HBO's The Last of Us is right around the corner, and fans of the award-winning video game franchise, as well as new viewers, will soon be taken into a post-apocalyptic United States infested with flesh-eating monsters. But zombies and survival aside, relationships are at the center of this upcoming series.
The show follows Joel (Pedro Pascal), a hardened survivor who lost his beloved daughter at the beginning of the apocalypse. 20 years after the pandemic, our hero gets hired to smuggle Ellie (Bella Ramsey), a 14-year-old girl, across the country in the hopes of finding a cure to fight the mutated fungus causing humans to become cannibalistic.
As the duo travels through the infection-ridden cities, they form a bond and depend on each other to survive.
Humans behind monster killers
For Ellie, however, life after the outbreak is all she knows as she was born amidst the chaos. While she doesn't yearn as much for life before the pandemic, she's curious and romanticizes it (which sounds familiar living in the coronavirus age). Joel becomes her "window" into what life was like before, Ramsey told PhilSTAR L!fe in a media roundtable.
"It’s all that Ellie has ever known so she doesn’t have this—yeah, she wonders about the world before—but it’s not like she’s desperate for it because she doesn’t know what she’s missing," they said.
"Like to her, this is what life is and she’s curious by nature and especially when she meets Joel. He’s like a window for her into what life was like before. She romanticizes it hugely, I think sometimes to Joel’s frustrations. It was cool to play this. It felt very real."
Pascal, meanwhile, is excited about the relationships the Last of Us gets to show.
"As dark and horrifying as the world is, it’s also such an adventure, a dark adventure but also incredibly anchoring to play these rich characters at the center of the hellscape is relationship and as an actor, because at the end of the day, it’s our instrument, our contribution, it’s what we’re doing," he shared.
"We’re not there to kind of like come up with answers for a lot of themes that the stories are built on but tell the human part of the story. So it’s really exciting to have rich relationships to get into the skin of."
Joel's younger brother Tommy (Gabriel Luna) has a more optimistic view of the world in contrast to his brother. While Joel is a rock, Tommy is water—the two siblings couldn't be more opposite.
"He’s very go with the flow, he’s somebody who’s adaptable. He was a soldier, he experienced what it is to go through war, to see humanity at its worst and I think he’s already decided in his heart and mind that’s not his purpose, that’s not what he intends his life to be," Luna said about his character.
"I also think that as little brothers too, they have more freedom that they don’t necessarily have to be more rigid at times, they don’t have to feel at times they have to control everything and protect everyone maybe that’s why he has more wiggle room to be more idealistic."
Game vs. Series
While some members of the cast like Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson (voice actors of Joel and Ellie, respectively) will appear in the series in cameos, Merle Dandrige is set to reprise her role as Marlene again for the HBO show.
The live-action series will be the fifth time she'll be playing the character, so Dandrige has grown into it and excitedly shared how different it was shooting.
"Since it’s been over 10 years since I first met [Marlene], I am a different performer and I’ve had the privilege of aging into her so that being able to play her onscreen is a little more accurate now," she said. "And also I had the extraordinary lens of Pedro and Bella’s Joel and Ellie to play opposite now."
The game's creative director and now Last of Us showrunner Neil Druckmann also shared how different it was making a series after the video games.
"It’s a slightly different writing process because a game is looser. We have non-interactive parts, and cinematics in the game but all the glue in between was the dynamic dialog and interactive dialog, the fact that we don’t have to fit an episodic format per se with a specific time meant we could be less structured than a TV show."
The Last of Us is set to premiere on HBO GO on Jan. 16 and also stars Anna Torv, Nico Parker, Nick Offerman, and Storm Reid.