Spoilers for Episode 6 of HBO’s The Last of Us and the history of the games. If you don’t know them yet, you better read on carefully, if at all.
Ok, two thirds are up, time to take stock. How good is HBO’s The Last of Us really? Well, it’s probably the best video game adaptation – even if the unequaled Werewolves Within gives it a good fight. It’s definitely a good series and I’m looking forward to more people getting to know this story and characters. But collectively, do we really feel like we’re getting the usual HBO level here? I have my doubts about that.
I’m not even sure what it is because the casting is spot on in terms of talent. The show is not badly told, takes refreshing liberties with the source material, the chemistry of the characters is right and the series always sets small highlights. But on the whole everything seems too tame, neither brutal nor scary enough and visually very ordinary. In addition, I found it rushed in some places and at the same time a little thin due to the deduction of the playful part in its density of events – everything somehow too non-committal. But it’s still well done because the framework of this story, the characters and their relationships are solid enough.
I have to say that episode six was a lot more fun after the awfully slip-in Kansas City subplot. This is mainly due to the fact that with only three episodes left, Joel is playing with open cards, which is now emotionally at stake for him. After reuniting with his brother Tommy (Gabriel Luna), Pedro Pascal’s Joel comes out in heartbreaking fashion in one of the strongest scenes of the series yet, plagued by anxiety out of concern that he might lose Ellie like Sarah did. Worse yet, become responsible for her death. This is insofar as he sees the blame for the loss of Sarah primarily on himself.
I found that incredibly believable. It’s such a parenting thing that you see it as your primary job not to let your children get into a dangerous situation in the first place – no matter how feasible that is in practice or not. An even more clever move was that we found out what shadow has been hanging over the siblings’ common past since the time shortly after the outbreak (“We murdered people, Joel”). In combination with the superficially “softer” shell of this Joel, this draws a different but exciting picture of him in contrast to the game. The fact that Spiel-Joel came across as decidedly filthier and more brutal was one of the main criticisms of his series counterpart. However, I now believe that this change was not accidental or pandering to the audience, but had a secret method and could become a great strength of the series.
The more I think about it, the less surprising I found Joel’s rescue at the end of the game. He was already a lost soul, for which he will later get the well-earned reward. It was to be expected of him otherwise. If the series Joel, whom we are currently experiencing at the penitent, mildly aging end of his sad existence – as a man who actually wants to get better – goes into school shooter mode at the end of the first season, it could seem all the more merciless and bitter. When that happens, I tip my hat to the risk the writers took by allowing the show’s Joel to retain a little more conscience and humanity. Anyway, I’m looking forward to this episode with a pinch in the stomach.
Otherwise, meeting Tommy was surprising in that we don’t get the Jackson from the first part, but the fully functional, peace-loving commune that we know from The Last of Us Part 2. Including a first introduction to the person who will likely become the series Dina in season two (not to mention Shimmer the horse). Jackson is very faithful to the original, even the pub “The Tipsy Bison” has the same name as in the game. It’s possible that the series doesn’t intend to do the same four-year time jump from season one to season two, and that’s why we’re already seeing the town in this form.
The opening with the old couple was also very nice. It’s hard to see Graham Greene enough, and the composure with which he and his wife (Elaine Miles) face their possible demise was hilarious. One of my favorite scenes from this series so far, especially when Ellie’s defiant reaction about not being scared was met with a dry “he got it working” from the old Indian at Joel. A good moment of tension was also the first confrontation with the Jackson people. I was sure the dog would hit Ellie and I’ve rarely held my breath as long as I did here.
One of the game’s most important dialogues, after Joel wants to hand over Ellie to Tommy, has once again been translated one-to-one and is therefore excellent for the series. Pascal and Ramsey are just a great duo, and when they head off to Colorado together, you get the feeling the characters are finally a complete unit. The inevitable clash with the bandits, in which Joel receives his critical injury, surprised the makers of the series again and again not to be tempted to replicate gameplay scenes. Escaping the threat was as straightforward and self-preserving as real people would be. A third-person stealth action game naturally seeks combat more readily. I really liked how quickly it all happened.
So now next week’s left-behind chapter, right? Ellie’s Origin story, sort of. I’m curious if this will continue throughout the episode, or if Ellie’s encounter with David will take place alongside it. And then we can get ready for the grand finale, because after nine episodes it’s over for the time being. How time flies…