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The Last Of Us is good TV, but a tough watch in a real pandemic

Pedro Pascal sits in front of a damaged wall in a screenshot from HBO's The Last of Us.

Screenshot: HBO/Kotaku

I’m barely there for a minute the premiere episode of HBO’s TV treatment for The last of us and I already feel uncomfortable. No one has died yet, and no one speaks with a spine-chilling Texas accent, but as two experts talk about the threats to human society posed by airborne disease, I realize I’m not quite sure I feel like doing this. kind of fiction. Unfortunately, for much of the remaining episode, that feeling never quite went away and it still hasn’t. While The last of us is a well made show that I would recommend to fans of the games and otherwise there should be a heavy emphasis on that, just like shows like Station Eleven or Craig Mazin’s critically acclaimed Chernobyl, the very real COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t quite mesh with what’s on screen. And no amount of Pedro Pascal can change that, at least for some of us.

The last of usOriginally released for PS3 in 2013, remastered for PS4 in 2014, virtually remade for PS5 last year, and now adapted to television format on HBO, follows the fallout of a fictional global pandemic that turns humans into literal monsters. Society goes off the rails and countless lives are lost in the process. The plot also tells the story of competing factions of humanity in the aftermath of the pandemic, some with ties to old-fashioned governments, others brand new, each on edge and ready to shoot bullets at each other. In both main entrances to The last of uslike the show, the lines between good guys and bad guys often blur, but what’s perfectly clear is that the world is worthless right now, and a mysterious, incurable disease has set it all in motion.

Read more: The last of us Episode One Recap: Taking a Ride

In 2013, that premise might have fit more easily into the realm of fantasy, when many of us weren’t so slogged with the fear of getting sick and numb to governments that would rather have ignored it while using military aggression to calm civil unrest across the globe. many of the pre-existing conditions of society.


I’ve played The last of us quite a few times (and currently playing it again, as well as a first play of Part II), but never before was I afraid the opening moments of the plot like I did on the TV show. One of the most immediate changes what many will notice in the TV adaptation is that the pre-breakup prologue is longer and takes place in a different time; in the show, it’s 2003 that the contagion hits, not 2013. But time changes aside, it’s still an expansive depiction of a world to which, in reality, we’ve only just begun to return.

As the first episode progresses, building to the death of the main character’s daughter and the final flash of 20 years, I found myself in a state of dread remembering all the fear and uncertainty of COVID (especially in the early days of 2020), both the virus and the criminally charged response of the United States government. I was afraid to see an amplified mirror image of our world slipping into the chaos of a mismanaged public health crisis. I recognize that not everyone will make these kinds of associations, but given the world-changing severity of the pandemic, I find it hard not to go there.

In fact, I remember I used the truckloads of dead bodies just around the corner from where I live. I remember and still struggle with the anguish of family members and friends who are at risk, just like the very first victim on the TV show, possibly getting sick, soon suffering and dying. I remember how acute that fear was when we knew so little about COVID and how it spread. I sense anger at the military’s heavy-handed response on the show, but it’s quickly replaced by the anger felt when the director of the Trump administration’s National Economic Council Larry Kudlow lied to all of ussaying COVID was “locked in” while that same administration continued to show they were just fucking worried about the details what they were doing. I probably don’t need to repeat that our president suggested it ingesting or injecting bleach as a cure for the diseaseThat we stop testingand that it will all just “go away,But yes, that all happened. It wasn’t fiction.

The last of us in TV form feels closer to reality. In the video game, the infection drifts more easily into background knowledge, a justification for why we move our characters around all-too-familiar monster obstacles that will send us to a checkpoint if we’re not careful. But whether it’s seeing real flesh-and-blood people on screen instead of, as showrunner Craig Mazin put it:watching pixels die‘, or subtle changes to the story that open up more avenues for human expression instead of spending time making smoke bombs out of video game objects I collected with the triangle button, it all combines in the HBO show to make for an experience I’m unable to resist drawing painful parallels. This isn’t the show’s fault. I don’t care how “realistic” its depiction is or not. In fact, the emotions evoked by the show may be a testament to how evocative it is.

There is much to appreciate The last of usHBO adaptation, but I recommend that people check with themselves, before watching or recommending, and ask if this particular story is something they’re willing to spend time on at this particular point in history.

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