The Last of Us episode 1 review

A word of warning: This review contains heavy spoilers from The Last of Us episode 1 “When You are Lost in The Darkness”. Proceed with caution.Fantasy Warden

The long wait for The Last of Us series is finally over. On January 15h, the viewers of HBO watched the first episode as it aired at 9:00 p.m. ET. The first episode is titled “When You Are Lost in The Darkness” and the view count is astonishing; Over 4.7 million viewers watched it on HBO Max. The reception was equally good, Rotten Tomates gave a 99% score and IMBD ratings stand at 9.3 based on over 20 000 reviews. Twitter netizens followed and The Last of Us was trending at n.1 both in the USA and worldwide.  So, was it really that good? Let’s dive into the first episode and see what it gave us.

The opening scene of The Last of Us episode 1

The show opens with a scene from the sixties. It’s a flashback from a talk show with two epidemiologists discussing potential dangers when it comes to global pandemics. Doctor Newman (John Hannah), casually talks about the dangers of a fungal pandemic while puffing his cigarette. The crowd initially laughs but as he explains his theory on how fungi can actually not just infect the host, but also control it and use it as a vessel, the mood in the studio darkens. The scene is done in such a good manner, you actually get that laid-back-talk-show feel while watching it. The whole scene is foreshadowing the events that will take place in the first episode.

In my opinion, the scene would have been good. But then, as the other scientist explains that fungi can’t just invade our brains because they function at a certain temperature, Dr. Newman replies: “Well, what if that was to change, what if, for instance, the world would get slightly warmer“. So, there we have it – global warming. Global warming is the cause of the events that follow. That’s what we are starting with. OK.

The Last of Us opening scene in which scientists talk about dangerous of a global pandemic
Printscreen:HBO

The infamous game prologue

The story fast-forwards to 2003, where we get to see our main character, Joel (Pedro Pascal), his daughter Sara Miller (Nico Parker) as well as his brother Tommy (Gabriel Luna). At first look, Joel Pascal resembles Joel from the game, not just physically but also because his voice is very similar to the one that Troy Baker gave to the original character in the game (although some may argue that his accent wiggles a bit during the first episode).

HBO paid attention to even the smallest of details so when I first took a look at Sara Miller I noticed that physically she looks different and yet there is something strangely familiar about her. Only after googling the original image, I saw that she is wearing the same fictional band t-shirt which is pretty cool. The scene proceeded with the family eating pancakes while hearing on the radio broadcast ominous news of “disturbing events” happening in Jakarta.

Sara Miller eating breakfast
Printscreen:HBO

Before we proceed any further, there is a great scene that is worth mentioning. Sara is helping her neighbor, Ms. Adler, the elderly lady who is paralyzed, deaf and mute sit in the living room. Sara turns to check out some movie DVDs on the bookshelf and in the background, we can see the elderly lady dying and turning. The whole thing is done without any screaming and regular horror-movie things and that’s what makes it so effective. I could actually feel the chills while watching that simple scene.

Elderly lady turning in The Last of Us episode 1
Printscreen:HBO

The game fans know what will follow as they used to control Sara in the prologue of the game. In the The Last of Us episode 1, we don’t get that, but the camera follows Sara as she goes to the store to get a birthday gift for her dad. While she is repairing the watch as a present for Joel, choppers and police sirens can be heard from the street.

The one thing that I found to be strange is the fact that the show seems to address this scene setting more like the 50s than the 2000s. Although social networks were not as developed 20 years ago, people still got most of their info from the telly and the internet. Sara and Joel don’t even try that. The main characters just do their regular things and completely ignore the warning signs (even when the lady in a clock store rushes Sara out telling her that she “needs to go home” and on her way out she literary sees fighter jets flying above her).

Sara does get home and gives the repaired watch to Joel. At this point, I was kinda baffled by their behavior. They saw the sirens, Joel who works in the city must have seen the same thing and they decide to watch a movie on DVD! I mean, I don’t get the portrayal of Sara so far. It’s obvious that with the camera following her around and her during mundane things, we are supposed to develop some sort of sympathy for this girl.

A scene in the clock shop where Sara Miller is warned about the dangerous outside in The Last of Us episode 1
Printscreen:HBO

But on the other hand, the showrunners decide to portray her almost as an adult. She is cooking breakfast, explains geography to her dad, and basically, she runs the household. At the same time, contrary to what an adult would do, she is completely ignorant of her surroundings. In the game, we had a simple 12-year-old girl and her dad. For all the game players that was enough! For some reason, showrunners decided not to portray Sara as a regular girl and the first twenty minutes felt like we were actually meeting the protagonist, Sara Miller, a talented young girl who helps her hardworking dad with everyday house chores.

Sara wakes up. It’s the middle of the night and Joel is not at home. She hears the sirens again and now sees the chopper lights. You get the picture of what’s happening – that crippled elderly lady from next door is not so crippled anymore nor is she a lady. We get the first look at the “zombies” and they resemble the ones that we saw in World War Z – they are fast, they can jump high, they hunt relentlessly and Sara tries to get away.

Comparison game vs show The Last of Us
Printscreen: The Last of Us game and HBO

The following scenes are the best ones in The Last of Us episode 1 “When You are Lost in The Darkness”. Writers do a great homage to the game by making the entire row of scenes look exactly the same as the prologue from the game. And I don’t mean just esthetically, characters actually move in the same way as models in the game. We get to see it all; the plane crash, the havoc in the city streets, the soldier getting the order, and finally shooting and killing Sara.

20 years after The Outbreak

In a couple of the first scenes of the second part of The Last of Us episode 1, we see what a post-apocalyptic world looks like. The attention to detail is on the highest level here and we really can feel the post-apocalyptic vibe of Boston’s quarantine stronghold. We get to experience the brutality of it as well – in the very first scene of this segment, we see a young boy walking in the quarantine zone. After examining the boy, doctors and the military woman tell him that everything will be fine and that he can play with toys soon. The scene cuts off and in the next one, we see Joel throwing the body of the boy into the burning pit – as he was infected by the fungi and killed by FEDRA. Joel is now working what he can, struggling to survive, taking any jobs he can. To be honest, several scenes with Joel feel a bit too long. We see him walking the streets, looking at what people are doing, even doing a drug deal that took forever to complete. At this point, we are 40 minutes in and apart from the prologue, nothing has happened really.

Tess and Joel walking around the street
Printscreen:HBO

Soon, we get to meet Tess (Anna Torv). Not only that, we get entire series of scenes in which she is first held captive by Bob and then managed to run away (Fireflies, the “resistance fighters” conveniently blew the car bomb behind a wall of a room in which she was being held). She gets arrested nonetheless but soon manages to return to Joel.

The Last of Us episode 1 moves on (not the plot though) as we get to meet Ellie, portrayed by Bella Ramsey. I don’t want to sound too harsh, but the casting for Ellie feels just wrong compared to the game. I don’t know why showrunners have to turn regular teen girls into teen girl bosses but this is what they seemed to have done. Bella just doesn’t look like Ellie and she doesn’t behave like Ellie from the game as well. I felt like I’m watching Liana Mormont not Ellie in the first episode. Showrunners amped up the aggressive side of her to a level of unrealism so she just doesn’t seem relatable at all.

Ellie from The Last of Us
printscreen:HBO

Tommy has gone missing for three weeks and Joel is very worried. He plans on going out of the quarantine zone so that he can find him. We get several fillers as we watch how Joel investigates his brother’s disappearance. The whole thing drags on for a couple of minutes until Joel finally takes a bunch of sleeping pills and chugs them down with whiskey. Tess tries to find another battery for a truck which they need in order to find Tommy.

We see Marlen (the leader of the Fireflies) and also Ellie who is tied up in a room. Marlen tells Ellie what’s happening (off camera) and soon we see Joel and Tess going to take the battery from Bob. Bob is dead, shot in a firefight with the Fireflies. Marleen and her associate are there as well as Ellie. Since Marleen is injured she asks Tess and Joel to take Ellie to Seattle. They strike a bargain in which the Fireflies will give the supplies that Joel and Tess need if they get Ellie safely to them. We see more fillers before they set off on a journey. The Last of Us episode 1 final scene starts with Joel, Tess, and Ellie being held at gunpoint by a guard. Joel gets a flashback of what has happened to his own daughter and in rage, takes down the soldier and bashes his head in.

Joel, Tess and Ella run from the city in the end of The Last of Us episode 1
Printscreen:HBO

Final thoughts on The Last of Us episode 1

“When You are Lost in The Darkness” is a difficult one to review. There are parts that are truly enjoyable. The whole prologue game scene is awesome, the apocalyptic world setting is amazing and you can actually feel the weight of horrific events that took place in this world. I like how they spend time building the characters to some degree but what I don’t like are fillers that don’t make any sense except for prolonging the screen time. As this is the first episode, I would say that it is forgivable and that it doesn’t bother the show much. The casting is interesting and Pedro Pascal is a good choice for the role of Joel. However, the problem is that it seems like all the other characters are so amped up (especially female characters) that Joel doesn’t feel like a main character at all in certain scenes. All in all, The Last of Us episode 1 is worth watching. It’s not the best episode of a show that you will see but it’s pretty good and you will have fun while watching it. I look forward to seeing The Last of Us episode 2 “Infected”.


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