“The Last of Us” and the Benefits of Adaptational Changes

Will Donahue ‘24

Opinions Editor

As of me writing this article, we are five episodes into HBO’s “The Last of Us,” a television adaptation of the critically acclaimed video game of the same title. For those not watching, the show tells the story of Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey), two survivors who must learn to depend on each other as they make their way across the ruins of post-apocalyptic America. And unless the last four episodes contain some series-ruining plot twists, it’s looking like the show will more than live up to the legacy of the game. Showrunners Craig Maizin (“Chernobyl”) and Neil Druckmann (“The Last of Us” game) have taken extra care to give us an adaptation that is equal parts beautiful, terrifying, and emotionally devastating. 

But apart from being an all-around fantastic show, “The Last of Us” puts forth a strong case in favor of adaptations straying from their source material. That’s not to say the show regularly makes changes from the original game – in fact, as a fan of the original game, I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve noticed a particular costume, line of dialogue, or bit of music translated almost identically from one medium to another. And yet, the show is not a one-to-one recreation of the game’s plot. There are some minor tweaks to settings and timelines, but there are also completely original subplots and characters that further improve upon the show’s already-excellent source material.

Consider the show’s third episode, “Long, Long Time”, released on January 29th. Without diving too deeply into spoiler territory, this episode tells the story of hardened survivalist Bill (Nick Offerman) forming a close bond with a stranger named Frank (Murray Bartlett). The primary story of Joel and Ellie takes an hour-long back seat as we watch these two minor characters meet and ultimately fall in love. From a narrative standpoint, this episode is borderline unrecognizable from the original game. The character of Bill has been remade from the ground up, and his relationship with Frank – which had been only hinted at originally – now takes up the majority of the episode’s screen time. And it was still one of the greatest episodes of television I’ve ever seen.

I think an episode like “Long, Long Time” showcases how adaptations can be so much more than a painstaking recreation of a story we already know. Had the show followed the game down to the last detail, Bill and Frank’s romance would have amounted to nothing more than a few throwaway references. Instead, Maizin and Druckmann took full advantage of their new medium and gave us a fleshed out queer love story – one that beautifully depicts why humanity will keep pushing on in tragic circumstances. It might be different from the source material, but this episode stays true to what made “The Last of Us” so special in the first place. And more importantly, it’s an improvement over the game’s story.

Of course, not every fan of “The Last of Us” will agree that the changes made in the show are necessary. And I understand this sentiment – I have been burned by bad adaptations plenty of times before (Percy Jackson fans, we will have our time in the sun). But to any fan who dislikes changes made to their favorite story simply because they are changes, I urge you to keep an open mind. As I’ve learned with “The Last of Us” show, adaptational changes can result in a story that’s even better than the one you already love.

Featured image courtesy of IMDb

Categories: Opinions

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