The Last Of Us TV Show Teaser Shows That Faithfulness Might Hold It Back

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I have confidence that The Last of Us adaptation coming to HBO is going to be pretty damn good. The talent behind it is undeniable, and something would have to go catastrophically wrong for its ambition to crumble into a mediocre heap of failed expectations. It’s bringing one of the greatest video game stories ever told to a new medium, and is being treated with appropriate bombasse from HBO given its premiere treatment in a recent sizzle reel.

Our first look at the show beyond set photos and vague screenshots came in the form of a handful of scenes spread throughout the narrative. We see Pedro Pascal’s Joel and Bella Ramsay’s Ellie walking across a bridge in a snowy landscape, the camera watching them from above as they approach a seemingly unknown threat. More intimate moments like taking shelter and exchanging small words are also teased, but it’s a few recognizable images and snippets of dialogue identical to the game that stand out most.

HBO is definitely assuming prior knowledge of the narrative here, or is at least aware that fans will be tuning into this adaptation first and foremost, and it must appeal to them in fear of potential backlash. I understand that - especially given a history of failed adaptations - but The Last of Us could be very different. It has the advantage of an episodic format to flesh out its story alongside some of the best actors working today, and unlike Resident Evil it isn’t grounded by an existing identity defined by camp and excess. If anything our reverence for The Last of Us has become overblown, with millions looking at its rather simplistic tale of love and survival amidst the apocalypse before putting it on a pedestal. We can do better.

Ironically enough, its groundbreaking arrival is precisely what has held The Last of Us back in the years since. The sequel sought to critique the actions of a character fans had come to worship, refusing to forgive the pursuit of revenge and unjust murder even if it purports to serve the greater good. Joel and Ellie became villains of their own making, but we still wanted to support them because of the intimate bonds we’d formed with them as we conquered so many obstacles together. The thing is, we know where it all ends.

HBO and those involved with the upcoming show have been talking up how faithful it will be to the source material, choosing to stick with the existing narrative instead of expanding upon it in any meaningful way. Given the increased runtime and lack of player control in an adaptation like this, surely they would need to build upon things in ways the game doesn’t afford in order to stand on its own two feet at all. Even a limited series will have a lot of time to play with, and I’d love to see Joel and Ellie expanded upon in ways a blockbuster game simply isn’t able to afford. Delve deeper into flashbacks, indulge in fleeting windows of quiet amidst the battle for survival, and don’t recycle every single piece of dialogue because you’re afraid of what the hardcore community might think. It is okay to take risks, and with The Last Of Us we are reaching the point where such steps are all almost necessary.

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Yet I’m afraid we won’t, and the debut teaser only serves to cement that worry. Joel and Ellie are seen acting out scenes with near identical framing and dialogue from the game, so much so that I imagine fans have already put together detailed comparisons pointing out details. Clothes are the same, emotional delivery hasn’t been tampered with, and all the moments that once brought us to our knees in heartbreak will greet us like a cynical old friend. Such an outlook is only further reinforced by next month’s remake, which is seeking to deliver a story that has already been released on two platforms without the addition of a television show seeking to do the exact same thing. One of these days we need to leave The Last of Us behind, but we are so attached to its vision of prestige that I fear it’s impossible.

I feel like a coward for saying I’ll be tuning in to watch regardless, but I feel admitting that is required if we want to effectively critique things and move on. I could be assuming the worst and the finished product will prove me wrong, but the current landscape has me confident that isn’t going to happen. Joel and Ellie will be brought to life by supremely talented actors and interpreted in different ways, but the underlying narrative remains the same and thus there will be no possible way to break new ground in fear of upsetting the canon we have made an essential part of ourselves.

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What was once a story destined to push us forward has become a creative vice, a noose around our necks that threatens to tighten whenever we entertain the idea of ever leaving it behind. Naughty Dog and HBO must be aware of this, and it will be a shame to see this faithful approach to the source material ruin an adaptation that is otherwise capable of so much more. Adapt deleted scenes, elevate these characters, and take the existing story to places it could have never possibly gone before. I don’t care if the big beats remain the same, that much was a given, but that doesn’t mean the journey can’t be subject to evolution. If it isn’t, I honestly struggle to see the point in this show existing at all.

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