For its time, The Last of Us was the greatest game ever made. Almost every facet of the work is finetuned to near perfection. It pushed the Playstation 3 to its limits with top-of-the-line animation and graphical fidelity that was brought to life by actors and motion capture artists only rivaled by L.A. Noir. A decade later, and The Last of Us has endured as an IP with only one sequel—which outdoes the first in every way. It’s one of the most beloved stories in gaming despite its grim characters and banal but beautiful setting. The cinematic direction by Neil Druckman, and the cinematic presentation of the violent skirmishes in-game, make the series perfectly adaptable to film or television. In fact, Sony announced a film adaptation back in 2014, with Druckman signed on as the writer and Sam Rami producing. It never saw the light of day—more on that here.
After years of waiting, fans are finally getting a live-action adaptation. In November 2020, HBO announced a television series adaptation for The Last of Us. Druckman, the writer and creative director for both The Last of Us and The Last of Us II, is attached as one of the creators of the show. He’ll share duties with Craig Mazin (Chernobyl) as a writer, executive producer, and director for the show. The first episode of the series was directed by Kantemir Balagov (Beanpole). Balagov is credited with directing two episodes, and he’s joined by Ali Abbasi (Border), Peter Hoar (The Defenders), and Jasmila Zbanic (Quo Vadis, Aida?). Druckman isn’t the only talent from the game returning for the series as multiple actors, and Academy Award-winning musician Gustavo Santaolalla joined the production as well.
For more about The Last of Us series and its cast, check out the breakdown below.
Editor’s Note: This piece was updated on December 26 to include the latest trailer.
What Is The Last of Us About?
The Last of Us is a post-apocalyptic action/horror drama. It takes place twenty years after a species of cordyceps fungus infects humanity, turning those who inhale its toxic spores into animalistic, zombie-like infected. The first game puts the player in control of Joel. Joel is a gangster inhabiting a quarantine zone in Boston, Massachusetts—one of the few spots of civilization still living under martial law and extreme scrutiny. Joel and his partner—by several definitions—Tess steal, deal, smuggle, and intimidate on a daily basis to maintain a standard of comfort in the bleakest of times. They get roped into smuggling a child named Ellie out of the quarantine zone, and, as the official synopsis puts it, “What starts as a job soon becomes a brutal, heartbreaking journey, as they both must traverse across the US and depend on each other for survival.”
While the show sounds very similar in tone and plot to the game, creator Neil Druckmann has been clear that parts of the series can and will be different. In an interview with IGN, Druckman discussed how the show will be similar but different. “HBO’s been great in pushing us to move away from hardcore action to focus more on the drama of the character. Some of my favorite episodes so far have deviated greatly from the story, and I can’t wait for people to see them,” he said. “Things sometimes stay pretty close. It’s funny to see my dialogue there from the games in HBO scripts, and sometimes they deviate greatly to much better effect because we are dealing with a different medium.”
Is There a Trailer for The Last of Us?
Fans got their long-awaited first, albeit brief, look at The Last of Us series at the tale end of an HBO Max promotional video that aired right before the series premiere of House of the Dragon on August 21, 2022. A little over a month later on September 26, the first full teaser was released online, in honor of The Last of Us Day, the day which in the game, marks when the viral outbreak reached critical mass. Set to the classic Hank Williams & The Drifting Cowboys song “Alone and Forsaken,” the trailer offers very few lines of dialogue, but the nearly two-minute teaser promises that this adaptation will remain faithful to the spirit of the video games. The full trailer for The Last of Us was released on December 3, 2022, during its panel at CCXP. The two-and-a-half-minute spot gives longtime fans of the series plenty of Easter Eggs and references, including the use of “Take on Me” by a-ha, while also giving potential viewers who are unfamiliar with the games a look into its bleak but vast world. A new teaser for the series was released recently as well, which you can see below:
Who’s Who in The Last of Us?
Bella Ramsey (Game of Thrones) is Ellie. Ellie is a 14-year-old girl who has only ever known life under martial law in the quarantine zone. She’s the adventurous and bold child Joel and Tess are tasked with smuggling to a faction of humans who operate independently of the last vestiges of the USA called The Fireflys. Starting with Ellie might feel like burying the lead, but Neil Druckman fought for her place on the cover of the game stating, “this is her story.” His involvement with the show suggests that won’t change much from Playstation to television. She was magnificently voiced and captured by Ashley Johnson in both games, giving Ramsey large shoes to fill as a young performer. But Ramsey won’t be the only cast member inhabiting a revered role.
Pedro Pascal (The Mandalorian) is Joel. He reunites with fellow Game of Thrones alumnus Bella Ramsey, though they never shared screen time together, for The Last of Us series. Joel is a former highwayman, a former father, a brother, and a badass mover in and around the Boston quarantine zone. He’s hired by Marlene, a contact with a foot in The Fireflys and the quarantine zone, to take Ellie to a rendezvous point where they’ll hand her over to The Fireflys. He was embodied in a legendary performance by Troy Baker in the games. With Joel and Ellie making one of the most beloved duos in gaming, even Pascal has high marks to meet. An early look at the lead characters in costume gives a glimpse of the rendered world made real.
Anna Torv (Mindhunter) takes on the sweat and grit of Tess in the show. Tess is Joel’s partner in crime, and then some. She and Joel begrudgingly accept the job smuggling Ellie out of Boston, somewhat as a favor to Marlene. Marlene is being reprised by her actress from the games, Merle Dandridge. It’s unclear if the show will expand Marlene’s meager yet meaningful role, but it’s a treat for fans to see the actress leap from disc to screen.
Rounding out Joel’s on-screen family are Gabriel Luna (Terminator: Dark Fate) as Joel’s younger brother Tommy, and Nico Parker (Dumbo) as Joel’s biological daughter, Sarah.
Jeffrey Pierce, who voiced Joel’s brother Tommy in the games, joined the cast as a new original character. Murray Bartlett (The White Lotus) and Con O’Neill (Chernobyl) were announced as Bill, a survival nut who lives in the suburbs, and Frank, Bill’s partner. Later it was revealed that Nick Offerman (Parks & Recreation) was cast to replace O’Neill in the role of Frank. Storm Reid (Euphoria) was announced to be playing the role of Riley Abel, Ellie’s best friend and later love interest, who first appeared in the DLC expansion of the video game The Last of Us: Left Behind.
Other cast members announced to appear in the series include Lamar Johnson (The Hate U Give) as Henry, newcomer Keivonn Woodard as Sam, Graham Greene (The Green Mile) as Marlon, Elaine Miles (Northern Exposure) as Florence, and Melanie Lynskey (Yellowjackets) as Kathleen.
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson have also been revealed to have cameos in the series in undisclosed roles. Rutina Wesley (True Blood) and Brad Leland (Friday Night Lights) have also been cast in the series in undisclosed roles. Neil Druckmann also revealed that the character Maria will also be in the series, but it is currently unknown who will play her.
How Many Episodes of The Last of Us Will There Be?
The first season will be comprised of nine episodes of unspecified length. The show is already charted to be among the most expensive TV shows ever made. Early reports estimate the budget will top $10 million per episode. It’s fitting that the show would share cast members with one of TV’s other most expensive series, Game of Thrones.
When/Where Will The Last of Us Be Available to Watch?
The Last of Us is being produced by HBO. It’s safe to assume an HBO subscription, through cable or their streaming platform, HBO Max, will provide access to the post-apocalyptic drama fans are always clamoring for. And with a budget calculated to top $100 million, it’ll need all the viewers it can attract. The first episode of the series finished filming in August 2021, and the production wrapped back in June 2022. The series is finally set to release on HBO and HBO Max on Sunday, January 15, 2022, at 9:00 PM ET/PT. So fans have less than a month left before they get to see their favorite characters from the video game brought to life in a whole new way.