‘The Last of Us’ is a Modern Cinematic Masterpiece. Here’s Why.

The series is a compelling story about finding love and purpose in a apocalyptic world.


Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Pedro Pascal has become a fan favorite actor for his exuberant personality and his dedication to acting.

Zombie apocalypses are common themes in entertainment. Whether the theme is in movies, television, or  games, it has become repetitive. However, The Last of Us is unlike any other zombie apocalypse show, as the series is unafraid to show the grittiness of what a post-apocalyptic world would be and how dangerous people are. 

When HBO announced that the game of the same title was getting a TV show, fans of the game dreaded it. There has been a recent trend of popular video games getting terrible movie and television series adaptations, such as ‘Uncharted’ and ‘Assassin’s Creed,’ that have left a sour taste in the gaming community’s mouth. Many fans expected the show to ruin their favorite game. However, the show has completely surpassed all expectations. 

WARNING: This article contains heavy spoilers for the series. 

The series begins on the main character’s 36th birthday in 2003. Joel Miller, played by Pedro Pascal, is a single father to his daughter Sarah and takes care of her with help from his younger brother Tommy. They both work all day and into the night as carpenters to provide her with a comfortable and safe life. 

Before the outbreak, it was a normal late summer day in Texas. Sarah wants to do something for her father that he wouldn’t do himself, so she goes to get his watch fixed as a birthday present. But there’s an unusual amount of emergency vehicles racing past the store, so the owner urges her to go home. 

However, the outbreak spreads quickly throughout the town and makes its way to the neighborhood. Sarah encounters an infected neighbor that looks just like it would in a movie. 

As the monster attempts to attack Sarah on the street, Joel comes home just in time to save her. Now, Tommy, Joel, and Sarah all plan to escape the town and leave with the military. Along the way, they see a broken-down car with another family. Tommy wants to stop and help; Joel advises otherwise, and they drive on. This moment highlights the brothers’ very different personalities and intentions. 

The entire town is in chaos, with people screaming and running, attacking and being attacked. As the brothers try to escape, they are separated and plan to reunite at a nearby river. When Joel and Sarah get to the river, however, Tommy is nowhere to be seen. Instead, a soldier finds them, rifle in hand. Joel pleads with him that they haven’t been infected. The soldier reports to his superior and is given an inaudible order. 

Joel starts to run toward the river as the soldier begins firing. He and Sarah fall. As the soldier is about to finish off Joel, Tommy arrives and shoots the man. But he is a few seconds too late; Sarah has been shot. She cries in agony as Joel tries to comfort and calm her, but there’s nothing he can do. The final shot of the scene shows the watch on Joel’s wrist as he clutches Sarah, both equally broken. 

The watch appears in many different shots in the show, representing the time Joel should have had with his daughter. Instead, the hands of the clock refuse to move, being stuck to the time when Joel lost his entire world. 

20 Years Later

Many of the major cities in the United States came under the control of a new government agency FEDRA.  Boston is one of the cities that became a quarantine zone (QZ). It seems symbolic that Boston is ruled by a tyrannical government, the same city as the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party during the Revolution. There are rebel fighters called the Fireflies, a group that Tommy has joined and has stopped responding to Joel on the radio. 

A friend of Joel, Tess, played by Anna Torv, is willing to help Joel find his brother and bring him back to safety.

When they get to the Fireflies’ hideout, they find the leader Marlene injured. Joel and Tess slowly approach her, guns drawn. Suddenly, from a side room, a young girl charges Joel with a knife, loud and brash, full of inexperience in any combat whatsoever. Joel easily disarms her, yet the girl still tries to get the knife. Marlene is concerned with the girl’s safety, so much so that she asks Joel and Tess to point their guns at her instead of Ellie; they do as they’re told.

Marlene says she is the key to the cure for the infection and pleads with Joel and Tess to deliver Ellie to a hospital controlled by other Fireflies across the country. Joel believes the best way to get Tommy is to bring Ellie with him. 

The season ends with Joel and Ellie reaching the hospital and Ellie getting ready for surgery. However, Joel learns that her operation will kill her. Joel is faced with a dilemma; let Ellie die and have her condition potentially save the world, or kill everyone to protect her. To Joel, though it is no dilemma at all, and he stops the surgery. 

When she wakes up, Ellie is confused and asks what happened. Joel lies, saying bandits attacked the hospital and there isn’t anyone to make a cure. This moment sets up the second season of the show, with Ellie dealing with the only person she can trust to lie to her and believing she might still save the world. 

The season ends with the results of Joel’s selfish decision to save Ellie for himself. The second season will show the consequences of his decision and all the things Joel must do to fix his wrongs. 


The writing of each episode is unparalleled. While there are no massive changes to the source material, Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann find ways to build on characters that have less significance in the games and give them new life and purpose to the show.

Here are the original actors of the characters of Joel and Ellie, played by Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson, along with writer Neil Druckmann, in their motion capture suits. These suits are used for animators to track the actors’ motion and to get natural looking animations in the game. Both actors have cameos in the TV series, playing roles as Ellie’s mother and a side villain in the later episodes. (Sam White, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0> , via Wikimedia Commons)

In the third episode, we see the story of Bill and Frank, played by Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett, two side characters that are largely insignificant in the game. However, the third episode is entirely dedicated to them, depicting them as lovers, which is only implied in the game. This writing decision sparked a lot of controversies among viewers, believing the show writers were pushing an agenda. But despite the outrage, we get a more fleshed-out story. 

The introduction of a completely new character Kathleen in episode 4 was another smart choice by the writers. The writers decided to create a community that overthrew FEDRA and became vicious liberators. They hunt down outsiders and FEDRA collaborators that oppressed them, including brothers Sam and Henry. 

Kathleen’s character, along with Sam and Henry, reflects Joel and Ellie’s dynamic brilliantly. Kathleen would stop at nothing to avenge her brother. Henry would stop at nothing to save Sam, even laying down his own life. And Joel, though at this point in the story he hasn’t realized yet, would do the same thing for Ellie.

Many television watchers feel that the way characters interact with each other is the essence of what TV is. While you can have an amazing setting and concept for a show, it is only good if the characters are well-written. “The Wire on HBO and the gritty realism are incredibly appealing. It showed many characters that are rich and complex and are not one-sided or black and white,” said Tayeb Abu Jazar ’23.

Not all characters have to be likable either. We like Joel and Ellie because they are the main characters and reflect what we view as paternal love, they are nowhere near perfect people. Joel has killed many people, those who deserved it and those who didn’t. However, in episode 6 when Joel reunites with his brother, he pleads with him to take Ellie, believing he will fail to protect her just like he did with Sarah. This scene shows he isn’t just a cold-blooded killer but just a man who can’t cope with the losses he’s suffered.

 Ellie is also someone who has needed to kill to survive but doesn’t enjoy it at all. While we’d like to think that we’d be able to do whatever is necessary to survive, we most likely wouldn’t. The same goes for Ellie; she thinks she’s prepared but she’s still just a kid in a world too cruel for children. 

Actors Performances 

As a relatively young actor, Ramsey’s large role in The Last of Us and outstanding performance has catapulted her career and set her up to play many prominent roles in future shows and movies. (GabboT, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0> , via Wikimedia Commons)

Though Bella Ramsey is a relatively new actor, she plays the role of Ellie beautifully, casting aside previous doubts from fans over her capabilities. Some fans were thrown off because she does not resemble the game’s version of Ellie, yet her portrayal of the character mimics the personality and mannerisms of the original version perfectly. 

Pedro Pascal also does a phenomenal job playing Joel Miller. His seasoned experience and reputation as a great actor allowed him to be instantly loved when it was announced that he had the role. “I think the cast does an amazing job at portraying the character’s personality from what I’ve seen, and the special effects, environment, and props are all exceptional,” said Michail Kavvoras ’23. Despite being lighthearted and down to earth, Pedro Pascal portrays a serious no-nonsense type character with ease. With just a look in his eye, he can change and make us sympathize with his character.


In the show, the infected are a looming threat throughout. However, they aren’t the scariest threat as we might think. The writers highlight how people behave when there are no laws that hold them accountable for anything. While the infected are driven to kill to survive, people are driven to kill for selfish reasons. 

The show follows Joel and Ellie’s journey from strangers to a more familial relationship. While Joel initially rejects all attempts by Ellie to bond, they slowly find they need each other, both in a physical and emotional sense. Ellie needs Joel to protect her, and Joel needs Ellie to give him a daughter figure to protect.

To watch The Last of Us on HBO MAX (subscription required), click HERE

Zombie apocalypses are common themes in entertainment. Whether the theme is in movies, television, or  games, it has become repetitive. However, The Last of Us is unlike any other zombie apocalypse show, as the series is unafraid to show the grittiness of what a post-apocalyptic world would be and how dangerous people are.