‘The Last of Us’ Is a Zombie Story With Heart
August 9, 2023

‘The Last of Us’ Is a Zombie Story With Heart

HBO’s hit series The Last of Us is based on a popular video game from Naughty Dog. Science fiction author Zach Chapman appreciates that the show is a faithful adaptation of one of his favorite games.

“The show is in many episodes a shot-for-shot remake of the game,” Chapman says in Episode 539 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “The script is almost exactly the same, you just don’t get the gameplay.”

The Last of Us has a reputation as one of the best video game stories ever told. Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy host David Barr Kirtley thinks that reputation is well-deserved. “This is definitely a must-watch show,” he says. “It almost seems like a story that’s so good that someone had to write it sooner or later. It’s almost like it exists in the ether and was just waiting for somebody to instantiate it.”

The Last of Us is set in a post-apocalyptic America crawling with zombie-like “infected.” Horror author Theresa DeLucci says the show’s likable, well-drawn characters set it apart from other zombie stories. “Here’s a story where things are shitty, but also hopeful and loving and humorous and complicated, and not everybody you meet is going to be an absolute shitheel looking to screw you over,” she says. “You might make some friends, you might fall in love, you might find a family. And I think that’s what makes people like this show a lot and come back to it and not feel like it’s a Walking Dead retread.”

One of the show’s strongest episodes, “Long, Long Time,” explores a same-sex relationship as it develops over the course of 20 years. Fantasy author Erin Lindsey thinks that episode was the highlight of the show. “I would love to see more scriptwriters and networks take a risk on putting out episodes like that that are more about heart and more about people, and less about moving at breakneck speed from one slaughterfest to the next,” she says.

Listen to the complete interview with Zach Chapman, Theresa DeLucci, and Erin Lindsey in Episode 539 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.

Theresa DeLucci on expectations:

I’m a super-fan. I’ve been playing this game since the beta in 2013. Right before it came out I went to PAX Prime and got to go see an early preview of the game, and I still have my T-shirt and my poster. I’ve cosplayed as Ellie before with my husband, who played Joel—he’s much taller than me, and has a good beard. I’ve written about it and replayed this game over and over. So I had some pretty sky-high expectations. … I went to an early screening at a theater here in New York City that they completely re-dressed to look like the New York QZ with actors and zombies. You could tell they’re doing the Game of Thrones treatment for this. They knew what they had when they picked this up.

Erin Lindsey on world-building:

I think the [show’s] time frame is implausible bordering on ridiculous. Everybody eats this flour within the same 48-hour period, and everything starts to go to shit. You would see some kind of staggered timeline, I think, depending on the origin of this flour and where it gets to supermarket shelves the soonest. … You see by Episode 2 that these vestigial institutions still exist. In whatever mangled, fascist form, we sort of recognize life in the QZ. There is some authority established, there’s still running water in some places, an endless supply of ammunition for some reason. And that to me is incompatible with the timeline that they put forward. If you’ve witnessed crises break out in the world, you know that even the most prepared military or federal disaster authority in the world does not set up with the snap of a finger.

Zach Chapman on The Last of Us video game:

You have to strategize how you’re going to go about taking out these monsters, and usually you’re doing it in a quiet way. A lot of the game you’re strategizing, using improvised weapons that you’re picking up and creating, like bricks. You pick a brick up from the corner of a building and bash one of their heads in. And there were no examples of Pedro Pascal doing that in the show, that made him seem crafty. … There was none of the brutal “smash someone multiple times in the face with a brick” or “stab them with a shiv.” That doesn’t happen in the show, and I think, at least for me, it dropped the ball a little bit.

David Barr Kirtley on characterization:

When Ellie first sees the Mortal Kombat II machine, she’s just completely exuberant, and is like, “Oh my god! It’s Mortal Kombat II! This is so awesome. There’s this character and she swallows you whole and barfs out your bones!” And we find out later that just a couple of days ago, her best friend and first crush died under horrible circumstances shortly after they had played Mortal Kombat II together for the first time. And it just seemed odd to me that she didn’t have a more negative reaction when she saw the Mortal Kombat II game, given what associations you’d think it must have had for her—and fairly fresh ones. I thought in some of the early episodes she was spunky in a way that didn’t totally fit for me once we find out what happened to her just a couple days earlier.

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