This coming Sunday will bring the debut of the long-awaited adaptation of The Last of Us on HBO. Expectations are sky-high: not only is Neil Druckmann – the man who helped develop the original video game – attached as an executive producer, but the trailer released has scenes that feel ripped right from the game itself. It also features an all-star cast including Bella Ramsey, who rose to prominence with her role on fellow HBO drama Game of Thrones, and Pedro Pascal who obviously is no stranger to playing a warrior/father figure.
But The Last of Us isn’t the only post-apocalyptic series to make a splash in the world of pop culture. In fact, the genre has been ripe for storytelling in television over the years! The following list of series proves that; each of them tackles the end of days in its own unique way and is genuinely entertaining to watch. I’d highly suggest checking all of them out.
The Last of Us isn’t the first post-apocalyptic series that HBO has put into production. Back in 2014, the network brought The Leftovers to life, based on Tom Perotta‘s novel. It centers around the survivors of a mysterious event that led to 2% of the world’s population mysteriously disappearing. Unlike other post-apocalyptic series, The Leftovers doesn’t focus on the apocalypse itself but rather its aftereffects. How would you react if your friends and/or family disappeared without a trace? Better yet, how would you live with it? This approach led to the series gathering critical acclaim, particularly when it came to the performances of series leads Justin Theroux and Carrie Coon. It also helped that Perotta served as an executive producer on the series, helping to translate as well as flesh out his novel for the big screen. The success of The Leftovers also led co-showrunner Damon Lindelof to develop another series for HBO with Watchmen.
HBO would also dip into real life armageddon with Chernobyl. The miniseries doesn’t waste a minute of its runtime – it immediately starts with the events of the Chernobyl meltdown itself and then explores the fallout from the disaster. Chernobyl is best known for leading to a reevaluation of Craig Mazin‘s work, as he served as head writer on the series. Prior to Chernobyl, Mazin had been known for mostly writing comedies. But it’s his painstaking attention to detail, along with the dramatic elements, is a large part of what makes Chernobyl a gripping watch. And it bodes well for The Last of Us as he’s slated to serve as head showrunner on that series.
Fresh off the success of The Leftovers and Chernobyl, HBO would turn to another novel: Station Eleven. Like the previous efforts, it focuses on a post-apocalyptic wasteland. However, this plot took on a bit more cultural relevance as the collapse of civilization was caused by a deadly flu pandemic. Unlike other shows attempting to grapple with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, Station Eleven took a different approach by leaping in and out of time, exploring the events that led up to the formation of the performing collective known as the Traveling Symphony. It also gets extremely meta as there’s an actual in-universe novel named Station Eleven, which leads to the formation of a deadly cult. Add in some stellar performances – especially from Mackenzie Davis – and you have a masterpiece.
Y: The Last Man
Plenty of comic books have explored the end of the world, and the most infamous are Brian K. Vaughn and Pia Gurrera‘s Y: The Last Man. It takes place in a world where a mysterious plague kills off every male human and animal on Earth. All, that is, except for two: amateur escape artist Yorick Brown and his pet monkey Ampersand. A television adaption soon entered production at FX, but underwent a number of creative changes – including a shift in showrunners and Ben Schnetzer stepping in to play Yorick when Barry Keoghan departed the project. Despite this, the show hewed fairly close to the spirit of the comics and is worth a watch. It’s a shame that a second season will never see the light of day.
Another post-apocalyptic comic that’s made it from the page to the small screen is Sweet Tooth, thanks to Netflix. Based on the Vertigo series by Jeff Lemire, Sweet Tooth takes place in the aftermath of a pandemic that’s led to the birth of half-human, half-animal hybrids. One of those hybrids, a half-deer boy named Gus (Christian Convery), has been searching for his mother. He soon encounters former professional football player turned wanderer Tommy Jepperd (Nonso Anozie) – better known as the “Big Man” – and the two bond while trekking across the wastelands that used to be America. What makes Sweet Tooth stand out from the pack is its optimistic nature. From the bond between Gus and the Big Man to the narration from James Brolin, the show feels less like a post-apocalytic parable and more like a fairy tale.
Into The Badlands
Another show that took a different approach to the end of the world would be Into The Badlands on AMC. The series takes place 500 years in the future, where mankind has survived the end of the world. But instead of using firearms, they engage in hand-to-hand combat to defend themselves. Series creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar had previously reinvented the Superman mythos with Smallville, so the idea of a post-apocalyptic martial arts series was a major draw for AMC – especially in the wake of The Walking Dead‘s success. And while the series’ lore ended up being too convoluted for its own good, it excelled in its fight sequences. It helped that most of the cast, including series lead Daniel Wu, were trained martial artists. There’s a grace to their movement that has to be seen to be believed.
The Last Man on Earth
Perhaps the biggest twist on the post-apocalyptic genre would come courtesy of The Last Man On Earth. Although that shouldn’t be too much of a surprise: Phil Lord and Christopher Miller served as producers on the show and their body of work is often humorous while also skewering genre conventions. In this case, it’s the title of the show itself as Phil Miller (Will Forte) discovers that he isn’t as alone as he thinks after a deadly virus sweeps the globe. Another woman, Carol (Kristen Schaal), survived – but the two can’t stand each other. In time, they learn that there are other survivors and form a community. The Last Man on Earth is one of Fox’s more underrated shows and a genuinely funny one at that.
The Last of Us makes its debut just as fellow post-apocalyptic series Snowpiercer is wrapping up. Taking place after the Bong Joon-ho film of the same name, the Snowpiercer series also chooses to focus on the class divisions aboard the titular train. And it does so through the eyes of its leads Melanie Cavill (Jennifer Connelly) and Andre Layton (Daveed Diggs). Both of them turn out to have hidden depths: Melanie is working to keep the Snowpiercer running while Andre instigates a revolution and ends up taking control of the train – as well as its community. With its fourth and final season currently in development, it remains to be seen how Snowpiercer wraps up, but it’s proven to be a worthy successor to its film counterpart.