Nine years after first announcing that they’d be making a movie out of 2013 video game The Last of Us, and seven since those plans collapsed, Sony is now bringing the sneaky and scary survival horror game to HBO in January 2023, with some familiar names helping out.
The Last of Us is set in 2033, 20 years after the world’s population has been decimated by a fungal infestation of the brain that initially makes its victims violently insane and feral, and later destroys their eyes, forcing them to use echo-location to find people — and rip their throats out. Here’s everything we know so far about the highly-anticipated adaptation.
(Photo by Naughty Dog/Sony Interactive Entertainment)
In The Last of Us, tough-guy survivor Joel Miller is hired to escort a teenager named Ellie through the wasteland and to some doctors who believe that Ellie may be the cure to the plague. As they make their way from what used to be Boston to what’s left of Salt Lake City, they run into the usual post-apocalyptic tropes, including roving groups of infected, a couple of cannibals, some huge jerks, and a giraffe who’s escaped from a zoo and is getting out while the getting is good.
While the show will mostly follow the plot of the first game, it is expected to incorporate elements from The Last of Us Part II, which is set five years after the first game. That said, it actually seems more likely that they’ll pull elements from The Last of Us: Left Behind, an Ellie-centric prequel set before the events of the first game.
But the series is also expected to expand upon the game’s story, including, apparently, some elements that were previously cut from the game. In a July 2020 interview with the BBC Sounds’ “Must Watch” webcast, series co-creator and writer Craig Mazin said of his Naughty Dog collaborator on the series, “Neil [Druckmann], at one point, he was like, ‘You know, there’s one thing we were talking about [doing in the first game] for a while,’ and then he told me what it was, and I was like — gonk! — ‘OK, jaw-drop, that’s going in. We have to do that.'”
Mazin also said, “So the changes that we’re making are designed to fill things out and expand. Not to undo, but rather to enhance,” adding that, “It’s not like we just decided, ‘Well, wouldn’t it be cool if there’s one episode where Joel and Ellie get on motorcycles and confront a motorcycle gang?’ There’s no episodic nonsense here. The things that are new and enhancing of the storyline that we’re doing are connected in organic, serious ways that I think fans of the game and newcomers alike will appreciate.”
That said, in the show’s first full-length trailer (top of the page), there was a brief glimpse of some men in the winter, which seems like it comes from a part rather late in the first game, suggesting that this first season may encompass the entire game, and not half of it or less.
This trailer also gave us more time with (and dialog from) Joel, Ellie, and other characters, as well as a parting shot of a Bloater (someone who’s been infected long enough for the fungus to cover their body in a hard shell), but otherwise didn’t reveal anything we didn’t already know.
Even so, The Last of Us still seems like it’s taking a lot of cues from the game. Both the teaser trailer and the HBO sizzle trailer include moments that look like scenes from the game, and even seem to employ the same or similar camera angles. These include images of the chaos when the outbreak begins, shots of a destroyed city, a shot of Joel carrying Ellie, and another of a survivor named Bill introducing himself. There’s even one, of Ellie and her friend Riley, that looks to be from The Last of Us: Left Behind.
There was also, in the teaser trailer, our first (albeit brief) glimpse of a clicker, one of the aforementioned infected who’s been blinded by the fungus destroying their eyes from within.
(Photo by HBO)
Fittingly, the cast announced so far includes a few video game veterans, including a certain zombie one we all know. For the role of father figure Joel, the producers chose Pedro Pascal (Game of Thrones, The Mandalorian), who has interactive experience from voicing Paolo in the 2016 sneaky action game Dishonored 2, while Ellie will be played by Pascal’s Thrones co-star Bella Ramsey, who voiced Freya in Doctor Who Infinity: The Dalek Invasion of Time.
(Photo by HBO)
Also joining the cast are such TV and video game vets as Gabriel Luna (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Terminator: Dark Fate), who appeared in the game BlackSite: Area 51, has been cast as Joel’s younger brother Tommy, while Anna Torv (Fringe, Mindhunter; pictured above), who voiced Nariko in the action game Heavenly Sword, and in the eponymous animated movie based on that game, will play Joel’s smuggling partner, Tess.
Other actors slated to appear in the show include Euphoria’s Storm Reid as Ellie’s friend Riley; Yellowjacket’s Melanie Lynskey as Kathleen, a new character who leads a revolutionary group of out of Kansas City; Lamar Johnson from Dark Phoenix as Henry; newcomer Keivonn Woodard as Sam; and Graham Green from Dances with Wolves and the upcoming Marvel show Echo, who plays Marlon, another new character, one who lives with his wife, Florence (Northern Exposure’s Elaine Miles), in the wilds of Wyoming.
(Photo by HBO)
The cast will even include a number of the voice actors from The Last of Us games. Troy Baker (Bioshock: Infinite, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End) and Ashley Johnson (Blindspot, Critical Role), who voiced Joel and Ellie, respectfully, will both appear in the show, though their roles have not yet been revealed. In addition, Bosch’s Jeffrey Pierce, who was the voice of Tommy, will have a recurring role as Perry, a character new to the show who was described in Deadline as, “…a rebel in a quarantine zone.” Similarly, The Flight Attendant’s Merle Dandridge, who voiced Marlene in both games, will reprise her role in the show.
Rounding out the cast, Parks and Recreation’s Nick Offerman will guest as the aforementioned Bill, Chernobyl’s Con O’Neill and The White Lotus’ Murray Bartlett will, according to Deadline, play “…survivalists living alone in their own isolated town,” while Dumbo’s Nico Parker will guest star as Joel’s daughter, Sarah.
(Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
The series will feature some of the same names as the games. Druckmann — who was the writer and a co-director of the first game and a co-writer and co-director of its recently released sequel — is one of the show’s co-creators alongside Mazin, and will probably write or co-write some episodes, while one of the show’s executive producers is Evan Wells, who is the CEO of Naughty Dog, the company that made The Last of Us games.
Along with Druckmann and Wells, the show will also feature music by Gustavo Santaolalla, who’s done the score for both games, as well as for such TV shows as Jane the Virgin and Making a Murderer. It will also be co-executive produced by Asad Qizilbash, who worked on the Uncharted movie, and has had his name in the credits of such Sony games as Death Stranding, Ghost of Tsushima, and multiple God of War installments.
As for people working on The Last of Us who aren’t employees of Naughty Dog or Sony, the first episode (and possibly more) will be directed by Kantemir Balagov, who wrote and directed the Russian drama Beanpole, with subsequent episodes directed by Ali Abbasi, the writer/director of the 2018 film Border, and Jasmila Zbanic, who made the Oscar-nominated 2020 movie Quo vadis, Aida? There are reportedly still two more directors to be announced for the series’ 10-episode first season, but this initial crop of acclaimed international filmmakers certainly raises the bar.
Other staffers that may be familiar to TV lovers but not necessarily to gamers include the show’s executive producers, among them Carolyn Strauss from Game of Thrones and Chernobyl and Altered Carbon’s Rose Lam.
On the business side, The Last of Us is being produced by Sony Pictures Entertainment in conjunction with PlayStation Productions. Sony Pictures Entertainment’s shows include Breaking Bad, The Boys, and Seinfeld. As for the relatively new PlayStation Productions, The Last of Us show is their first TV series, and only second announced production after the movie based on Naughty Dog’s Uncharted games. Released in 2022, the film starred Tom Holland (the MCU’s Spider-Man), Mark Wahlberg, and Antonio Banderas taking direction from Ruben Fleisher (Zombieland).
(Photo by HBO)
The first season of The Last of Us will launch on Sunday, January 15, 2023, with the first of its nine episodes available on HBO and HBO MAX, with the latter offering 4K as a viewing option. And yes, HBO dis specifically refer to this as the “first season.” In that July 2020 BBC interview, Mazin said that he and Druckmann were, at that time, figuring out “the first cycle” of the series.
Thumbnail image by HBO