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Why ‘The Last Of Us’ Is For Everyone, Even If You Are Afraid Of Zombies: A Season 1 Review

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Conn chapter.

Content Warning: The following article discusses The Last of Us Season 1 which includes heavy violence, death, use of weapons, assault, and other potentially triggering events. This content is fictional, but please read ahead at your own discretion.

Photo by @thelastofus and @hbomax

Note: I have not played the video game and my review does not reflect accuracy to the source material. I’m only discussing the show as an active viewer and fan.

As someone who is not a fan of horror movies or violent video games, you can imagine my surprise when I became one of the people anxiously awaiting Sunday nights for the past month and a half for the latest installment of HBO’s hit show, The Last of Us. Adapted from the popular video game of the same name, The Last of Us follows Joel Miller, a “hardened survivor [who] takes charge of a 14 year old girl who may be humanity’s last hope” in the midst of a global pandemic, as described by host streaming platform HBO Max. If you’re like me and this premise reminds you of a time where you were forced to a watch a scary movie peering between your fingers, I highly encourage you to put your fears aside and give this show a try. Through stellar adaptive writing, performances of a lifetime from former Game of Thrones stars Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey, and immersive world-building, audiences have the pleasure of getting sucked into the events of this bleak parallel world filled with adventure that will make you grateful all the episodes are now available and you no longer have to wait a week for the next one. I have plenty of reasons to gush about how incredible this season was, so if you’ve watched it, feel free to read ahead, and if not, grant yourself the favor of tuning in on HBO Max, then come back for an in-depth spoiler discussion.

The main reason I wasn’t sure whether to begin the show in the first place was because of the world being set during a zombie apocalypse. Horror movies make my skin crawl and I’m squeamish to blood both on-screen and in real life, but over time, FOMO crept in as my friends kept discussing the show in whispers to avoid spoilers. I finally gave in and opted to watch it, but with my guard fully up. While the first few episodes kept me on my toes as I awaited Infected zombies to appear, the developing relationship between Joel and Ellie kept me intrigued, and Episode 3 “Long, Long Time” featuring Bill and Frank finally melted my heart into a consistent fan.

While I had to ask my friends who watched ahead of me for any zombie warnings prior to watching a new episode, eventually that role reversed, and I became the one eagerly tuning in to the newest episode right at 9 p.m., and my friends were the ones asking me what I thought of the episode before they got a chance to watch it. I quickly learned that the biggest fear factor in this show did not come from the Infected, but other people are in fact Joel and Ellie’s most common adversaries throughout the show. This quality is part of what makes The Last of Us so clever as a TV show and video game, as it reflects how humanity treats each other in a post-apocalyptic world as well as the real one, as a pandemic is of course part of our own recent history. Considering the events of the show are furthermore adjusted to take place in an alternate 2023, this is a fear factor that seems all too familiar as the opening scene portrays a scientist warning a live studio audience about the threats climate change poses to the world if it should continue to progress, which is a fear that exists in both this fictional world as well as in reality.

Despite the show’s potential to give me an existential crisis, the in-depth care that goes into this world-building is part of what makes the show so captivating. Showrunners Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin speak so passionately about this project, which clearly translates into all the effort the whole cast and crew put in to fully create the world of the game. Detailed set and costume design, an intelligent script full of foreshadowing and occasional humor, ingenious acting, and cameos from the original Joel and Ellie overall is resulting in a well-deserved, positive viewer response.

Photo by @pascalispunk

You don’t have to be a critic to tell that not only is the cast of The Last Of Us extremely talented, but they also hold an intense devotion to their roles — which set apart this show from so many other series. Not only are many actors from the game reprising their roles, such as Merle Dandridge reprising her role as Marlene, but Pascal and Ramsey take on their new roles as Joel and Ellie to make up an exceptional pair for the camera to capture. The actors have been open about the friendship they share behind the scenes, but as this starring duo they are able to take audiences through a rollercoaster of a relationship from their bitter interactions in the first episode, to Joel eliminating everyone in his way to save Ellie from the lethal cure process in the season finale. Pascal buries his usual fun-loving personality to full embody Joel and the trauma he’s endured through the loss of his daughter Sarah and surviving two decades in an apocalypse, creating a shell of a man that only Ellie can break through. The bickering that turned from sarcastic jabs to fun-loving jokes is a bond that ties these two characters in addition to the trauma they endure throughout the episodes, and ultimately leads to Joel caring for Ellie as if she is his own kid, which the show’s creators do not soon let the audience forget. In Episode 8, “When We Are In Need,” after a groundbreaking scene of Ellie defending herself from David and ultimately killing him, she stumbles out of the burning lodge and thankfully into the safety of Joel’s embrace, where an already emotional moment is marked by the return of Joel’s “baby girl” affection. While we audience members get our heart shattered, it’s not enough until the camera shifts to face Joel with his arms around Ellie, where we see the watch Sarah gifted her father in the first episode still around his wrist as a reminder of all Joel has lost, and his determination to never let that happen again. Ouch, HBO.

The entirety of Episode 8 is enough to prove Ramsey worthy of an Emmy nomination, which will hopefully await the 19-year-old actor. Viewers praise Ramsey’s refreshing characterization of Ellie for her spunkiness and use of humor in times of need within such a bleak world, as well as providing wholesome lesbian representation that is rumored to evolve in an already greenlit Season 2. For Pedro Pascal, my favorite moment for him as Joel, that also deems him worthy of an Emmy nomination, is in Episode 6, “Kin,” in the scene where he reveals Ellie’s situation to Tommy. Not only is he cleverly channeling hints of a Texan accent within his words, watching the emotions grow throughout that monologue is so captivating that I had to rewind three times in awe of Pascal’s performance. The way he portrays emotion through his careful speech, body language, and shifting facial expressions is simply mesmerizing, and is a first hint at this point in the show of how much Joel has grown to care about Ellie, even though he does not yet want to admit to himself.

Overall Rating: 10/10

I could gush for so much longer about how much I love this show. It left me so impressed that I even started watching Game of Thrones in the year 2023, just to get a glimpse of what else HBO is masterfully capable of. If you’re looking for additional content to pass the time as we anxiously await Season 2, I recommend listening to The Last of Us podcast featuring Troy Baker (the original Joel in the video game), and showrunners Druckmann and Mazin. There is also newly posted behind-the-scenes content of the show on HBO Max, the quick recaps at the end of each episode, and simply rewatching the show is a great way to catch the clever details you may have missed in the first go around. The effort and skill that went into this show was honestly so refreshing and impressive, I’m glad I was able to get over my fears and find a new favorite show that everyone should give a try, even if you have initial aversions to zombies.

Jessica Tusa is a writer at the HerCampus UConn Chapter. Jess loves to write about film and TV, pop culture, and unique college experiences. Outside of HerCampus, Jess stays involved in local media with her two positions at her college newspaper, The Daily Campus. She is also involved with Page to Stage Productions at UConn as a performer, director, and writer. She is currently a junior at UConn, majoring in English, with minors in Communications and Film Studies. In her free time, Jess loves to crochet, write in her journal, and catch up on the latest TV and movies.