In 2003, Joel (Pedro Pascal) wakes up on his birthday like every other morning, sitting down for breakfast with his 12-year-old daughter Sarah. By the end of the day, the world as Joel — and everyone else — knows it is gone. This is where The Last of Us first greets its viewers, and is only the beginning of an edge-of-your-seat, unrelenting, must-watch season of TV.
As HBO’s latest addition to its lineup of beloved and obsessed over appointment TV shows (See: The White Lotus, House of the Dragon, Euphoria, and Succession), the show — based off a video game series of the same name — follows Joel 20 years after a fungal pandemic has taken over the world (sound kind of familiar?), as he attempts to find his brother and transport 14-year-old Ellie (we’ll get to her later) to safety.
With HBO at the helm, and an all-star cast, this series is going to be *the* show of 2023 to watch. Ahead of its January 15 premiere, here’s everything you need to know about The Last of Us, and why it’s guaranteed to be your favorite show of 2023.
What is The Last of Us about?
Coined as a “post-apocalyptic drama,” The Last of Us follows Joe — a smuggler — as he tries to escort Ellie (Bella Ramsey) across the country from Boston to Colorado. (For what reason? You’ll have to watch to find out). But this isn’t any old cross-country voyage. Ellie and Joel live in 2023 America, 20 years after the Cordyceps brain infection — a fungal virus that essentially turns humans into zombies — takes over. Those who survived the outbreak are just trying to stay alive in a pretty dismal version of America and aren't optimistic anything's going to change.
What is The Last of Us based on?
The series may be new to TV viewers, but video game fans will be familiar with the title and storyline. The Last of Us is based off a 2013 video game series of the same name. Created by developer Naughty Dog and released by Sony Entertainment, the has become well known, and popular, among gamers for its complex storytelling and narrative framework, as well as its ability to convey a very human story of loss and hope. As in the series, the game follows Joel and Ellie on their quest.
The game has been heralded as one of the best single-player story games to have ever been released. (No biggie).
Who stars in The Last of Us?
Part of what makes the series so great is the A+ cast, of both industry vets as well as newcomers. Alongside Pedro Pascal, who’s known for The Mandalorian, Narcos and Game of Thrones, is relative newcomer Bella Ramsey. Fans of Game of Thrones will recognize this show alum as the outspoken and beloved Lady Lyanna Mormont. And, like in GoT, we’d follow her character Ellie anywhere (OK, almost anywhere; she is, after all, an impulsive 14-year-old in the show). In addition to her turn as Lady Mormont, Ramsey was recently the lead in Lena Dunham’s Catherine Called Birdy, and The Last of Us is sure to only be the beginning of her career.
Outside of the main cast, the series also boasts a ton of familiar faces, who’ll pop up among the rubble and zombies as Joel, Tara, and Ellie trek across the United States. Some familiar faces include Yellowjackets Melanie Lynskey, Nick Offerman (in an episode 3 role you’ll sob over), and HBO darlings Murray Bartlett and Storm Reid of The White Lotus and Euphoria, respectively. So keep your eyes peeled for some of your silver screen faves.
So, should I watch The Last of Us?
100% yes. Season one of the series has already received rave reviews from critics (and a 97% score on Rotten Tomatoes!), and many are saying the show is paving the way and making an argument for more video game adaptations on the silver screen (a contentious subject). As critic James Poniewozik wrote for The New York Times, “It shouldn’t be surprising that a drama based on a video game can have heart. A great, smart game depends on personal connection.”
And the series is a draw for both gamers and non-gamers alike. At its core, The Last of Us is about many relatable experiences, especially for us IRL who have gone through three years of a global pandemic. The show delicately and impactfully handles themes of isolation, the need for connection, and the impact of familial loss. And it delivers when it comes to emotional gut punches (like we said, wait for episode 3).
The Last of Us airs Sundays on HBO.