The first episode of HBO’s The Last of Us has premiered, inviting fans of the video game franchise, as well as those who haven’t played, into the world of Ellie, Joel, clickers, and the end of society as we know it. Anyone who’s spent time playing the Naughty Dog game series knows that The Last of Us isn’t your run of the mill zombie apocalypse story. It’s one of soul-crushing heartbreak and how you move forward from it.
Warning: From here on out, we will be discussing spoilers for the premiere episode of The Last of Us. If you’ve yet to watch the show, head over to HBO Max now and see for yourself what happens.
That heartbreak is a key component of the opening of the video game, so for those familiar, it should come as no surprise that the first episode of The Last of Us realizes those horrific moments in live-action. The series introduces Joel (Pedro Pascal), his daughter Sarah (Nico Parker), and his brother Tommy (Gabriel Luna), as they come to realize a fungal outbreak is turning people into zombified beings. In their fight to escape the horrors, they end up in the crosshairs of members of the military, who gun down Sarah. It’s a disturbing scene to watch play out, as literally nobody seems to know exactly what’s happening or why these newly-minted monsters are attacking other people.
When it came to filming this moment, Parker admits she and Pascal “were listening to sad songs” to get in the right headspace. They also both spoke with showrunner Craig Mazin about the scene.
“I remember Craig came over to us as a last prompt, and he turned to me and he goes, ‘This is the most pain that you’ve ever been in in your entire life. This is the most excruciatingly painful thing that’s ever happened to you,’” she explained. “And then he said the same thing to Pedro. And for me, there’s more of a physical aspect to it, but for Pedro there’s more of an emotional pain.”
The pain and anguish that plays out on screen is palpable. It’s hard to imagine such an iconic moment from the games being captured any better in live-action, largely due to everyone involved knowing how important it was for this scene in particular to strike the right tone.
“It was incredibly intimidating, but also very exciting,” Pascal told GameSpot, TV Guide, and Metacritic in an interview. He added, “It was an incredible opportunity for me to get started in that way. To have Nico Parker, who is amazing–that was an instant father-daughter bond, and fun and a perfect way to start. With Gabriel Luna playing Tommy, my brother, and this little family, essentially, that is instantly torn apart by outbreak day–an iconic moment that exists in the game that fans are all very aware of that basically shapes who this man is for the rest of his journey.”
And while there are certainly tweaks made to make the moment more palatable as a scene on TV, there’s so much pulled directly from the game–down to even the framing of certain shows.
“I remember being struck by the similarities in the way they were framing it,” Luna said. “There’s a lot of expectation on that scene. But what I could see on the monitor and the way we were handling it, we were being really, really true to the game. Tommy, of course, has seen a lot of death in his experience, and I think that what I was trying to get across was that I know what’s done; I can see this wound and I know what’s about to happen. And so a lot of it is just trying to be there for my brother when he tries to come to terms with what’s happening.”
As for whether we’ll see Sarah again in flashbacks, there’s no telling. Whatever the case, there is plenty more The Last of Us story to unfold in the coming episodes.
New episodes of The Last of Us air Sundays on HBO.
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