Comparisons between HBO's The Last of Us and the game will be unavoidable, but changing elements from the known story could be the key to the live-action series standing on its own. Announced in March 2020, The Last of Us has been undergoing extensive filming and will not premiere in 2022. Produced by Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann, the 10-episode series has been treated as one of HBO's biggest bets for the next few years and could be a milestone in video game adaptations.
Pedro Pascal will star in The Last of Us as Joel, the reluctant survivor who sees his life gain new purpose as he crosses paths with Ellie, who will be played in the show by Game of Thrones actress Bella Ramsey. Released in 2013, The Last of Us stood out from other video games in the genre thanks to its rich narrative, immersion, and well-developed characters. In 2020, The Last of Us Part II took all of those qualities to the next level and was named Best Game at The Game Awards.
The recent indication that HBO's The Last of Us show might change a location from the games, or at the very least add a new one to the story, wasn't the first and probably won't be the last change the adaptation will make. It may seem contradictory, but changing things from the Last of Us games could be the only way for it to avoid comparisons with Naughty Dog's already classic titles. Unlike other games recently adapted for TV or film such as Halo and Mortal Kombat, The Last of Us became known for its emotional and well-paced story that made the experience of playing the game similar – and in some ways even better – to watching a movie. Given how the Last of Us games were already so cinematic, it wouldn't make much sense to just retell the same story with the exact same details in live-action, meaning that even the smallest of changes for the Last of Us show will create a distinctive experience.
Adapting a game like The Last of Us is even more complicated than adapting games like Halo and Pokémon for the simple fact that the narrative is already very close to what the player would have with watching a movie or TV series. In fact, choosing to take The Last of Us to live-action without any changes to the story would run the risk of giving the impression that video games are not sufficient media to sustain a complex narrative and that a journey like Ellie's and Joel's necessarily has to happen on camera to have meaning. That said, such changes need to be reasonable, and most importantly, driven by the needs of the story and format and not simply by the wish of doing something different.
The Last of Us is one of HBO's most promising and daring shows for the next years, and the creative changes the show is going to make from the video games could help it avoid the always difficult challenge of comparison. HBO original series are known for their high production values and creative freedom, which means that The Last of Us has all the ingredients needed to be a successful production. It remains to be seen how the show will be received by both game fans and new audiences.