Subverting expectations in storytelling has been a long-running tradition that has gone on in published and crafted works for many years. In recent times online though, it has also become an ironically used mocking criticism of any attempt by a media franchise to step outside rigid parameters of formula.
Taking on serious life on social media, especially with the release of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and the final season of “Game of Thrones,” sarcastic use of the phrase has become a form of dismissive shorthand for someone to express disagreement or dislike regarding a storytelling choice made by the creators.
The makers of HBO’s live-action adaptation of the acclaimed and beloved “The Last of Us” video game are well aware of the sky-high expectations for the series. In previous interviews, they’ve already discussed how they’re prepared to face some criticism for those times the show deviates from the source material, as any adaptation has to at times.
Certainly, what we’ve seen looks fairly faithful despite some obvious deviations, such as more to the Frank and Bill backstory and some new characters like Melanie Lynskey’s militia leader. Series co-creator Craig Mazin tells Slashfilm the approach they took was to add rather than subtract from the source material when it came time to make changes to both adapt for and take advantage of the different medium:
“There’s this phrase that gets kicked around out there a lot, ‘subvert expectations.’ I’m not interested in subverting expectations. I’m interested in outdoing expectations. That’s what I’m about.
I want to say, ‘Look, you expect it to be this good. [Raises hand] I’m going to try and come in at this good.’ [Raises hand higher] And the way you do that is by understanding and connecting completely to the heart and soul of the material, and then asking yourself as a fan, ‘What would I want more of?’”
Co-creator and original game director Neil Druckmann tells Games Radar the approach they took when it came to changes was to look at the blank spots in the game’s narrative and try to fill them out:
“We asked, ‘What are the things that are hinted at by characters talking about events that we couldn’t show in the game, which meant Joel and Ellie couldn’t see them?… could we build a scene out and dramatize those events, that are purely exclusive to the show?’
Working with a great storyteller like Craig [Mazin], I asked what are things that were inspiring to him from the original content that we could add to the story? All those things felt like they enriched the world and the characters.
Everything we did is clearly connected to the soul and spirit of the game. And if you tell something honestly and beautifully, you will find one little thing – even if it’s the twitch of an eye or the slightest change of a look – that adds something to that moment, and it will be its own moment”
“The Last of Us” premieres its nine-episode series with a 74-minute episode on the streamer on January 15th.