The Clickers, Bloaters, and other monsters from the original PlayStation 2 game aren’t what scares Craig Mazin the most in the HBO series The Last of Us. It’s when one researcher figures out that a fungal brain illness will turn humanity into barbaric cannibals. This is a made-for-the-show flashback, not found in either the 2013 game or the 2020 sequel.
Mazin told me, “That’s horrifying to me,” during our roundtable Zoom conversation before the show’s Jan. 15 premiere on HBO Max. It gives everything a solid foundation, and the more believable the edges are, the more credible the core will appear.
In 2019, Mazin directed the critically acclaimed HBO miniseries Chernobyl, which he had written out of his interest in the real-life event. The game’s writer and Naughty Dog’s co-president and creative director, Neil Druckmann, also came up with the idea for the game’s flashbacks and the pseudo-scientific origin of the virus.
Through an expert’s reaction to this horrific news, he was able to expand the Last of Us universe beyond what we see in the games.
It’s terrifying to hear the scientist declare it’s over, but Druckmann says,
“I’m so thrilled we’re able to portray the moment where she takes it for herself and the drama on her face.”
Fans of the game will notice more than just flashbacks; the timeline has been altered so that the outbreak occurred in 2003 (instead of the game’s 2013), and the post-apocalyptic narrative takes place in 2023. (instead of 2033). Mazin and Druckmann both thought the new timeline worked for the tale because the game took occurred in the same year it was released.
“A little bit of the realism is lost if I start watching a show in the year 2023 and it ends in the year 2043. The thought occurred to me that it may be intriguing to just state, ‘Hey, look, in this alternate reality, this is happening right now.” As a result, the primary goal was to facilitate greater interpersonal interaction.’ ” Mazin said.
In terms of day-to-day operations, not much shifted except from a somewhat different selection of props, set pieces, and vehicles. Intriguingly, the series keeps returning to that 2003 feel by discovering new locations and artefacts from the past.
Saturated With Fear, Driven By Existentialism
The story’s relatable human turmoil provides additional heft. We follow grumpy smuggler Joel Miller throughout the course of the first season’s nine episodes as he is tasked with transporting upbeat teen Ellie across a post-apocalyptic United States (we won’t reveal the reason why). Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey play the leads.
Pascal (of Game of Thrones and The Mandalorian) claims that the horrific loss Joel suffered at the start of the pandemic still drives him twenty years later.
“It’s incredible to enter a new iteration of a classic work that nevertheless retains the heartbreaking humanity of the original. which we, the audience, appear to like because we are masochists.”
According to Ramsey, a fellow cast member from the HBO series Game of Thrones, Ellie’s ability to empathise with Joel’s suffering is a key factor in the development of their close friendship.
The actress has commented, “Ellie knows there’s something odd with this guy; there’s more to him than just being a grumpy asshole.”
It’s Not Just A Question Of Survival
Joel’s idealistic brother Tommy, who has found meaning in trying to repair this horrific world, is being sought out by the pair. His actor, Gabriel Luna, is well-known for his work in films like Terminator: Dark Fate and Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD.
Luna told me over video chat that “he wants to find a place where humans and wildlife can coexist together and where nature isn’t constantly out to get them. According to him, we can recover and return to it.”
The Fireflies, a group of rebels resisting the military’s harsh authoritarian control of survivors, seem to be in the forefront of this effort to return to civilisation. Marlene, portrayed by Merle Dandridge of Sons of Anarchy and The Flight Attendant, is at the head of the group.
According to what she shared with me, the Fireflies stand for “hope” since they seek to restore individual agency.
Fans will be pleased with this selection, as she provided the voice of Marlene in the video games. (The actors who played Joel and Ellie in the video game also make an appearance, but their roles have yet to be revealed.)
She also said that the preparation she undertook for the 2013 version was helpful for her return to the character in the programme, but that the series’ legendary status gave her more freedom to experiment with new ideas.
“Absolutely, I went back to the planning stage again. I double-checked with Neil to ensure accuracy because details might fade from memory with time.” the woman declared.
HBO said on Monday that showrunners Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann would release episodes of a companion podcast each Sunday, providing listeners with an inside look at the making of the show. Actor Troy Baker, who plays Joel in the video games, will host.