‘The Last of Us’ Lauded by Critics as the ‘Beginning of a New Era’

HBO’s post-apocalyptic drama is an adaptation of the acclaimed 2013 action adventure video game

Pedro Pascal in "The Last of Us" on HBO
Pedro Pascal in "The Last of Us" on HBO.

Critics are celebrating HBO’s adaptation of Naughty Dog and Sony Corporation’s acclaimed 2013 action adventure video game “The Last of Us,” which will premiere this coming Sunday.

“The Last of Us” takes place 20 years after modern civilization has been destroyed. Joel (Pedro Pascal), a hardened survivor, is hired to smuggle a 14-year-old girl named Ellie (Bella Ramsey) out of an oppressive quarantine zone. What starts as a small job soon becomes a brutal, heartbreaking journey, as they both must traverse the U.S. and depend on each other for survival.

The show is written and executive produced by Craig Mazin (“Chernobyl”) and Naughty Dog co-president Neil Druckmann.

TheWrap’s Karama Horne said that HBO, Druckmann and Mazin have done “an excellent job of sticking close to the source material while also breathing life into new characters along the way, creating an engaging and refreshing rendering of a popular genre story.”

“Pascal is phenomenal as Joel, slowly thawing after decades of unresolved grief, loss and trauma,” Horne adds. “Ramsey is even more impressive than she was in ‘Game of Thrones,’ expressing more emotion through a side-eye than most actors twice her age.”

The Washington Post’s Gene Park says audiences who know the game by heart will “likely be able to recite some lines right as they’re being spoken in the show.”

“I’ve played the game dozens of times over the years,” Park admits. “Watching the show, I felt like some old stage actor, seeing others reading lines I knew by heart, repeating actions just as I had performed them in 2013 and many times since.”

He added that the show “treats most of the key scenes well, with doting respect.”

“In some ways, the story is better for it, thanks to more granular insight into the lives of certain characters,” Park noted.

IGN’s Simon Cardy called the “Last of Us” a “heartbreaking account of love being found in a world that all too often tears it apart” and a “testament to how love between two people – no matter who they are or who they choose to share it with – perseveres even when the world and bodies physically channeling it fade.”

IndieWire’s Ben Travers said the show “challenges how we watch horror, if not action/adventure stories in general–and it does so with particular brutality.” 

“A TV show’s risk:reward ratio hasn’t been this steep since “The Leftovers,” another spin on the post-apocalyptic drama that imposes plenty of emotional turmoil before paying off with an incomparable blend of creativity and catharsis,” Travers added.

Empire’s John Nugent said “The Last of Us” TV adaptation “deepens the game’s dystopian lore, while staying true to its emotional core.”

“Like the game, it’s a masterpiece, too,” Nugent said in his review.

BBC’s Stephen Kelly called the show “the best video game adaptation ever made.”

“For fans of the game, it is an adaptation of the utmost skill and reverence, yet one still capable of surprise,” he writes. “For people who have never picked up a controller, it is an encapsulation of the game’s heart and soul – its full-blooded characters, its neat plotting, its mature themes of love and loss.”

GameSpot’s Mark Delaney said the show is a “marvelous proof of concept for PlayStation–and really any brand seeking to bring its beloved games to prestige television.”

“Whereas the history of video game adaptations is littered with abject disasters at worst and lovable family movies at best, The Last of Us proves this is a beautiful and gut-wrenching story regardless of the medium,” Delaney wrote in his review. “While it’s a notch below both the heights of the incredible original game and HBO’s illustrious best efforts, make no mistake: The Last of Us on HBO feels like the beginning of a new era for live-action video game adaptations.”

Despite the overwhelmingly positive reviews, not all critics are unanimous.

The Verge’s Charles Pulliam-Moore said that while the HBO series “expertly pieces together a new version of a beloved tale in a way that’s almost certain to reach and speak to a larger audience,” the show has a “tendency to feel like something crucial to making it work is missing, even though it’s a surprisingly faithful adaptation.”

TV Guide’s Keith Phipps said the story “occasionally feels rushed” and that it “could have expanded its perspective beyond the source material even more”, noting it’s “at its best when it goes beyond the game”.

Entertainment Weekly’s Darren Franich gave the show a B- rating, calling it “a post-apocalyptic drama that can’t decide if it’s an adaptation or a replay”.

“One episode completely shifts the game’s canon, but some scenes get recreated shot-for-shot,” Franich explains. “That may work best for newbies, or fans who prefer adaptations barely adapted. It contributes to the feeling of watching someone else’s replay.”

“The Last of Us” premieres on HBO and HBO Max on Jan. 15 at 9 p.m. ET.