The hype is infectious: 12 things we know about The Last of Us

Ever since its release in 2013, zombie-survival saga The Last of Us has been hailed as perhaps the video game medium’s most cinematic moment. But let’s be real: how could Joel and Ellie’s story of terror and human connection fit neatly into a series of flimsy sequels, let alone one good video game movie?

The solution comes via HBO, where show-runners Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann are finally bringing gamers’ favourite endtimes tale of devastation to a bigger audience than ever before. So turn on Listen Mode, keep your Infected-slaying companions in sight, and scroll to learn what we know about The Last of Us season one.

1. The lead actors are Game of Thrones fan faves…and non-gamers!

Despite only being introduced later in GoT‘s turbulent run, both Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey quickly became huge fan faves within the world of Westeros, respectively appearing as the brutally slain Red Viper Oberyn Martell and fierce head of the house Mormont, little Lady Lyanna.

Now, they’re back on HBO as grizzled survivor Joel and his teen charge Ellie, the girl whose biology may be the key to combating the global zombie virus. For some reason, she’s invulnerable to the fungus that’s infected everyone else, and the hopes of creating a vaccine with her help lie on the West Coast, through countless decrepit cities and nomadic friends and foes.

Thing is, neither actor has played through Naughty Dog’s series of The Last of Us games yet! Pascal admitted to GQ that he doesn’t have any gamer “skill…it was only a matter of minutes before I had to hand [the controller] over to my nephew.”

And Ramsey watched gameplay of the series on YouTube, but still hasn’t picked up a copy and pressed play yet. “It’s sitting at home, waiting for me to play it”, she told Looper. “But even without playing it, just like being in the world of it…I understand the attachment that people have. It’s very special.”

2. Other actors in the running were Matthew McConaughey, Mahershala Ali, Maisie Williams and Kaitlyn Dever

Instantly praised as cinematic from its first release in 2013, The Last of Us has been hungrily picked at for film and TV adaptations for a while now to no success. At one point horror maestro Sam Raimi was tipped to produce if not direct, and Matthew McConaughey could’ve brought some particular Southern shine to the role of Joel.

Once he passed and fresh Oscar winner Mahershala Ali also failed to sign on, no other big names to play Joel were floated until HBO announced Pascal’s casting. Finding the right Ellie seems to have been an even trickier task: the character was initially based on actor Elliot Page, and any similar actors, such as Williams and Dever, quickly grew out of the role’s expected age range. Ultimately hundreds of young women were auditioned before Pascal’s old HBO mate Ramsey nabbed the part, both actors going through American accent coaching.

3. The supporting cast is all prestige TV talent

HBO seems to be pulling folks from all of their biggest shows to flesh out the sparse landscapes of The Last of Us. White Lotus season one standout Murray Bartlett, True Detective supporting star Gabriel Luna, and Rue’s little sis on Euphoria, Storm Reid, are amongst the talents Joel and Ellie will meet on their travels.

Additionally, Aussie actor Anna Torv, who you’ll recognise from Mindhunter, and the loveably gruff Nick Offerman, best known for his survivalist skills on Parks and Recreation, are major memorable characters from the game Tess and Bill. One more exciting name is Yellowjackets survivor Melanie Lynskey, who’ll play an original revolutionary character Kathleen.

4. The Infected were inspired by a David Attenborough doco

This is a fun fact from the game moreso than the series, but the idea’s dark spores should infect the visuals of the series just as much. The Last of Us creative director Neil Druckmann says that the inspiration for the game’s zombies, known as the Infected, came from a segment of the BBC nature documentary Planet Earth.

As Sir David Attenborough warmly tells us, the sickening fungus known as ‘Cordyceps’ takes control of an insect’s motor functions and forces them to infect other entities: the natural world’s creepy example of real-life zombification. Let’s sit back and see what happens when a similar fungus evolves to infect our entire planet.

5. …and you might feel for the series’ infected Clickers, Bloaters, Runners and Shamblers

The game and series will feature a horrifying spectrum of Infected humans, their brain’s corruption spreading to turn them into a variety of malformed, bloodthirsty beings. But the script doesn’t always feature them as jumpscare baddies springing from the background.

Showrunner Craig Mazin writes this excerpt in one screenplay, adopting the perspective of an infected man: “he lifts his head. The sun shines warmth on his face. He rises slightly toward it. A soft breeze flutters through his hair. This is a living creature in a living world.” We don’t know whether that makes them more relatable or only more scary.

6. Writer Craig Mazin has showed us apocalyptic visions before, in his series Chernobyl

Scary Movie 3, Scary Movie 4, The Hangover: Part IIChernobyl. Screenwriting stalwart Mazin has had an unexpected break into the world of prestige drama thanks to HBO, and he continues that thought-provoking streak with The Last of Us‘ surprising indie feel.

If you haven’t been chilled to the bone by it yet, Chernobyl could be the perfect watch to get you into Joel and Ellie’s headspace: another, albeit far less fictional, tale about humans trying to survive under devastating environmental disaster and the totalitarian rule trying to stifle its chaos.

7. Mazin and game creator Neil Druckmann are certain they’re making the first good video game adaptation

Okay, Detective Pikachu fans, simmer down. There really hasn’t been a film or TV adaptation that does its source material justice—not even Naughty Dog’s own attempt to bring its other success story Uncharted to the big screen.

In an interview with the New Yorker, Mazin and Druckmann weren’t modest about their ambitions to make “the best, most authentic game adaptation”, with Mazin snarkily pointing out, “that’s not the highest bar in the world”. Druckmann recalls watching Children of Men and thinking, “why does nobody in games tell a story like this?”

Even without our hands on the controller, making Ellie and Joel’s difficult choices for them, early reports have expressed that the series has the game’s same effect of making viewers cry, whether in live-action or high-quality CGI. “Watching a person die, I think, ought to be much different than watching pixels die”, Mazin believes.

8. There’ll be an arthouse flair to the series, with Russian, Bosnian, and Swedish directors involved

The game’s frequent director and writer Neil Druckmann directs at least one episode of the nine-episode first season, but the pilot of The Last of Us is helmed by Russian talent Kantemir Balagov. His sobering period drama Beanpole completely broke my spirit in its first 15 minutes, so he knows a thing or two about depicting misery on screen, whether it’s laced with awesome action-horror or not.

Academy-nominated Bosnian director Jasmila Žbanić who made Quo Vadis, Aida? and kooky Border director Ali Abbasi are also responsible with bringing the game’s emotive story to our screens. It’s a highly-acclaimed and eclectic lineup of directors for each episode, and they’re each using separate cinematographers too: hopefully it results in a versatile and unpredictable-feeling series.

9. It’s the biggest TV production in Canadian history

Oooooh Canada, the land that Joel and Ellie call home…The Last of Us took over Alberta from July 2021 to June 2022, with punters speculating that the budget lies between $10 million and $15 per episode.

That’s more than the cost for five seasons of Game of Thrones, by The New Yorker’s claims! Despite those Canadian sets, the story will take our embattled characters everywhere from Boston to Wyoming to Salt Lake City, all to find an elusive rebel militia known as the Fireflies who might have some use for Ellie’s invulnerability.

10. Don’t expect more than a few seasons of Last of Us goodness

Remember how GoT splintered away from the unpublished plannings of author George R.R. Martin and kinda left fans and critics lost in its narrative dust? The Last of Us team aren’t going to make any of the same mistakes, already claiming that while “the idea would be to do more than just one more season…this isn’t the kind of show that is going to be seven seasons.”

Due to the lengthy and expensive process of making any video game, we had a seven-year wait in between The Last of Us and The Last of Us Part II, meaning that we shouldn’t count on a third chapter arriving anytime soon to inspire future seasons of the series.

11. We’re following the plot of the first game, with some expected elements from the sequel and prequel too

The Last of Us is the first HBO series based on a video game, with seemingly hours upon hours of action and drama to adapt. So it may be difficult for the show to wrap up its first season of nine episodes by basing the events solely on the events of the first game.

The first full length trailer, which you rewatch at the top of this article, shows some sneaky shots of our characters in wintery coats: snowy environments they don’t venture to until the second game. Then again, we’re likely to see some of Ellie’s life before the virus’ devastating takeover, plucked from the downloadable prequel The Last of Us: Left Behind.

Those frosty sidequests and new characters such as the rebel leader Lynskey plays will, according to Mazin, not frustrate long-time fans. “The things that are new and enhancing of the storyline that we’re doing are connected in organic, serious ways that I think fans of the game and newcomers alike will appreciate.”

12. We’ll be boogieing to Gustavo Santaolalla’s original score again

With its western-inspired plucking and melancholy, moody tones, Santaolalla’s haunting score just had to be brought back—and expanded upon—for HBO’s sweeping series. The Argentine composer has had a few cracks at the mournful, lonely drama on screen, winning back-to-back Oscars for Brokeback Mountain and Babel. His sounds should be just as stirring in the small-screen, episodic format.

So while it could be a bummer to see the usually gregarious Pascal not cracking cocky jokes or whipping out any of the cheery dance moves above, we’ll take it if The Last of Us is able to live up to the soul-crushing, found-family survival saga fans have been yearning for. Hell, he’s been able to entertain us with a bucket on his head for a few seasons over on Disney+.