mounts to the heart-to-heart Joel has with Tommy where he reveals his fear about being a failure and an inadequate protector. This was touching and felt perfect for this performance. It feels reminiscent of the opening scene in Part II, but that Joel comes from a place of righteousness and power.
  • Two major characters from Part II have appeared! Both Dina and the horse Shimmer. I popped off for Shimmer. Dina was not named, but it was clearly supposed to be her. And that casting has made it clear to me that the actresses need to age up a bit if they are going to handle the, uh, let’s say activities of Part II. I feel like season two is going to be lots of world building and perhaps unseen or reshuffled moments from the sequel.
  • There were some excellent jokes in this episode. I was partial to Tommy’s communist realization and Joel’s history lesson on contractors.
  • Maria is pregnant. The implications of this for future seasons is substantial. Serious potential there.
  • They cut one of the best lines from the game. Joel’s classic “you’re on mighty thin ice” was no where to be seen or heard in his confrontation with Ellie. Further proof of a much slower to anger Joel. 
  • Speaking of that argument scene, the shots are reversed from the game. A small observation, but I thought it was interesting nonetheless. 
  • I wonder when Ashley Johnson’s birth scene is going to happen. My guess is either next week or the finale. Next week makes less sense, because Ellie would have no memory of her birth. Perhaps Marlene shows up at the end in some manner. I wager a Marlene flashback in the finale is more logical, but that would rob the duo of even more time.

The Last of Us Ep. 4 – “Please Hold to My Hand” Thoughts & Impressions

My final point in last episode’s review:

If they do not play Hank Williams’ “Alone and Forsaken” when they roll into Kansas City, the production team will have forsaken me.

The team over at HBO and PlayStation did not forsake me, but they sure have forsaken key character traits in Joel. insert that one meme here

Jokes aside, I continue to be surprised at the changes (and often enhancements) to the source material. I am struggling to approach my reviews without the filter of the game. Now, this doesn’t ruin my enjoyment of the show: I think my familiarity enhances what I get out of each episode, but I do feel like my reviews have settled into comparison and analysis.

Episode 4 was supposed to be a pop off episode. The events line up with Pittsburgh (swapped for the further westward Kansas City), which is the true introduction of the human enemies dubbed Hunters. Knowing this gave the first half of the episode tension for me. I wonder how this felt to the audience that hasn’t played the game. I would think tension is perhaps only conveyed when Joel stays up all night and takes the rifle out of the truck to investigate a blockade. Joel knows the real threat is out there—just like players—while Ellie hasn’t seen that side of humanity—just like folks new to the series.

The ambush in Kansas City is properly and horrifically adapted to television. Only a handful of men go after the truck. The gunfire is oppressive; not in its rapidity, but its power. Joel urges Ellie to hide in a hole in the wall, while he gets to work murdering the Hunters. Joel’s deafness in one ear proves to nearly be his downfall as the final assailant begins to choke Joel out.

We then get the payoff of Ellie’s gun that has been building all season long. Her unsteadiness doesn’t lead her to actually killing the man, but instead paralyzing him with a shot to the spine. It’s slower and more brutal than a headshot.

This scene was just sickening. The Hunter begs to make peace and eventually starts crying out for his mother. It’s a look at the violence and its immediate aftermath that Naughty Dog would go on to explore more fully in Part II, but seeing a real-life actor go through this range was gut wrenching. Joel sends Ellie off and finished the job, off-screen, letting our imagination run.

Before I go on to the rest of the episode and the cast of characters we meet, I think now is a good time to talk about those forsaken traits in Joel.

Joel is not quick to anger in HBO’s rendition. He doesn’t get mad at Ellie for having and using the gun. There’s no “it was you or him” justification from Ellie. We know Pedro Pascal’s version is capable of anger since he beat a FEDRA soldier to death, but that was triggered by PTSD. This new Joel is instead racked with guilt and fear. His failures to save Sarah and Tess hang heavy on his mind and heart. Despite this, we see his inclination is to protect and preserve Ellie’s innocence.

From last week’s attempt to avoid the mass grave to forcing her to leave the room while he finishes off the Hunter, Joel fights to shield Ellie from the horror of humanity. It’s why he doesn’t want her to have a gun. It’s a paternal and protector instinct. He can bear the brunt of reality, if it keeps his people safe.

This makes me wonder what Joel’s anger will feel like when it does come. There’s a quietness and efficiency to this version. I’m awaiting these changes and to see the fruit of these little seeds being planted now.

So let’s go back to the plot and talk about said Hunters. These folks are hunting Sam and Henry for some unknown reason. Spurred by their lead Kathleen, she seems to be on quite the mission for revenge against those two.

This feels like a mini Part II story about the cost of revenge. I don’t suspect it is going to play out well for Kathleen and her crew. And frankly, I think this fleshing out weakens the Hunters. There is something fundamentally scary about people methodically killing outsiders in hopes they have decent shoes or a slice of jerky. The nonchalant nature surrounding murder makes them scarier in the game.

This attempt at providing context and building some form of sympathy that’s origin is shrouded falls flat for me. Kathleen is in charge, but why the obsessive hunt? Clearly revenge, but we have no connection to her or her people. Our allegiance has been established with Joel and Ellie. Without the opportunity to spend time in Kansas City with Kathleen and the residents of the QZ, the audience is getting the final pages of the Cliff Notes for her character. It robs the group of its imposing presence and fear.

The gap from the source material continue to widen, and for the first time, I think they’ve taken a step back. The changes to Joel are fascinating and (obviously) have time to breath. I think the stumble is with the occupants of Kansas City. With one more week, I don’t suspect we will come to care or fear them much at all. And that’s a shame.

I was tempted for my review to just be “They played Alone & Forsaken, so this is episode was perfect,” but that seemed too obvious.

Also, I am sorry for posting this one a bit late. I tried to get it up before Friday’s pushed up premiere of episode five, but just didn’t have the time. Now that this is done though, I can push on to write my review for that episode. Until that review is published though, here are some observations I made in episode four,

  • Jeffrey Pierce appears! What a great role for him as a cameo. That beard is dope.
  • While plenty of lines have been plucked straight from the game’s script, I was bummed to not hear Pedro’s rendition of “Oh, he ain’t even hurt” as the confront the ambush. That delivery in the game is from a place of frustration, adrenaline, and preparation of the clear fight ahead. In the show, we don’t get this line at all or that energy rolling into the alleyway attack. More signs of a slow to anger Joel.
  • Joel and Ellie crash into a laundry mat instead of a bodega. The fight was far less “in your face.” More cover and popping off shots, until the last man standing choke out.
  • That fungal crater hidden in a building is giving me major Rat King vibes and I am hear for it.
  • Joel’s fractured, bruised knuckles are the new broken watch. I love the shots that linger on them, reminding us all of the first episode.

The Last of Us Ep. 3 – “Long, Long Time” Thoughts & Impressions

I watched this gameplay of “Bill’s Town” before this week’s episode. I thought it’d be nice to have a fresh perspective on that portion of the game to compare to Bill’s introduction to the TV show.

Turns out that was entirely unnecessary since this episode is an all new and original story. Game references and direct quotes are few and far between. We are barely with Joel and Ellie, instead spending the bulk of the time reliving in a flashback of prepper Bill’s post-apocalyptic love story with his partner Frank. It’s a rare kind of story in The Last of Us, one with a happy and satisfying ending.

The power of adapting for TV strikes again with the ability to just breathe. The pressure of player control is nonexistent and viewers are instead taken on a journey. There is time for proper meals, exercise, and gardening. We never get this sense of life in the game, outside of part of Left Behind and a small bit in Part II. Bill and Frank have been rewritten in a way that makes me wish the game version of Bill could have gotten this ending.

It has never been a secret that Bill and Frank were a couple. I find the dialogue and performances in the game have always clearly conveyed that, but I suppose the absence of Frank’s living presence in the game left room for doubt. As soon as Murray Bartlett was announced as Frank in July 2021, I expected a flashback that would still lead to his untimely, bite-driven death. At least I was right about the flashback.

I love the transition to Bill’s town. We get Joel and Ellie hoofing it there and Joel tries to dissuaded Ellie from seeing a mass grave. Undeterred by Joel’s warning, we walk right up to a ditch full of skeletons. We see weathered, but patterned clothing (which I actually thought may be Frank’s Hawaiian tastes). We then go back to 2003 and see a mother and baby boarding a FEDRA truck to be driven off to slaughter. An absolute gut punch that further establishes FEDRA’s brutality and the chaos of the beginning of the pandemic. From here on out, we never leave this little town.

Bill’s prepping has paid off as FEDRA leaves and he has the entire run of the place. This opening montage of errands is a treat. Seeing Bill do the thing is fun, which isn’t something The Last of Us is particularly known for. And seeing the evolution and advancement of Bill’s traps builds on that fun.

It doesn’t take long for us to meet Frank, who fell in a hole. It also does not take long for Bill’s walls to come down. The rush of their budding didn’t feel like a product of television, but rather the apocalypse. Bill amplified more so by an implied life of isolation. Bill was primed for the end of the world, but he was not prepared for someone like Frank.

Frank’s pushing of boundaries felt real, especially with making a connection with Tess and Joel. Their meal together was such a contrast to the way we have seen and know these characters. The celebration of returning to the old ways; breaking bread and making new friends. The respect that Joel and Bill forge here is strong. Joel continues to show the audience his hardness and ability to command a situation.

My favorite moment in the episode was the surprise of strawberries. The longing for fresh, sweet fruit in a hardened world melts my heart. I’m reminded of Samwise asking Frodo if he remembers the taste of strawberries. It’s the little things that bring life, flavor, and texture to our humanity. Finding and growing strawberries mirrors Bill and Frank’s life being cultivated and sweetened against the contrast of a bitter world. And just like strawberries, the sweetness is gone far too soon.

Not long after, we taste that bitterness when the Hunters attack. This scene reminds me of the opening scene in the game. We are beside Frank, soaking in his perspective of this attack on their home. He cries out wondering where his partner and protector are, but still slinks downstairs and somewhat cautiously handles a small pistol. It’s like violence is foreign to him.

With the rain pouring down and Bill’s traps popping off, we see the mighty Bill struck down. I thought for a moment they were going to kill Bill right there as a wild swing away from the game as means to explain why Frank can’t take Ellie across country. Instead, we jump forward one last time to a sick and disabled Frank. The unfairness of it hits immediately.

The following day when Frank declares his intent to take his life after a perfect day, the wholeness of it all falls into place. It’s a path Bill was not prepared for, and as someone whose identity is wrapped up in order, it’s an big pill to swallow. Bill never struck me as a man to accept the loss of Frank. He would fight tooth and nail to keep Frank. Seeing his content compliance throughout the day, struck me not as a person preparing for the next phase of life, but enjoying the end of it. Inhibitions fade away. Relationship and time are savored.

The love story of Bill and Frank is a romantic version of the story of Joel and Ellie. Bill’s letter conveys that kindred spirit of the two protectors. It’s also a happy ending to that story. One that I don’t think we’ll be getting more of throughout the season. It’s like the sadder, more broken Bill from the game said “Once upon a time, I had somebody that I cared about—a partner—somebody I had to look after. And in this world, that sort of s*** is good for one thing—getting ya killed.”

Another unexpected route for this review. Perhaps I went the beat-by-beat route because of the review podcasts I have been listening to as the season plays out.1 Reviewing this show is a like a fun sprint writing challenge of exploring my feelings within a week. I love it.

As is now tradition now, here are some other observations and tidbits I noticed.

  • Frank not wearing one Hawaiian shirt the entire episode is a huge miss. Rest in peace tacky Frank.
  • Coming off of episode two and the introduction of the Clickers, I was skeptical they’d hop right to a Bloater this week. I’m glad they didn’t. This episode makes a lot of sense when you consider how much of the narrative was told through gameplay in the Bill’s Town portion of the game.
  • I didn’t touch on the opening sequence above. Nice to see Joel and Ellie enter the “wandering across the country” portion of their relationship. Small caring touches from Joel, like the jacket. Ellie sneaking off in the basement is quite important, I think. A rebellious spirit is in her, alongside a darker violent curiosity. She pushes boundaries (how else would she have gotten bitten?) This is some early groundwork for her arch in Part II.
  • The goal of getting a truck battery is now complete. Interested in this rescue of Tommy. We’ve realigned with the game’s narrative of taking Ellie to Tommy to find out if he knows where the Firefly base would be.
  • I know I mentioned them above in the proper review, but hot dog Bill’s traps were awesome. The saws spitting sparks to make basically a fire fence was dope.
  • I like the touch that Bill left Joel a note. It is a touchstone to the letter Frank writes in the game that is a collectible. The “hehehehehe” was delivered perfectly.
  • We finally see the very Uncharted 3-esque airplane shot that was teased so long ago.
  • I enjoyed Frank’s reaction to Bill joining him in death. I’m actually glad Frank still chooses suicide in the show. Sure, his death in the game was driven by bites from Infected, but still, control over his death is in Frank’s nature. I’m glad this trait made it into the show.
  • Ellie swiping Frank’s gun continues this week by week build up to her taking a life. Could happen next week with them facing Hunters.
  • If they do not play Hank Williams’ “Alone and Forsaken” when they roll into Kansas City, the production team will have forsaken me.

1. I haven’t listened to any about this episode though. Always want my thoughts to be original before hearing other folks’ takes.

The Last of Us Renewed for Season 2

HBO’s The Last of Us has officially been renewed for a second season by Andy Robinson for Video Games Chronicle

Not surprising considering the week-over-week growth, but I am happy to see it confirmed. So much of Part II hinges on gameplay doing the storytelling. I am curious how they will adapt the game for one(?) season of TV. That’s a lot of story, emotion, and range to cover in 10~ episodes.

Don’t Forget Bruce

How ‘The Last of Us’ changed gaming, strained relationships and spawned an empire by Todd Martens for Los Angeles Times via Video Games Chronicle

Straley’s relationship with Sony and Naughty Dog has since become strained. Straley left Naughty Dog not long after the release of 2016’s “Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End,” before HBO was involved in a “Last of Us” series, and is not credited on the HBO series. He is working these days on building his own studio, Wildflower Interactive. He says the lack of credit has made him think more about workers’ rights in the video game space. “It’s an argument for unionization that someone who was part of the co-creation of that world and those characters isn’t getting a credit or a nickel for the work they put into it,” he says. “Maybe we need unions in the video game industry to be able to protect creators.” HBO and Sony declined to comment on the record.

This was the excerpt that got me to read the article. In the years since Bruce’s departure, I noticed he is rarely referred to as the co-creator of The Last of Us. It feels like sometimes Bruce is forgotten. He was vital to the creation. It bums me out to not see him credited as the co-creator on the show or mentioned in interviews. Props to Todd for talking with Bruce for this piece.

It was all in the name of fostering intimacy, both in the game’s quiet moments and its savage ones, says Bruce Straley, the game’s director and one of its key world builders. One of Straley’s central directorial objectives is for the player never to set down the controller — that is, to avoid long cinematic scenes in which the player has nothing to do. “The Last of Us” has its share of those, but by and large they’re unexpectedly brief and often interrupted with opportunities to guide the character or to initiate an optional conversation.

“The goal was pretty evolutionary,” Straley says. “As Neil and I were talking about the world and the characters, there was an energy in the room between us as to what type of experience this had the possibility of creating. … This was a game we hadn’t played that we wanted to play. The concept of creating a relationship between two characters that evolves over the course of the game — that’s fully playable — and that got the players more involved with those characters than any other game had before, that was really exciting for us.”

Story telling on the stick. It’s kind of their thing.

This further adds to the game’s pressure. Unlike a TV series or film, in “The Last of Us” game we’re often confined to Joel or Ellie’s point of view, depending on which character we are navigating at the time. As we propel them forward through the narrative, we acknowledge that they may be making choices we disagree with, even as we’re the ones leading them in and out of obstacles. This is the beauty of interactive entertainment: dialogue with those characters whom we are steering through the world.


“I invited Neil to see ‘No Country for Old Men,’ and I remember walking out of the theater and telling him, breathlessly, ‘I’ve never played a game that had that kind of tension in it before,’” Straley says. “The street fight in ‘No Country’ was one of the most intense fights I had seen on film, and I wondered if you could play something that had that level of groundedness to it, that intensity. There’s something primal to having the controller in your hand and being in the world. Most fighting games at the time had pulled-out cameras where you saw hordes of 20-30 (non-playable characters) that you just plow through.”

I look back to the lodge fight with David as their original attempt to capture this energy. I wonder how that scene will come off in the show. The Last of Us excels at making a few enemies feel more powerful and terrifying than tons.

The Last of Us Ep. 2 – “Infected” Thoughts & Impressions

I was excited to watch this week’s episode because it was Neil Druckmann’s (television) directorial debut. I wanted to see how his style would translate from the world of games to TV. This episode was primed for big moments like the reveal of the Clickers and the death of Tess.

The connecting fiber of this episode is the idea of a second chance. Tess sees Ellie’s immunity has a chance for redemption. Joel and Ellie take a second shot at introductions. The biggest second chance though occurs off screen with Neil and the team having the opportunity to recontextualize the world for TV.

We see this at the start of the episode with the cold open set in Jakarta, Indonesia at the onset of the outbreak. Leveraging the ability to tell the story away from Joel or Ellie’s perspective, the show explains the origin of the cordyceps infection. We are shown how terrifying the revelation of the mutation is when a humble professor1 does not hesitate to recommend bombing an entire city in an attempt to eradicate the fungus. There is no cure. There is no vaccine. Demolishing a city is the best defense against this creature.

This intro scene is a solid foundation that the episode builds upon. The bombings in Boston are now given a human backstory. They weren’t the decision at the end of a struggle, but the first response. We witness the inception. This also lends itself to seriousness and rarity of Ellie’s immunity. Up until her, there has been no chance for a vaccine. As someone that has played the game countless times, it’s easy to wave off Ellie’s resistance. This episode reminded me how vital her life would be for all of mankind. And it is portrayed against Tess’ own demise in deft fashion.

Tess has a strong episode. Her interactions with Ellie are a treat. She acts as a teacher for both Ellie and the audience. We see the two of them begin a bond, while Joel maintains his distance. Tess’ big moment is her death though, which has been completely altered from the game and for the better.

When Ellie was bitten for the second time, I nearly rolled my eyes. “This is how we will prove to people she is immune every time it comes up?” We see Ellie sick of proving her immunity in her first scene of the episode. I was feeling the same way. But having Ellie and Tess bitten at the same time reaffirms the reality of Ellie’s gift and gives Tess something to anchor to in the storm that is her impending death.

This episode made me a believer in the switch to tendrils. Tess’ actual death scene feeds back into a teaching moment she had earlier in the episode. Joel steps on a life line to the cordyceps, waking up the writhing horde we from the hotel roof. They sprint toward our heroes’ destination. The hive mind nature of the cordyceps amplifies the fear. We see the monsters welcome a new member as the one approaches and kisses Tess with a mouthful of tentacles. It’s horrific and consuming. Tess fumbling with the lighter before blowing them all to smithereens is way cooler than her popping off a couple shots at the FEDRA agents in the game.

Overall, “Infected” was strong because of the changes made for television. The medium was effectively leveraged to enrich the world. We see scenes interconnect to create a stronger, cohesive narrative that feeds back into the core duo. After this one (and the growth in viewership), its not hard to see why Season 2 was green lit this week.

That review took longer than I ever wanted. I’ve been sick since last Friday and it knocked me on my butt all week. Sickness is the worst form of writer’s block. After Sunday night though, I knew I wanted to focus on how the game world was recontextualized for TV.

Continuing from last week, I had plenty of observations that I wanted to mention that didn’t fit within the focus of the strict review.

  • The opening scene with Ellie, Tess, and Joel has a shot where Ellie is bathed in light and Joel is covered in darkness.2 Tess is kneeling and looking up at Ellie. Just a beautiful shot that portrays the trio’s entire dynamic.
  • The set design is immaculate. The fungal webs, the decayed city of Boston, and the way nature has reclaimed it is just how one would imagine it.
    • Speaking of set design, they absolutely recreated the hotel lobby from Pittsburgh. I was stunned. I wonder how much was a set and how much was digitally made. I wish there was time for Joel to comment on missing coffee, but we haven’t quite earned that personal insight for his character yet.
  • Ellie’s repeated asking for a gun helps establish a baseline for when she actually gets one. Excited to see those moments pay off.
  • Just wait until season 2 shows off a super infected that blows up spores at our heroes.
  • Neil’s directorial debut for TV was well done. Fear is established. I thought the use of hand cam shots mirrored that you might find on the mocap stage. We’ll see how much that type of camera work is used throughout the season or if I’m just making an arbitrary connection.
  • Speaking of fear, the two Clickers were executed perfectly. From the prosthetics to ripping the assault rifle out of Joel’s hands, they were represented beautifully. Two have so much power. Tess and Joel going silent in the museum was gripping.
  • Tess asked Joel to get Ellie to Bill and Frank’s so that they could finish the mission of delivering Ellie. This feels strange. Bill the recluse never struck me as a character that would freely take a girl across the country. With Frank being cast and in this adaption, the next episode will surely be the biggest departure from the game to date.
  • The closing song is “Allowed to be Happy” from The Last of Us Part II. This is the kind of change from the original game we need to hear more of. Gustavo’s music is a triumph.

1. The way her hand shakes at the news of the missing people was spine-tinglingly good.

2. I would have taken a screenshot of the this exact moment, but DRM really hates the idea you’d share a still image from a TV show or movie. You’d think Hollywood would want the free promotion.
Update: You don’t wanna know the daisy-chain it took to get this screenshot. I tweaked the color slightly to better see Joel, since the capture is accurate. If only there were official means to take screenshots of shows and movies.

The Last of Us Ep. 1 – “When You’re Lost in the Darkness” Thoughts & Impressions

We have entered the PlayStation era of television. What was once the swan song of the PS3 is now leading a flock of games-to-television adaptions. The bar has been set high by a multitude of factors. The Last of Us games are two of the highest rated games of all time. The show is apart of HBO’s premium lineup, with leading Game of Thrones alum to boot.

There is quite a bit riding on the wings of The Last of Us‘ success, not just for Naughty Dog, HBO, etc., but for the future direction of PlayStation as a whole. With four movies and three TV shows in the works, ranging from Twisted Metal to God of War to Horizon, PlayStation is investing in expanding their IP outside of video games.

I mention all this to convey one thing—pressure. The Last of Us has never known life without pressure. It was a gamble for Naughty Dog to split in to two teams at peak popularity. After smashing every goalpost, work on the sequel began. That development was long and filled with strife as the team chased ambition with a bold, divisive story and gameplay direction. Now there is the studio’s first standalone multiplayer game, also set in the world of fungi, and the rumored Part III. And now this television adaption is shouldering a part of this legacy.


In the world of the game/show, Joel doesn’t know life without pressure. A single-father raising a daughter, only to have her ripped away at the beginning of a global pandemic. An older brother trying to help and keep the younger alive. A smuggler dancing the delicate line of staying out trouble and staying aloft. And at the end of episode one, a man charged with delivering the cure of the disease to the Massachusetts State House.


All of the main characters in the show life under pressure. Sarah worries for an overworked father struggling to makes ends meet. Tess is trying to keep her and Joel alive. Robert tries to sell bad merchandise–twice. Marlene is leading a failing rebellion when the possible cure falls into her hands. Ellie is charged with knowledge and a secret.


To top it all off, there’s the expectation put there by the world, the fans, and myself. Expectation is dangerous. If there is too much and the whole thing will be crushed; too little and it can swell to impossible size the next time around. Expectation can get the better of all those involved.


Despite all of this weighing down on the franchise, the companies, the creativity, and (most importantly) the people involed, the first episode does not crack. The tone, emotional, and captivation are all there. It’s a strong start, but that’s just where we’re at—the start. I was eager to watch it all unfold before the premiere, but now I am even more so. I hope the expectation doesn’t get the better of me.

So, that wasn’t the direction I envisioned taking that review, but here we are! My personal goal is to review each episode this season. I’ve never reviewed a TV show (in the traditional manner), so I thought this would be a good creative exercise for the year. I know the review above doesn’t dig into the episode itself, so I wanted a list of the bits and bobs I noticed in the episode. I may do this with each episode. We’ll see.

  • Poor Jimmy was rewritten to be the owner of the burning farm, rather than the neighbor that turns.
  • I had not heard that spores were swapped with tendrils. I’m not thrilled with this decision from a artistic perspective, but I do understand the logic behind it. The clouds of spores offer such a visually striking opportunity. The gas masks are gritty and it provides an in-world way to convey Ellie’s immunity to other characters without having to explain the whole scar. On the other side though, animating tendrils in the video game would have been way harder than spore clouds. The inverse applies to the show, the spore clouds would keep things foggy and hide actors’ faces, while tendrils provide a spooky visual that conveys danger. C’est la vie.
  • The makeup and site design are spot on. The infected caked in the wall is stunning. I cannot wait to see Clickers next week.
  • I loved the twitchy, fast nature of the Runners. Feels like the right adaption of them to film.
  • Marlene and Ellie’s relationship has been (at least so far) fundamentally changed. In the game and the comic, Ellie has known Marlene her whole life. It’s no mystery to Ellie why she is in the FEDRA school/orphanage. Marlene stills knows Ellie in this adaption, but I feel like keeping Ellie in the dark her whole life until this immunity revelation robs Ellie of that direct line to her mother. It isolates her and her drive to do good in an effort to make her mother Anna and Marlene proud.
  • Having a truck battery be the merchandise from Robert is better than weapons we never see. It ties into the motivation in Bill’s Town (assuming the show sticks with that) and with Marlene’s need to get out of the city. It’s more cohesive.
  • Joel is the little spoon.
  • Tess came off as subdued to me. She wasn’t as powerful as her in-game incarnation. The show has her a prisoner of Robert at the start. The game, Tess was no one’s prisoner and was a far clearer leader in the community. This version is more broken and therefore probably more human. It may grow on me here, but how much time do they really have left?
  • Bella Ramsey nails Ellie. Her delivery of a few lines got me to laugh out loud. Captivating performance and introduction. Excited to see her’s and Ellie’s range be explored.
  • Joel was the character I had the most issues with. Pedro is fantastic; all my nitpicks stem from their reworking off the character.
    • Joel has clear ties to Tommy still. Heck, his drive to leave Boston in the first place is to go save Tommy. Their falling out in the game is a creative void were the player imagination soars. How dark was the time for Joel as a Hunter that it drove Tommy away? Now, I’m not sure how fractured their relationship is, especially if Tommy is at least checking in with his brother. It’s different. We’ll see how it pays off.
    • I don’t care for Joel drinking and taking drugs. This is a clear break for me from the game where he doesn’t “want…one” when Tess offers whiskey. This feels like a crutch to convey sad dad energy. Joel was absorbed in his own depression just fine in the game. I wouldn’t surprise me if Joel did have a substance abuse issue in the past of the game, but not partaking conveys a much lonelier place and the show has lost that.
    • The snapping and murder of the guard also felt out of touch with the source material. I do appreciate the situational PTSD and conveying that. It works for the show. But Joel defending Ellie felt too soon and conveys to the audience care for the girl he shouldn’t quite have yet. Perhaps they’ll weave more PTSD scenarios that help Ellie peel back Joel’s layers. It is certainly a change forced by being an adaption. Now, we need to see how they leverage the medium.