HBO’s The Last of Us has set the bar for adaptations

The Last of Us Episode 7
The Last of Us Episode 7 /

Season 1 of The Last of Us will go down as a top tier adaptation for these specific reasons. 

If you’re a fan of comics, books, or video games, then you’re no stranger to movie and TV show adaptations. It’s been happening for decades. What hasn’t changed in all those years is the original stories being changed. Unfortunately, those alterations can be worse than the source material. If we’re being honest, it’s not always the creative team’s fault. Sometimes it’s impossible to get things exactly right.

First, there’s a budget. Certain scenes aren’t worth spending the money on. That means they’ll get cut. Or, even worse, the changes will make the scene worse. Second, and most important, is the format. Some of the moments that we love don’t fit in a movie or show. Therefore, they have to be changed or cut. It’s unfortunate, but it’s the way things work.

Recently, more projects have come around and adapted their source material right. The Mortal Kombat animated movies, Captain America: The First Avenger, and the majority of DC Comics animated features are good examples. However, for every one of those there’s a Street Fighter in the mix. Thankfully, every so often, a project comes around that sets the bar for how to adapt source material perfectly. That project is The Last of Us.

The Last of Us is special

The Last of Us is a once in a lifetime video game series. Naughty Dog should be proud of what they accomplished. The Uncharted video games were special, but The Last of Us is miles above that. The gameplay isn’t what makes this series unprecedented. It’s the story that goes along with it.

The Last of Us was an emotional rollercoaster. For example, when the first game ended, people didn’t know how to feel. Was Joel right or wrong? What would I have done if I was in his shoes? Should I have lied to Ellie? These are only some of the questions that were asked while playing this game.

All of these emotions (and more) had to be felt in this year’s TV adaptation on HBO. Otherwise, it would be just another story. Thankfully, the right creative team was put behind this show.

The Last of Us, The Last of Us episode 5, Is The Last of Us new tonight?
The Last of Us. Photograph by Liane Hentscher/HBO /

Why changes to The Last of Us

The Last of Us did what no other adaptation has been able to do. It changed some of the source material and still made fans happy. This usually upsets people, because the original story is what makes something special. Changing it can ruin a character or the story altogether. In this case, however, it was the opposite. Everything that was altered in The Last of Us on HBO improved on the story. The stories of Bill and Frank are beautiful examples of this, and so is the introduction of original character Kathleen Coghlan.

Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett) showed a world of love and happiness in a bleak and distraught apocalypse. The source material showed a bitter and angry Bill who hid his love for Frank, and that bitterness led to a tragic death for Frank. Meanwhile, Kathleen Coghlan (Melanie Lynskey) wasn’t even in the game. She was created for the show. Adding her helped carry a part of the story that may have dragged otherwise. It also helped show the cost of revenge – something that’s going to heavily influence season 2.

Casting The Last of Us

As great as the story and intentions can be, you have to pick the right people for the job. Pedro Pascal was, without question, the right person for Joel. He’s a fantastic actor who’s proven himself time and again. Although, could he play Joel when he’s angry or resentful? The answer was yes. Every episode showcased that he was the right choice for Joel. Furthermore, Bella Ramsey was excellently cast as Ellie. As viewers saw, she lived up to the hype and then some. No matter how good she was in the previous episode, she was even better in the next.

As amazing as the lead characters were, things can still fall apart if the supporting cast isn’t holding their own. That wasn’t the case here. Each of the actors that showed up for an episode or two along the way didn’t just hold their own, there were times when they were the best part of a scene or an episode.

Lamar Johnson, who played Henry, and Keivonn Woodard, who portrayed his brother Sam, had one of the most emotional moments in the show; one that will be remembered forever. Storm Reid’s episode was even better than we hoped, as she gave us an amazing portrayal of Riley. It went from joy to tragedy quickly and she played it so well. And you can’t forget Nico Parker who played Joel’s daughter. She brought Sarah’s backstory to life – something we didn’t see in the game.

Nods to the source material

As much as this article brought up the changes, the creative team has to be applauded for keeping the stuff that matters. There are aspects to the story of the video game that had to be there. Otherwise it’s not The Last of Us. Ellie’s cursing, Joel slowly warming up to Ellie and looking at her like a daughter and the scene where Ellie killed David in a fit of rage. These are the kinds of moments that had to remain.

Besides the major parts of the game, the creative team added nods and references to the smaller parts as well – things that only fans of the video game would recognize. The farm that was on fire as Joel, Tommy, and Sarah were trying to escape the city. Ellie reading an adult magazine and using the exact dialogue from the game. Or the giraffe in the season finale. All of these contributed to making this a phenomenal program.

One thing that has to be mentioned was bringing in original actors from the game, such as Merle Dandridge and Ashley Johnson. Johnson played Ellie in both of The Last of Us games. She may not have played her on the show, but she had an equally important role as Ellie’s mother. Meanwhile, Dandridge played Marlene in the video game and in the HBO show.

Together, they created a powerful scene. One that, again, wasn’t in the game. Merle Dandridge talked about how important that moment was to her during Inside The Last of Us. This shows that it wasn’t just crucial to telling the story, but to the actors as well.

In conclusion…

Going forward, people looking to adapt games, comics, and more should be looking at The Last of Us. The creative team showed that you can balance source material while adding new content. A problem that a lot of shows have had over the years.

Hopefully, those looking to adapt content in the future will use The Last of Us as inspiration. It could improve content for everyone going forward.

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Is The Last of Us the best video game adaptation of all time? Will shows and movies be forced to follow what the creative team did? Let us know in the comments below.