This summer will mark a full decade since The Last of Us came out on the PlayStation 3. At the time, it was instantly hailed as one of the best video games ever made. But naturally, fans are apprehensive about HBO’s upcoming TV adaptation. For one thing, the original game is already cinematic enough without Hollywood sinking its teeth into it. And of course, video game adaptations rarely live up to the originals. Luckily, the first wave of reviews for The Last of Us indicate that bringing Joel and Ellie to premium cable was well worth the roll of the dice.
Earlier today, critics began publishing their initial thoughts on The Last of Us‘ first season. And the overall consensus seems to be that co-creators Craig Mazin (Chernobyl) and Naughty Dog’s Neil Druckmann have delivered the best video game adaptation of all time. You can check out a few highlights below.
Writing for io9, Germain Lussier calls the series an “extremely faithful” adaptation of the game’s story. But over the course of nine episodes, it adds “new wrinkles and expansions” that feel welcome rather than forced or unnecessary. He also applauded the decision to tell that story on TV rather than trying to squeeze its narrative into a two-hour movie. With a bigger canvas, Mazin and Druckmann “are able to let the story and characters breathe in a way seemingly no other video game adaptation ever could.”
Meagan Navarro of Bloody Disgusting likewise praised the show’s creators for capturing the game’s “core essence and story beats while expanding upon it in triumphant ways organic to the source material.” Moreover, their worldbuilding tactics result in “some of the finest hours of television of all time.” Navarro also singled out Nick Offerman’s performance as Bill in episode 3, calling it one of the series’ best.
The top billing belongs to Pedro Pascal (Joel) and Bella Ramsey (Ellie). And according to The Wrap’s Kamara Horne, both actors were the “perfect” choices to bring these characters to life. Pascal’s ability to convey Joel’s struggles with surrogate fatherhood is an especially “beautiful” thing to witness. As for Ramsey, she manages to be “even more impressive” here than she was on Game of Thrones. Because in this case, she “express[es] more emotion through a side-eye than most actors twice her age.”
In his own five-star review, Empire’s John Nugent argues that the show “is perhaps at its strongest” when it dares to color outside the lines and deviate from the source material. Although these changes aren’t drastic, they make the series’ world feel more lived in. Offerman’s appearance may be the best example of this. But what’s even more striking is how well the show leverages its generous budget to highlight the scale and ruin of its post-apocalyptic landscape while never losing sight of the characters or their stories.
TIME’s Judy Berman notes that many of the series’ plot threads “effectively evoke an emotional response” (in fact, she even cautioned criers to “be warned”). Admittedly, she hasn’t played the video game. But she still found the story to be “skillfully, meticulously, and lovingly constructed,” even if the story’s moral conundrum of “self vs. society” doesn’t feel as fresh in a live-action TV show as it did on PlayStation consoles.
Awarding the series a B-, Entertainment Weekly’s Darren Franich was less impressed than many of his contemporaries. Unlike other critics who praised the expansion of lore, Franich hints that anyone who has already played The Last of Us will experience a keen feeling of déjà vu. Namely, because the show presents shot-for-shot recreations of multiple scenes from the game. He conceded that one episode “completely shifts” the original story’s canon. But for some viewers, the experience might feel like “watching someone else’s replay.”
Rolling Stone’s Alan Sepinwall is another critic who hasn’t played the original video game. Regardless, it sounds like he was still blown away by what the TV show had to offer, hailing it as “HBO’s next big hit.” He also found himself comparing the story to another popular zombie series: “It is essentially a smarter and much better-executed The Walking Dead, with higher production values(*), and a smaller and stronger cast.”
So far, one of the few truly “rotten” reviews for The Last of Us comes from Slant Magazine’s Pat Brown. While impressed by the “powerful” performances, Brown feels that “stripping” the narrative of its interactivity winds up hurting the show in the long run. And by succumbing to run-of-the-mill “televisual tropes” it loses some of the novelty that made its inspiration a hit almost 10 years ago.
The Last of Us premieres this Sunday, January 15 at 9pm on HBO.
Are you happy to see that critics enjoyed the show’s first season? Let us know in the comment section below!
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