A spoiler-free commendation of HBO Max’s newest hit ‘The Last of Us’


Amanda Riha

Illustration by

Michael Sicoli, Staff Writer

Most people love a good apocalypse show. Whether it’s zombies or aliens — maybe a good nuclear fallout — people are fascinated by different perspectives on the end of the world. But most people, especiallly video game enthusiasts, never consider fungus as a world-ending option.

Unless, of course, you played or watched “The Last of Us” when it came out on PlayStation 3 in 2013. Then you probably had some trouble fighting through the tears of an absolutely heart-wrenching story. Now, the same story is being played out on HBO Max as a series.

The fifth episode of the series released on Feb. 10 clearing the midway point of the nine-episode first season.

This apocalypse concept is built around genuine scientific theory. The show opens with an amazing scene, paired with dull shots of a mindless crowd as a scientist explains the risk certain fungi possess. Cordyceps is a real fungus that takes control of ants and spiders. It can’t exist in humans due to our higher body temperature, but as the show suggests, a mutation due to global warming could cause that leap to be made.

It’s terrifying. But that’s the show.

The story follows a dynamic pair of characters. There’s Joel Miller, a perfectly-played pessimist by Pedro Pascal. Then there’s Ellie Williams, an upstart child who has known nothing other than the run-down world that exists. Bella Ramsey does a brilliant job of playing a girl who’s built up a shield of sarcasm and quick wit to handle the often-abrasive situations.

It’s an incredible story as the pair travel through a post-outbreak United States, dealing with the infected in a dilapidated country. There are raiders, people who adjusted to this new world by stepping on the throats of others. None of that is uncommon in apocalyptic shows, but “The Last of Us” stands out because of its hybrid form of video game and show.

Plenty of shows have tried to bridge the gap before, but often struggle to replace hours of gameplay with sufficient TV content. But “The Last of Us” does exactly what a video game-turned-TV show should do — it switches perspective away from your characters.

A video game is based around the player — Miller — which often means you don’t leave the perspective of that character. The show breaks that barrier and expounds upon smaller mentions of characters the video game can’t dive deeper into. In fact, it even strengthens the story from where it was.

Episode 3, for example, shares the perspective of doomsday-prepper Bill. He has a brief appearance in the game that is limited to a line of dialogue and a hidden note. But in the show, his relationship with newcomer Frank receives a whole episode of development and care.

On one hand, you have gun-toting, anti-establishment Bill, someone who’s set death traps across his town to keep people out. On the other hand, you have optimist Frank who sees the best in people. Their relationship in this horrific world is unlike any seen in another piece of media — and it’s barely explored in the game.

When you pair excellent characters with top-tier acting and detailed storytelling it gives a reason for people who already know how the story goes to be locked into every episode. And if you didn’t play the game, power to you — here’s a beautiful tragedy that you can watch for the first time. Color me jealous.

Episodes release every Sunday at 9 p.m. on HBO Max, with each episode even more heartbreaking than the last. Have the tissues and popcorn ready on hand; nothing comes easy for these beloved protagonists.