We’re less than two weeks away from the premiere of HBO’s adaptation of The Last of Us, and you can tell fans of the franchise are getting pretty hyped. Starring Mandalorian star Pedro Pascal as Joel and Game of Thrones standout Bella Ramsey as Ellie, this post-apocalyptic zombie drama has all the makings of a hopefully instant classic – something that’s quite rare for video games brought to life as movies or TV- series. However, there is no doubt that fans are going to be concerned about changes being made to the story. And yes, changes are made – but for good reason – during the first season, which covers the first game.
Speaking to GameSpot, TV Guide, and Metacritic, The Last of Us game writer and co-director Neil Druckmann—who is also a writer and executive producer on the show—was quick to explain. “There are things that work in the game that wouldn’t work in the show,” he said. “The game is about — sometimes — immersion and these continuous sequences through continuous space and time to make you feel like you’re that character. And the show, if we were to film it just like that, it would just be boring, the violence would get messed up in a way that it doesn’t in the game because there are certain mechanics and things that really affect you.”
It is hard to argue with Druckmann’s reasoning here. While the games are a fascinating and creepy dive into Joel and Ellie’s adventures in a zombie-infested wasteland, a camera simply follows them around as they kill clickers and anyone who gets in their way can only be entertaining as long as you’re not personally controlling the actions their. But what about the changes in history? For showrunner Craig Mazin (Chernobyl), it was something they were constantly working hard to figure out.
“Neil would always say, ‘We can change everything, but we have to talk about why.’ And if there’s not a good reason – if we can’t do better – let’s deliver what we have,” he explained. “And there are places where I thought we came up with very interesting ideas. Sometimes I’d call him and I’d say, “I’m afraid to say this idea,” and every now and then he’d say nothing for a bit, and then he’d say, ‘Oh, you know what? We should have done it in the game.’ And then I think: ‘OK, aha, OK, we’re on to something.’ The big secret is that Neil Druckmann was so confident and secure in the story of the game that he was then able to be flexible with me to wander and fill in and change and change.”
Knowing that Druckmann is so open to changes, provided they make for a better viewing experience, is reassuring given that he was the sole writer behind both The Last of Us games. After all, no one is going to be more protective of Joel and Ellie than their creator. Still, Mazin wants fans to know that this show isn’t about reinventing the wheel, adding, “If you’re a fan and you loved the first game, you’re going to get that experience again, completely but on a another way. “
What remains to be seen, however, is where the show will go in a potential season 2. After all, The Last of Us 2 is set four years after the first game, with a young adult Ellie and an older Joel. While Season 2 could certainly go that way, there’s also room to explore what happens to these characters in the immediate aftermath of the first game. Either way, there’s a ton of story for the show to tell and hopefully more seasons to tell it over.
The Last of Us premieres January 15 on HBO.
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