Anchor Staff Writer
Warning: This review contains mild spoilers for HBO’s “The Last of Us” (2023).
Watching HBO’s new post-apocalyptic drama “The Last of Us” has revived my childhood fear of the dark and deepened my current fear of future pandemics, but I still wait impatiently for each new episode’s release. Its impressive reimagining of the game’s main enemy and surprising emotional complexity make grappling with these fears well worth it.
Adapted from the 2013 video game of the same name, “The Last of Us” is a COVID-19 survivor’s personal hell. Twenty years after the parasitic cordyceps brain infection ravaged the globe and turned its hosts into flesh-eating shells of their former selves, survivor Joel, played by Pedro Pascal, turns to smuggling in order to make his way in a post-apocalyptic Boston government-imposed quarantine zone.
Joel is tasked with escorting fourteen-year-old Ellie, played by Bella Ramsey, who’s immune to the infection, across the country. Joel puts his life on the line to fulfill his mission and find his brother, who he was separated from after the outbreak.
“The Last of Us” makes the walkers from “The Walking Dead” look like Halloween decorations. The infected aren’t your typical zombie; they run at lightning-fast speeds, sprout fungi from their graying mouths and eyes and seem to evolve based on how long they’ve been infected for, each new variant gaining strength and increasing abilities to locate and kill survivors.
Episode two, “Infected,” best displays their power. We wait with Joel and Ellie in a dilapidated museum, fear coursing through their veins as they try to avoid being caught by an infected as it convulses through the dark, murky space. Once the infected inevitably attacks, its fungi-capped head pierces through the vast darkness, lunges towards the camera and emits a piercing shriek powerful enough to stun viewers.
These fictional monsters were brought to the silver screen through practical effects instead of CGI, which makes them feel all the more real and threatening.
Episode three, “Long, Long Time,” explores the impact of isolationism through paranoid survivalist Bill, played by Nick Offerman, who first approaches the cordyceps outbreak very logically. He keeps close guard of his home and his resources, and refuses to share a space with anyone for years. Though this method keeps him safe, he lives a lonely life. It takes an unexpected relationship with fellow survivor Frank, played by Murray Bartlett, to make him see the value in being part of a team.
What I appreciate most about “The Last of Us” so far is that it's beginning to unpack the lone wolf trope.
“Long, Long Time” serves as a reminder that we need human connection, even when it seems to bring more danger and disappointment than comfort and security. A tender love story was the last thing I expected from this show, but I hope to see more like it throughout the rest of the season, and I hope to see the lone wolf trope further explored through Joel.
Excitingly terrifying, “The Last of Us” trained me to look over my shoulder and scan my surroundings with my phone’s flashlight whenever I make the now dangerous trek back into my bedroom at night. It’s currently available to stream on HBO Max, with new episodes releasing Sundays at 9 p.m.