The Last of Us is often heralded as a crowning achievement in storytelling, but that praise is sometimes couched in a common derogatory caveat aimed at many other games, too: “It’s a great story–for a video game.” The Last of Us on HBO, co-run by Chernobyl’s Craig Mazin and the game series’ own Neil Druckmann, is a marvelous proof of concept for PlayStation–and really any brand seeking to bring its beloved games to prestige television. Whereas the history of video game adaptations is littered with abject disasters at worst and lovable family movies at best, The Last of Us proves this is a beautiful and gut-wrenching story regardless of the medium. While it’s a notch below both the heights of the incredible original game and HBO’s illustrious best efforts, make no mistake: The Last of Us on HBO feels like the beginning of a new era for live-action video game adaptations.

The post-apocalyptic drama series stars Pedro Pascal (The Mandalorian) and Bella Ramsey (Game of Thrones) as Joel and Ellie, an unlikely duo traversing an American wasteland 20 years after a fungal pandemic destroys the world as we know it. The pair sets off on what is initially pitched as a cargo run, with the 14-year-old Ellie being the so-called cargo, and focuses on their relationship, as well as that of others they meet along the way. On HBO, the grave setting and broken humans at the forefront of the story sit comfortably atop the morally gray foundation that prestige TV has been built on since Tony Soprano first stepped into Dr. Melfi’s office almost 25 years ago.

The show, on the whole, is very faithful to the game. As someone who has played the game more than half a dozen times, I wondered how it would seem to fresh eyes. Often, the TV series delivers a scene that is nearly a shot-for-shot replica of the game, from the dialogue to even the cadence of its delivery. In the premiere episode, when Joel’s daughter Sarah jokes with her dad that she sold “hardcore drugs” to afford to fix his watch as a birthday gift, she says it precisely the same way players will already have heard. When she later awakens in the middle of the story’s first fateful night, she calls out for Joel twice in a tone that sounds uncannily like her video game counterpart. I wrestled with my feelings over these near-perfect recreations whenever they appeared. Was it beneficial to be so faithful, and thus largely predictable, to the millions who have played the game already? I sometimes enjoyed it, but other times found it distracting. Naturally, those coming into the show without any experience with the game won’t have this issue.

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