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Series / The Last of Us (2023)

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"Save who you can save."
"You keep her alive... and you set everything right."
Tess Servopoulos

The Last of Us is a post-apocalyptic drama series based upon the PlayStation video game of the same name created by Naughty Dog. It was developed for television by Craig Mazin (Chernobyl) and Neil Druckmann (writer and director of the original game). The series premiered on HBO beginning on January 15, 2023.

Set in an America beset by fungal zombies, the series stars Pedro Pascal as Joel, a man broken by the loss of his daughter (Nico Parker). He finds himself an unlikely second chance when he takes on a mission to escort young Ellie (Bella Ramsey) on a dangerous journey across the once great nation. Also starring are Gabriel Luna, Anna Torv, Merle Dandridge, Murray Bartlett, Storm Reid, and Nick Offerman.

Previews: Teaser. Official Trailer.


The Last of Us (2023) contains examples of:

  • Adaptational Backstory Change: Tommy is now a military veteran, as a bumper sticker on his truck indicates that he served in the First Gulf War.
  • Adaptation Distillation:
    • Joel and Tess spend a lot less time trying to recover their stolen merchandise from rival criminals. In the game, this sequence was something of a tutorial for the stealth and combat mechanics, whereas the show omits much of this to quickly bring the pair together with Marlene and Ellie.
    • The trek through the ruins of Boston to the state house is significantly shortened. There are no encounters with either FEDRA or the infected up until the museum, which features only two clickers.
  • Adaptational Early Appearance:
    • Not really an appearance, but a mention. While talking to Ellie in Episode 1, Marlene namedrops Riley, a character who wasn't mentioned until the ending of the game, and later got introduced in the DLC. As she was created later, but played a big part of Ellie's past and particularly the day she got bitten, it makes sense that the show would mention Riley earlier and leave viewers unfamiliar with the game to wonder who she is before it's revealed.
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    • Bloaters are briefly mentioned in the second episode while trekking through Boston, when Ellie asks about a type of infected that can throw spores. The first mention (and encounter) with bloaters in the game is at the end of Bill's Town, after Joel and Ellie have left Boston.
  • Adaptational Explanation:
    • In the game there is no explanation to why a fungus that disperses mostly through airborne spores also makes hosts violent against uninfected humans. In the show, spores are replaced with hyphae transmitted through the mouth, and the infected only turn violent if their target flees or fights back.
    • In the game, it’s said that the pandemic started from crops imported from South America but what specific crop started it is never stated. However, it’s heavily implied that it was flour here and the outbreak started in Jakarta. The official day of the outbreak, all three of the Millers unintentionally avoid foods containing flour. Sarah was going to make the family pancakes for breakfast but they ran out of mix so they eat eggs and leftovers (in Tommy’s case) instead. Joel passes on the biscuits he’s offered by next door neighbour Mr Adler since he's on a low carb diet, while feeding them to his elderly mother, the first character that we see get infected. When Sarah gets home from school, she bakes cookies with Mrs Adler but ends up not eating any because they’re oatmeal raisin. Joel also forgets to buy a birthday cake on his way home from work. Two days before that, the first woman who was found to be infected by the authorities in Indonesia was also an employee of a flour and grain factory (although it's unknown who transferred the fungus to her via a bite) and fourteen other workers at the factory go missing.
  • Adaptational Heroism: The show changes Joel's initial reason for escorting Ellie to the Fireflies from the group withholding his and Tess' guns to them promising to give him the supplies to reach his brother Tommy in Wyoming, who has been radio silent for three weeks. The change from a materialistic motive to one of familial love means Joel is a more noble character from the jump.
  • Adaptational Relationship Overhaul:
    • Joel's relationship with Tommy after the outbreak is not as strained as in the game, given that Joel tries to contact him over the radio and is concerned for his well-being after not hearing from him for three weeks.
    • Ellie knows nothing about Marlene and only meets her for the first time after she was picked up by the Fireflies, as opposed to the game where she was familiar with Marlene and her connection to her mother prior to being bitten.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The teaser and the trailer depicted scenes from the DLC, showing that they will incorporate flashbacks in the show. The series adds some new scenes that weren't in the game to flesh out the story better.
    • The first episode is a prime example of this as the scenes from 2003 follows Sarah throughout the day before the pandemic truly hits as oppose to later at night like in the first game. This doubles as expanding on a character the players of the series are already familiar with while luring those who haven't played the game into believing that Sarah is the main character before she's killed.
    • In the game, the player only experiences the pandemic through Joel's (and briefly, Sarah's and Ellie's) perspective. The series adds a few scenes establishing how the Cordyceps spread, such as the first scene in the premiere, in which a 60s talkshow guest explains how a rise in global temperature could allow Cordyceps to survive in humans.
  • Advertising by Association: The trailer plays up the involvement of Craig Mazin, who was responsible for the hit miniseries Chernobyl. The website also associates Uncharted with Neil Druckmann.
  • After the End: The story is set twenty years after a fungal pandemic collapsed civilization and turned most of the population into the Infected.
  • Age Lift: The original games and their supplementary materials established that Joel was born in 1981 and therefore his birthday would have been his 32nd. In the show, he was celebrating his 36th birthday in 2003, moving his birth year back to 1967 and making him a few years older than in the game when the pandemic happened. Similarly, Tommy was born some time after that, but no later than 1974 given that he served in Operation Desert Storm in 1991. note 
  • Alternate History: The initial outbreak took place in 2003, and modern civilization has long been reduced to an overgrown ruin twenty years later.
  • Apologetic Attacker: The soldier who fatally shoots Sarah and injures Joel, Just Following Orders.
  • Artistic License – Biology: The probability of a fungus of this type evolving the need and capability to infect humans is astronomically small. Even if it did, fungal infections are slow, taking a matter of weeks, and nothing like the near instant transformation depicted; new filaments take some time to produce. All 600 species of Cordyceps which seize control of insect bodies do so to force the host into a humid place where the fungus can feed on the body and spread its spores, so if an evolved cordyceps infected a human and over the course of many days transformed the body into a shambling host, the fungus' end goal would be much the same. The insects do not go on mindless zombie rampages to bite as many insects as possible.
    • Furthermore, human brains contain hundreds of thousands times more neurons compared to an ant brain. It would be an extraordinarily rapid evolution for cordyceps to gain the ability to infect and take over the human brain.
  • Artistic License – Gun Safety: A very minor example, but in "Infected" after discovering a fresh corpse on the floor of the museum, Joel stands with his rifle pointed directly at Ellie's chest for over a minute while he and Tess quietly discuss the possibility of there being Clickers in the building.
  • The Cameo: John Hannah and Christopher Heyerdahl make brief appearances as scientists on a TV talk show in the first episode's prologue, set in 1968. Josh Brener also appears as the host interviewing them.
  • Casting Gag:
    • Ashley Johnson, who voiced Ellie in the game, plays her mother in the adaptation.
    • Troy Baker will also be playing James, one of the cannibals. As well, Merle Dandridge will be reprising her role as Marlene and Jeffrey Pierce, who voiced Tommy, will be playing an original character.
    • Both Spanish dubs have the same actors who dubbed the game in the same roles (and not, for example, actors who dubbed Pascal and Ramsey in previous HBO productions). This is deliberate.
    • The Brazilian dub also uses deliberately the same voice actors of the game series.
  • Composite Character: In the game, the first infected Sarah sees is their neighbor Jimmy Cooper; they later drive through Louis's farm which is on fire. In the series, Jimmy is replaced by Nana Adler, but they drive past "Jimmy's place", which is on fire.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Sarah is, even more, this than in the original game, where outside of the intro, much of the early episode follows Sarah as the outbreak slowly worsens over the course of the day. It makes it all the more shocking for those unfamiliar with the game when she then is suddenly killed and dies in Joel's arms.
  • Disability Superpower: As the fungus grows, it splits the heads of the infected open and destroys their eyes, but can also command them to echolocate as an alternative, which in turn makes them better at navigating in the dark. Fungus also hardens enough to stop a few bullets.
  • Disabled in the Adaptation:
    • Unlike in the games, Joel has hearing loss in one ear and aching knees.
    • Sam is also completely deaf in the show, forcing him to communicate by writing.
  • Distant Prologue: The Teaser for the first episode takes place in a 1968 talk show, 35 years before the actual start of the story.
  • The Dreaded: Merely the threat of Joel getting involved in their operations is enough to convince rival gangsters to cut their losses.
    • Just the thought of a Clicker being in the area is enough to make hardened survivors like Joel and Tess nervous, as they are savage infected that are extremely violent and very hard to kill.
  • Establishing Character Moment:
    • Joel orders Tommy to drive past a family on the side of the road needing help, establishing that he will only look out for himself and his family and will do anything towards that end.
    • Ellie is introduced as a captive, chained to a radiator for days on end, and she still gives her captors no end of sarcasm and foul language.
  • Fallen States of America: The setting is a post-apocalyptic United States, with millions dead or infected and survivors working together in the remnants of cities or in encampments.
  • First-Episode Spoiler: Ellie is immune to cordyceps.
  • Flashback: The second episode opens with a flashback to Jakarta, Indonesia during the initial outbreak there.
  • Foreshadowing: Episode 2, "Infected," shows how the Cordyceps pandemic began in Jakarta, home of one of the largest flour mills in the world, and implies that contaminated flour likely caused the quick spread across the globe. Other than a radio broadcast that the Millers listen to over breakfast, the previous episode also hints at this by showing several instances in which Joel and Sarah unknowingly avoid eating flour: when Sarah is unable to make Joel birthday pancakes, when they turn down their neighbor's biscuits, when Joel forgets to get a cake, etc.
  • Global Warming: While the game didn't mention this as a cause, the series opens with a mycologist theorizing that if the world were to get warmer, that could cause cordyceps to evolve to be able to withstand higher temperatures, which would enable it to infect humans, which ends up happening.
  • Graffiti of the Resistance: As in the game, the Fireflies spray their logo and motto onto walls around the Boston QZ, and FEDRA has them painted over as quickly as possible.
  • Grey-and-Grey Morality: The Boston Quarantine Zone is run by the Federal Disaster Response Agency (FEDRA), whose heavy-handed response to keeping the cordyceps infection at bay has slid into outright fascism. They're resisted by the Fireflies, who want to restore freedom and democracy but are willing to commit brutal acts of violence and deal with the worst kinds of criminals to get what they need.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: While she was already living on borrowed time from a bite wound, Tess chooses to stay behind and sacrifice her own life rather than turn into a monster, blowing herself and a building full of infected up to give Joel and Ellie a chance to escape.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: The show establishes this thesis pretty quickly.
    • In the midst of a full-on Zombie Apocalypse, it's not one of the infected who kills Joel's daughter Sarah — it's a human soldier, following orders.
    • The radioman warns Joel that there's raiders and slavers outside the quarantine zone, which he claims are worse than the infected.
  • The Immune: Ellie is infected, but has shown no symptoms three weeks later.
  • Ironic Name: The Miller family avoids infection because they don't touch flour (which is heavily implied to contain the Cordyceps fungus) on or around outbreak day.
  • Kill It with Fire: After studying the first known outbreak, Indonesia's top mycologist says in certain terms that there is no hope for a vaccine or cure and that the only course is to bomb Jakarta into the ground and everyone in it. We later heard that a limited version of this was tried in America to keep the infection out of the Quarantine Zones, but that it only worked in smaller cities like Boston and Atlanta. In addition, any person testing positive in the QZ is shot and burned immediately.
  • La Résistance: The Fireflies view themselves as this, rebelling against the de facto military dictatorship that FEDRA has set up to protect the Quarantine Zones, with a goal of restoring democracy.
  • Lecture as Exposition: The premiere opens with two scientists being interviewed on a chat show in the 1960s, where a mycologist (played by John Hannah) speaks in detail of how parasitic fungi like cordyceps can infect their hosts and change their behavior in order to reproduce. He ends his lecture by theorizing that while these fungi can only infect insects, the world getting warmer could cause them to evolve the ability to infect humans.
  • Meaningful Background Event: While Sarah is browsing the Adlers' shelf for a movie to borrow, an out-of-focus Nana Adler can be seen having some kind of seizure in the background, indicating the initial stage of her infection with the cordyceps fungi.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • The song playing in the teaser is “Alone and Forsaken” by Hank Williams Jr.. The same song was previously used for the 2012 Gamescom trailer for the original game.
    • The background song for the trailer is "Take On Me" by a-ha. In the second game, Ellie serenades Dina with the same song while playing guitar in the Seattle music store.
    • During the outbreak scene in the city, Tommy drives his truck through the chaos and almost gets T-boned by another car from the side. This is actually how the car crashed in the game. Here, Tommy's truck instead crashes when a commercial plane crashed and exploded behind him and a piece of debris flies into his car.
    • A toy stuffed giraffe is lying on the ground in the episode "Infected". Giraffes are a recurring motif in the first game.
    • At the state house, Ellie wonders if the Fireflies were killed by FEDRA, which is what happened to them in the game.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: The 1968 talk show at the start of the series resembles The Dick Cavett Show.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Joel's neighbour Denise rushes to help the infected Mr. & Mrs. Adler after Tommy hits them with the truck. As he drives away, Mr. Adler can be subsequently seen getting up and attacking her.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Outside the QZ, Joel tackles the soldier holding him at gunpoint and beats him to death with his fists after the situation triggered a flashback to Sarah's death.
  • Oh, Crap!: The prologue of "Infected" shows an Indonesian mycologist investigating a suspected Cordyceps outbreak. She's initially disbelieving, as she knows Cordyceps cannot survive in humans—only to be horrifically proven wrong firsthand. Then she learns from the Lieutenant General that there are fourteen unaccounted-for likely infectees. He asks what can be done to stop the infection from spreading, to which she replies: Bomb.
    • During the same episode, while travelling through the Boston Museum, Ellie finds a fresh corpse that has been torn apart, leading Joel and Tess to realise with horror that there are clickers in the building. You can even hear the fear in Tess' voice as she unsuccessfully tries to convince Joel and herself that the victim may have been attacked outside and then stumbled in.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: Cordyceps is a real fungus that really infects hosts and induces zombie-like behavior — albeit in ants and other small insects. The show (like the game) posits what would happen if cordyceps evolved to infect humans.
  • Poor Communication Kills:
    • Joel loses Sarah to this mistake when dealing with the military cordon around Austin, as he fails to specify that his daughter’s ankle injury isn’t from a bite.
    • Earlier, Joel and Tommy involuntarily do everything on their part to look like it's them who have become aggressive and attacked the Adlers for no reason. Denise, the neighbor across the street, sees this and rushes to help the Adlers, who attack and infect her.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: The series replaces the spores that carry the Cordyceps fungus with tendrils. Craig Mazin explained that this change was due to the fact that if the fungus was spread through airborne spores characters would likely need to wear protective masks 24/7 (which would force all of the actors to have to cover their faces in every scene, not that that's ever been a hindrance for Pedro Pascal) rather than only in specific spore-infested areas as they do in the games. While most players would be willing to chalk this up to Acceptable Breaks from Reality, since it would be extremely tedious to have the playable characters have to follow the safety precautions necessary for such a pandemic in real life, the more grounded live-action series comes with a lower Willing Suspension of Disbelief for the audience.
  • Promoted to Love Interest: In a way. While the game hinted that Joel and Tess were probably partners in both senses of the word at some point, it was still done in a subtle manner and never outright confirmed. The show decided to skip this subtlety and the very first scene Joel and Tess share together is of Tess getting into bed with Joel and spooning him.
  • Race Lift: The Miller family all get this. Joel and Tommy are white in the game but Latino (albeit white Latinos) in the show. Sarah had blonde hair and blue eyes in the game but is played by Nico Parker, who's a quarter black. Maria, who's also blonde and blue eyed in the game, is played by black actor Rutina Wesley.
  • Remake Cameo: Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson, Joel's and Ellie's actors from the games, show up here as David's right-hand man James and as Ellie's mother Anna, respectively. Jeffrey Pierce, the original Tommy Miller, also appears as the rebel Perry.
  • Setting Update: In the original game, the Cordyceps outbreak took place in 2013 and was originated in South America with the main events occurring twenty years later in 2033. In the show, the first outbreak is moved back ten years to 2003 in Jakarta, Indonesia, such that the main events will occur in 2023 instead.
  • Shown Their Work:
    • John Hannah's narration in the opening mentions that fungal cures and vaccines are nonexistent, and that it's not even possible to actually make them. This is very much the case, as Professor Neal Ar Gow who co-edited the Oxford Textbook of Medical Mycology (the study of fungi) says here. He notes that that is in part due to the fact that fungi are extremely complicated in immune response.
    • Fungi can actually form networks between hosts that can be used to transfer nutrients.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: The slightly more realistic portrayal allows for additional complications in having to perform stealth around monsters with hyper-accentuated hearing to avoid detection that would have been difficult or frustrating to pull off in gameplay. Not only do characters regularly have to hold their breath to minimise noise, but the very act of reloading a gun can cause enough noise to alert a Clicker. Joel is almost discovered by one in "Infected" despite quietly slotting the bullets in one by one at the other end of a hallway, and barely finishes in time before it locates him.
  • Taking You with Me: An already-infected Tess stays behind to hold off the horde of infected Joel inadvertently alerted. She uses the gasoline stored by the Fireflies and a lighter to blow them all up.
  • Throwaway Country: Zig-Zagged Trope. The first known outbreak is in Jakarta, which the Millers hear of as unspecified "disturbances" while listening to the radio in the first episode. The second episode opens with a flashback to Jakarta, in Indonesian and featuring Indonesian characters only, showing local mycologists and military studying one of the first known infected and ending with the mycologist advising the military to bomb the city and everyone in it, including herself. However this flashback is set three days before the scene in episode 1, meaning that the Indonesian military didn't destroy their capital right away or ever at all.
  • Throwing Off the Disability: Downplayed Trope, if not Subverted. As the fungus takes control of a person, it will also patch up their bodies to some extent and override the brain's inhibitors to help in its spread. In the premiere the non-walking, non-talking, dementia-ridden Nana Adler's body was able to stand, walk, and bite after the fungus essentially became her new brain.
  • Time Skip: The first episode has a time skip of 20 years after the initial outbreak.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Tess calls Robert as much for trying to sell a bad car battery twice. He tried selling it to Joel and the Fireflies to boot. The second time causing a shoot-out which results in his and his crew's deaths.
  • Unseen No More: There are at least two characters who are only mentioned in the game that appear in the series. Anna, Ellie's mother, appears in the show and is played by Ellie's actor from the game, Ashley Johnson. Bill's partner Frank whose body is only ever seen in the game is played by Australian actor Murray Bartlett.
  • Would Hurt a Child:
    • On Outbreak Day, an army soldier shoots at Joel and Sarah on the off chance they might be infected. While Joel is only grazed, Sarah takes several bullets to the stomach and dies in Joel's arms.
    • After society collapses, FEDRA takes no chances with infectees who haven't yet turned, as seen when they euthanized a boy they picked up at the gates of the quarantine zone who tested positive.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): The Last Of Us


Joel's secret stuff

Joel takes off some wooden floorboards to get his secret stuff hidden.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (2 votes)

Example of:

Main / LooseFloorboardHidingSpot

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