The Last of Us Doesn’t Need a TV Series Adaptation
While coming to a prestige TV network like HBO, the story of The Last of Us should be contained to its original medium: video games.
Since 2013, The Last of Us has become a video game phenomenon with acclaim from both critics and fans. For years after, we knew that Sony and Naughty Dog were trying to develop the IP into a movie, but the project never gained any significant traction. After waiting for any updates regarding the film, we now know that The Last of Us is being adapted as a television series helmed by Chernobyl‘s Craig Mazin. As someone who avidly doesn’t think The Last of Us is all that, but understands its significance for fans, I don’t think bringing Joel and Ellie’s story to another medium is going to bring much new to the table.
Whenever I ask someone “what makes The Last of Us so great?”, normally I get a response about something that it achieved that, in my opinion, another game that existed previously already did much better. Normally, when I tell people how I feel about it, I describe it as an okay game with remarkable performances, and I still stand by that. It wasn’t until recently that a friend of mine told me that “The Last of Us is a magic trick, and you saw the wiring behind the curtain.” That is the best explanation that I have ever heard that explains my feelings towards the game. I think the gameplay is fine; the story didn’t really grab me and is relatively predictable, and Joel’s obsession over Ellie kinda just…happened? Plus, Joel is a monster and I hope Ellie kills him in The Last of Us Part II, but that is just probably me.
The one thing that I think everyone who’s played The Last of Us can agree on are the powerful performances from both Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson as Joel and Ellie. While I’m sure that fans are already thinking about their ideal casting as to who should play the post apocalyptic duo, I think the answer is clear; no one. Baker and Johnson’s performances are so one of a kind to the point that I think no other person will be able to replicate let alone surpass them to satisfy fans. As a major fan of another zombie franchise, Telltale’s The Walking Dead, I couldn’t imagine a live-action adaptation without Dave Fennoy as Lee or Melissa Hutchison as Clementine. Granted, they wouldn’t be able to physically portray those characters, so I realize it won’t work. But it just wouldn’t be the same because it was their performances which sold that game, and I feel that Baker and Johnson are the same case.
Alongside its performances, The Last of Us is known for its grounded cinematics which are reminiscent of a film itself. With this in mind, there isn’t much benefit in my opinion to bringing it to television that would add something new to the story. The game by itself was easily well made enough that one who is outside the gaming realm could watch a compilation or walkthrough and get the story that way. An even better idea: sit down with your family, whoever it may be, show them the story and characters you care so much about that way. It will bring you closer and may even show them that there is more to video games than meets the eye. The Last of Us is an accessible enough game that even those who aren’t familiar with video games could get through it on the easiest difficulty if they want to play it themselves. Even if someone is interested in the game but doesn’t play video games often, there are numerous ways to experience its story.
In recent years we have gotten video game adaptations in TV and film that most find good and exciting because they don’t directly follow a specific story but are more about the world, like Detective Pikachu. But bringing the same plot of the first game to a TV series is something that I find hard to be desirable. Whatever changes or additions that end up being made for the show won’t translate to the games, so why not just create a new story in that world specifically for a TV series? It would be much more interesting and justify going to a new platform. I’m sure that those who love The Last of Us will enjoy the show solely because it exists, but I believe that at the end of the day, it will never meet the ultimately high expectations that fans will have for it, or ever match people’s love for the game.
I get it; from a business perspective, it makes perfect sense bringing something as popular as The Last of Us to TV for people outside of video games to consume, but to me it isn’t necessary. Video games are able to tell stories and deliver experiences that no other medium can do, which is why I think the game resonated with so many people; again, I can’t really tell. Bringing that experience to television makes me feel like maybe it isn’t as special as I once assumed. The Last of Us is a video game. Let anyone who wants to know its story do so the way it was meant to be done; through a gaming narrative.