The Last of Us started the year in TV on a high note, but due to the ongoing Hollywood actors and writers strikes it might be a minute before we see the smash hit show’s second season. Showrunner Craig Mazin recently took part in a roundtable discussion of showrunners for The Lost Angeles Times interview series The Envelope, where he got to talking about why The Last of Us resonated so much with fans, the status of season 2, and how he’s waiting for studios to “snap out of their insanity” so that he can get back to work.
The gray morals of The Last of Us are part of what draws in viewers
The Last of Us is one of those shows that’s all about moral ambiguity. When the world ends and everyone’s committing horrific deeds to stay alive, it’s hard to fit people into neat boxes, villain or hero.
“What The Last of Us really explores is the duality of love, not love and hate, just love,” Mazin explained. “When you love your own family, your own people, you want to defend your own group. That’s either patriotism or xenophobia; it’s hard to tell the difference sometimes. No one’s going to question the idea that you want to protect your child until you start to say how many other children you would be OK sacrificing to keep your children alive. What if the answer is two? That’s love. But also on some level it’s just not correct.”
Trying to give texture to the villains is part of what inspired Mazin to cast Yellowjackets star Melanie Lynskey as a hardened revolution leader in Kansas City. Lynskey isn’t known for playing hard-hitting murderers, which is what made Mazin think she was perfect for the part.
“When I called Melanie about it, I said, ‘Look, you probably don’t get a chance very often to play a kind of homicidal pirate. But I need you, because I need people to understand her and see why she is the way she is.’ It’s not because she loves blood or murder. She loves people. She loved her brother more than anything. And then you start to see the guy she’s hunting’s no different than her, behaves in the same way.”
The Last of Us boss: Studios know they “f***ed up” the film industry
Lately we’ve heard rumblings that The Last of Us may have cast the role of Abby, a crucial character from The Last of Us Part II video game. The Los Angeles Times interview with Mazin claims that the part has been cast already, but Mazin is keeping quiet about it because of the ongoing Hollywood labor strikes, which he spoke about at length. Both the writers and actors guilds have been picketing to preserve the careers of screenwriters and acting for future professionals. According to Mazin, studios are aware that they’re in the wrong but are having trouble actually coming to terms with it.
"I’m in rarefied air in terms of my career and my economic position, and this is not a strike for me. Theoretically, my life doesn’t change that much at all. It’s for the rank and file of the union, for the 95% of the union that cannot survive the way the business is currently structured. I just hope the companies stop this soon. As a whole, I think the writers and actors are rather at peace with the decision, because we’re right and they’re wrong. And I think they know it, and I think they’re struggling to accept it. But they will, and it will end. We’re waiting for them to snap out of their insanity."
Mazin is a member of the writers guild (WGA), and as such hasn’t been working on The Last of Us season 2 for the past 111 days while the guild has been on strike. He already has strong ideas about where the series is headed, but until the writers strikes is resolved, it’s pencils down.
“I remember very distinctly how everything went down in [the 2007 WGA strike] and this feels different, in this sense that I think even the companies understand on some fundamental level that they have f***ed up,” he said. “They have just demolished…it’s almost like someone finally pointed it out to them and said ‘You see what you’ve done? You’ve just blown out the foundation of your own house, and now the whole thing’s crumbling down around you.’ They know they have to fix it, too.”
In addition to The Last of Us, Mazin co-wrote a treatment for a new Pirates of the Caribbean movie with Ted Elliot, one of the franchise’s longtime screenwriters who helped pen the first film and several of the sequels. Mazin said he and Elliot have another Pirates film in the pipeline, if only studios can reach some sort of agreement with writers and actors.
“We pitched it and thought there’s no way they’re buying it, it’s too weird. And they did!” Mazin said. “And then we wrote a fantastic script and the strike happened and everyone’s waiting around.”
The Last of Us boss defends the choice to have fewer Infected in the show
Mazin also touched on a common fan complaint about The Last of Us TV show: it features far fewer Infected running around than in the video games. The showrunner isn’t too upset about this, saying it’s important not to overuse the zombies. “The thing about the infected is if you put too much of them in, it gets too actiony and you get used to them and they’re no longer scary because they’re there all the time,” he said. “If you can escape the infected 12 times, how scary are they? If you escape them three times over nine episodes, each one of those encounters better be gripping. When it comes to the infected, better to be more like the shark in Jaws than the white noise you stop noticing.
"Adventure and danger are essential but always through the lens of what it means for relationships. We believe when our characters have to fight on the show, it has to be within the context of changing character and relationships and stakes."
It’s safe to say Mazin is on to something with the show’s character-first approach; The Last of Us was nominated for a whopping 24 Emmys for its first season, including best actor and actress for leads Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey. But Mazin isn’t banking on winning anything this time around, since The Last of Us is up against the acclaimed final season of Succession, which led the nominations with an even more impressive 27 nods. “This one will just be like a party,” Mazin joked. “Good job, Succession, I’m going to go to the party now.”
The Last of Us season 2 will get back into pre-production whenever the studios and guilds are able to reach a fair agreement. Let’s hope it’s sooner rather than later.
To stay up to date on everything fantasy, science fiction, and WiC, follow our all-encompassing Facebook page and sign up for our exclusive newsletter.