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What the Hell Do I Actually Want From ‘The Last of Us’?

By Petr Navovy | TV | February 2, 2023 |

By Petr Navovy | TV | February 2, 2023 |


It’s gotten to the point where my weekly schedule revolves around watching The Last of Us. I’m finding myself psychologically anchoring the week on that one evening that I get to sit down with my partner, during which we turn everything else off and give our complete and undivided attention to the hour-or-so feast that HBO feeds us. That one evening feels so special, so heightened and rarefied, compared to every other, and I spend so much of the week that follows it thinking about it, that the only comparison I can think of is—naturally—Game of Thrones. HBO obviously understands the power of combining raw quality with the old-school traditional drip feed of story release. That’s not to say that the bingeing model doesn’t deliver the goods, it’s just that there really is something special about giving an episode of a TV show time to settle in your mind, allowing the analytical and emotional departments of your brain to pour over it and bond with it without distraction.

We’re three episodes in of a nine-episode season, a third of the way through, and though The Last of Us has my complete and undivided attention in a way that I didn’t think was really possible anymore, I do keep asking myself one question over and over again: ‘What do I want from this show?’

‘As a fan of the games, what do I want it to do?’

Over the past week or so, my partner finally played through The Last of Us Part II, and I found myself walking over to the TV over and over again to see where she was. By the time she got to the endgame, I was glued to the sofa next to her, completely unable to tear myself away from the story unfolding on the screen. During the ending, I wept uncontrollably. We both did. It was her first time playing through the second game, but I’d already experienced it before, so I was sure that seeing it again would have an impact measurably less powerful than the first time—especially when I wasn’t the one playing it this time. I couldn’t have been more wrong. If anything, the emotional reaction was somehow even stronger. Instead of the attachment to the characters or the resonance I feel for their story growing fainter with time since I first experienced it, it’s only gained in power, and I realised that apart from music, and a select few films like the Before Trilogy and Heat, there’s precious few bits of media that I’ve had such a strong emotional reaction to, and formed such a strong emotional bond with, as The Last of Us games. The first by itself was something special, but the second took that and made it a part of me in such a way that only really happens a few times in a person’s life.

When HBO announced a few days ago that The Last of Us was going to return for a second season, and that it would tell the story of the second game, my investment in the show—and my confusion over what I want the show to do—skyrocketed. The questions multiplied.

What do I want from The Last of Us show?

Do I want it to make me feel like the games did?

Do I want it to expand on this beloved story and to take it to interesting new places?

Do I want to feel the thrill of recognition from it paying homage?

Do I want it to stick to the arc of the original story or do I want bold changes?

I don’t know the answers to any of these. I just don’t know! Frankly, HBO has me all bamboozled. No TV show has made me feel this way before. I guess now I finally know what it was like for all the book readers during the Game of Thrones era.

As I’ve said before, my unshaken belief is that 1:1 adaptations of stories is a moronic way to approach the process, so I’m happy that the show is to a degree treading its own path. I’m enjoying the show immensely, but there is something holding me back. Something I can’t put my finger on. Maybe it’s because I’m so heavily invested in the original story? I’m definitely finding it harder to judge the quality and to critique the show than with almost anything else I’ve watched in a long time, and I’m sure that must be the reason why.

The latest episode was an interesting case study. In expanding on Bill’s story to such a degree, it gave fans of the games a glimpse into a part of this world that we’ve never seen before. A few slight missteps like the tad heavy-handed note at the end aside, I thought it was a well-made and heartfelt episode of television, and I really liked Tom and Lorenzo’s beautiful take on it. It enriched the world and provided a powerful reminder of why people like Joel would still have the heart to fight for something in the ruins. That being said, I also loved the game’s version of Bill and his story. It’s told extremely briefly, and your brain has to fill in a lot of spaces, but to me it was compelling, perhaps precisely for that reason, and it approached things from a different angle: Further cementing the lethally sharp edges of the reality that these characters live in, and providing a subtle bit of foreshadowing for Ellie’s story.

I really love Bill in the game. And I really loved Bill in the show. I adore the games, and I’m having a great time with the show. So what is it that I’m feeling? What the hell do I want?!

I haven’t got a fuc*ing clue.

This has been your latest edition of ‘Working out my The Last of Us emotions out loud’, thank you for reading, see you next time.