The Last of Us Avoids the “Mistake” of Video Game Adaptations by Minimizing the Violence, Focusing on Relationships

Image: HBO Max

HBO’s The Last of Us has been hailed as one of the greatest video game adaptations ever, but fans who are expecting to see the same level of combat and violence depicted in Naughty Dog’s 2013 video game may end up disappointed. According to statements shared by Variety, creators Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann intentionally avoided bringing gameplay sequences into the show, reasoning that they wouldn’t work for a TV series. Instead, The Last of Us strives to be a character drama, one that’s focused on fleshing out the relationships between Joel, Ellie, and other leading characters.

From a Variety report:

Mazin […] understood innately that it would be a “mistake” to try to replicate the way the game is played on the show itself.

“It’s the mistake other people have made, I think, in adaptation [of video games], because they think that’s what connects people to a game,” Mazin says. “But ‘The Last of Us,’ more than any other video game I’ve ever played, connected me to character and relationship. And the relationship between Joel and Ellie was the thing that we wanted to pull through the most.

Druckmann also sees a crucial distinction between the experience of actively playing a game — as well as controlling the virtual camera that is capturing all the action — versus passively watching Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) in a scripted TV series.

“There’s different kinds of emotions you could draw from the player through an interactive space — where they swing the camera to, how they’re approaching the obstacle in front of them,” he says. “When you’re playing those sequences, that immersion really makes you connect with the player you’re controlling. Everything is only seen through their perspective. If we were to shoot those sequences as is, they would make for pretty boring action sequences. So one of the easiest decisions we made was like to say, ‘Let’s strip all those out. Let’s only have as much violence in this story as is required and no more.’ That allows the violence to have even more impact when you see it on screen than in the game.”

Still, The Last of Us appears to be a very faithful adaptation of the game thus far. The first episode, which premiered last night, features an entire sequence that was heavily inspired by the original opening, with Joel, Tommy, and Sarah trying to escape during the earliest stages of the outbreak, culminating in a major death.

The Last of Us has a 99% Tomatometer score and 96% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes at the time of this posting.

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