The Last of Us (HBO MAX) – A video game, now a television series


Bella Ramsey as Ellie (right), Pedro Pascal as Joel (left) Credits: IMDb

Dominic Centner, Write

This article mentions suicide, death, and contains spoilers for The Last of Us TV and video game part one. Read at your own discretion.


The Last of Us (TLOU), which originally debuted as a video game in 2013, was released as a TV show on Jan. 15 of 2023 and hit the ground running. The show so far has released nine episodes, the finale ending the season.

The series takes place in a post-apocalyptic world 20 years after Outbreak Day, the day the cordyceps fungi mutated, which infected humans and turned their victims into zombie-like creatures. Those infected with the cordyceps fungi are called Infected and will attack any uninfected humans/animals on site. The reason Infected attack others is because the fungi infects the brain, growing mycelium inside the brain tissue which kills the brain cells. Eventually the fungi will kill the host and grow outside the body to spread spores, which are highly infectious. They are not shown in the TV series as much as they are in the video game. Humans must wear gas masks around spores to prevent infection.

The main characters are Joel Miller, played by Pedro Pascal, and Ellie Williams, played by Bella Ramsey in the TV show.

Joel is a hardened and grim man who fiercely protects those he loves. He is plagued by grief and trauma from the past, mostly due losing his daughter, Sarah. Grief and trauma is commonplace in the new world, and characters often have flashbacks to past events in the episodes. 

Ellie was born post Outbreak Day and lives in America, devastated by the cordyceps fungus which she is immune to due to her mother Anna birthing her while being Infected. She lived in a FEDRA military prep school in Boston for most of her childhood, until escaping with her friend Riley to explore an abandoned mall. They were both surprised and bitten by Infected, which is how Ellie found out she was immune. Riley was eventually shot by Ellie after she turned hostile, the cordyceps infecting her brain.

Ellie is a hostage taken by the Fireflies in Episode 2,When You’re Lost in the Darkness. The Fireflies oppose FEDRA, an American totalitarian government agency. The Federal Disaster Response Agency (FEDRA) rivals the Fireflies, as the Fireflies fight for a less corrupt and pre-pandemic government. 

She is a hostage due to her immunity to cordyceps. After Joel and his partner Tess bump into Ellie and Marlene, the Fireflies leader, they make an agreement to take Ellie to a Firefly owned facility in exchange for supplies.

 In Episode 2, Infected, the Firefly facility they go to is swarmed with Infected. Tess is revealed to be Infected and explodes the facility after it is swarmed by Infected, dying in the explosion while Ellie and Joel escape. Not much is revealed about Tess, other than the fact that she was a supplies smuggler and in a relationship with Joel. She is given much more screen time in the HBO Max show than in The Last of Us video game. Her dying wish for Joel was to take Ellie, which Joel was originally against, but agrees to take Ellie on his own. By following Tess’s dying wish, he develops an unforgettable, father-like bond with Ellie.

While the episodes often touch on the characters more than the video games could, the television series also adapted and changed many characters. One of these adaptations is Bill and Frank. In the video game, Bill is shown alone. Frank chose to die by suicide after finding out he was infected. A letter Frank wrote showed they had a falling out in their relationship they never recovered from, and Frank showed fury towards Bill in the letter. 

Bill is shown as a doomsday prepper before the apocalypse in the TV show episode Long, Long Time. Strongly disagreeing with FEDRA, he calls himself a “survivalist” and is very precautionary about cordyceps. Upon meeting Frank, a man separated from his group trying to escape during the initial cordyceps fungus outbreak, he is hesitant to let him stay in his home but agrees. Their relationship evolves into a romantic relationship, and their love story is shown throughout the 20 years of the post-apocalypse. 

Many people disagreed with this episode due to depictions of a gay romance, and was review bombed by critics. But many loved the episode, reviewers saying it is “an alternately heartwarming and heartbreaking short film about companionship.” TLOU captures this in many episodes.

This is shown again in Episode 5, Endure and Survive. After Joel and Ellie took Bill’s truck, they followed a route and ended up in a raiders area in Texas. They ditch the car and flee to hide out in a building from the raiders after them. They are woken up by two boys, Henry, the older one, and Sam, just 13. The group teams up, as they are both looking for the Fireflies. Henry’s story is later told: He is being hunted by the raiders because he needed life-saving cancer medicine for his brother, and turned the raider leader Kathleen’s brother in to FEDRA to get the medicine. After going underground to escape and avoid raiders, they are found by the raiders. A raider armed truck crashes into a hole full of infected, which gets Sam bit. Eventually Sam turns and tries attacking Ellie. Henry shoots his brother. After realizing what he did, he kills himself. The episodes are grim, and not for the faint hearted.

There’s not a lot of hope in the show, or in the video game, realistically portraying the world if an apocalypse were to destroy society and order.

The Last of Us television series and video game series have the same theme: Love, parentage, loss, and what it means to be human when the world collapses.