Next week, HBO will debut The Last of Us, a new series based on the video game series of the same name. The Last of Us is about Joel and Ellie, two survivors of a zombie apocalypse who must make their way across a ruined United States.
The show has some prejudices to overcome. To start, adaptations of video games have a reputation for being schlocky. Showrunner Craig Mazin, who created the HBO show Chernobyl before this, has a simple solution: “The way to break the video game curse is to adapt the best video game story ever — not by a little, but by a lot,” he told The Hollywood Reporter. “So I flat-out cheated.”
While there’s plenty of debate to be had over the title of “best video game story ever,” it’s true that The Last of Us was heralded for its story back when it came out on the PlayStation 3 in 2013. Creator Neil Druckmann, who is also closely involved with the HBO series, focused on creating complex characters who will hopefully translate well to the screen. “People see bad adaptations and it adds credence to the idea that games are childish,” Druckmann said. “I love the idea that someone could watch this and be moved by it and then be like, ‘Wait, that’s based on the video game?’”
Mazin is thinking along similar lines for the show. “I’m not … how do I put this?” he said, searching for the words. “I’m not interested in the zombies! I care about people … and one of the nice things about television is you get to begin and end [characters’ stories] over and over again, and beginnings and endings are the best.”
The Last of Us could cover the events of Part II in a second season
Speaking of endings, you can’t talk about a zombie TV series these days without thinking about the last big zombie show to take over the airwaves. The Walking Dead aired on AMC from 2010 all the way through 2022. It was on long enough to become immensely popular…and then to watch its audience shrink to a fraction of what it was in its heyday.
For their part, Mazin and Druckmann have no intention of drawing out the events of the game. To hear them talk, it sounds like the first season of The Last of Us will adapt the entirety of The Last of Us game. “I don’t like filler,” Mazin said. “I don’t have any interest in a spinning-plates-go-on-forever show. When it becomes a perpetual motion machine, it just can’t help but get kind of … stupid. Endings mean everything to me.”
But will there be more? The Last of Us has a sequel that came out in 2020. This game, The Last of Us Part II, is way more controversial, especially when it comes to the story. Some people loved the bold steps it took, while others hated it for the exact same reasons. Mazin and Druckmann hint (but don’t outright say) that a second season would cover the events of the second game.
Beyond that, we don’t know, although Druckmann does hint that a Part III game could be in the offing. “I think there’s more story to tell,” he said. And the show can only help raise the profile of the story. Maybe they can help each other.
And if The Last of Us show should get to the end of Part II without a Part III to adapt, it doesn’t intend to make anything up. “We have no plans to tell any stories beyond adapting the games,” Druckmann said. “We won’t run into the same issue as Game of Thrones since Part II doesn’t end on a cliffhanger.”
The Last of Us premieres on HBO on Sunday, January 15.