Next week, HBO debuts The Last of Us, its adaptation of Naughty Dog’s zombie video game. It sounds pretty familiar in the abstract: a zombie plague has wiped out much of humanity, and those who remain must pick up the pieces and try to move on. Hello, The Walking Dead. But The Last of Us is trying to stand out.
“We wanted to do the opposite of Resident Evil — which I love, but it’s so over-the-top and you’re fighting giant spiders and it’s all about enemy variety,” The Last of Us creator Neil Druckmann told The Hollywood Reporter. “What if it’s about intimate relationships — an exploration of the unconditional love a parent feels for their child and the beautiful things that could come out of that and the really horrible things that could come out of that?”
The parent and child in question are Joel and Ellie, respectively a hardened survivor of the apocalypse and a teenager who is immune to the disease that has wrecked the world. Playing them are Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey, both veterans of HBO’s Game of Thrones.
The Mandalorian vs The Last of Us
Joel and Ellie aren’t literally father and daughter, although they form a father-daughter bond over the course of the story. It’s not unlike the bond Din Djarin formed with Baby Yoda on The Mandalorian, another show where Pascal is the star.
“We talked about the fact that he was in The Mandalorian,” said The Last of Us showrunner Craig Mazin. “And you can do the math like: Mandalorian = Joel; Baby Yoda = … but then you realize, actually, no. It’s not the same. The Mandalorian is interacting with a mute, adorable creature — and I love that show. But interacting with a teenager is complicated. Also, the fact they have him covered in a helmet is a huge factor.”
That’s all true, but it’s still hard not to see the similarities. “There is something interesting there,” Pascal said. “You start to recognize a thread between your characters that you didn’t necessarily look for, but got cast in. I don’t have kids. I’ve only learned through these characters how painfully vulnerable one becomes and how much your life depends on their life being OK. It’s a fun fantasy to fulfill, and I’ll play as many dads as I can get.”
And yes, the trope has been used in so many different ways — you can go back to [the manga series] Lone Wolf and Cub, you can go to Paper Moon. But as far as Mandalorian and The Last of Us existing in close proximity, for me, it’s the best double-dipping I could possibly imagine.
Pedro Pascal faced backlash over his The Last of Us beard
As for how good fit Pascal is as Joel, you’d be hard-pressed to ding him…although when it comes to video game fans, no criticism is too small, such as the fact that Pascal can’t grow as full a beard as Joel had in the game. “You’re laughing, but for some people that’s a serious deal-breaker for them!” Mazin said. “They’re like, ‘Oh my God, he can’t even have the same beard as Joel in the game.’”
According to Pascal, both he and Ramsey were “scared about meeting people’s expectations.” Ramsey made the decision not to look at social media reactions after her casting was announced, which was probably a good call. “I’m aware of all of it,” Ramsey said. “It was my first experience, really, with a lot of negative reactions.”
Based on their experience, I’m betting that Pascal and Ramsey both knock it out of the park. We’ll find out when The Last of Us premieres on HBO on Sunday, January 15.