Four things we want from HBO’s adaptation of The Last of Us

So it looks like HBO is moving forward with its adaptation of The Last of Us. Craig Mazin, of Chernobyl fame, is now attached to the project as a writer alongside the game’s actual writer/director Neil Druckmann. The project was put into development back in March but now has been officially greenlit and picked up for a first season which will only deal with the events of the first game.

That’s exciting, but you can’t just copy-paste a game into a TV show format and call it a day. Mazin and Druckmann are going to have their hands full adapting this for HBO’s prestige TV format, and a lot of things can go wrong. Here are four things we want to see, which in our opinion will make it go right?

A plot shifted chronologically to make more sense in a non-interactive media

What do I mean by this? Well, time in video games can sometimes be an afterthought due to its interactive nature. Time jumps feel natural since you simply skip to the point that you would next take control of the character. In visual, non-interactive media these same time jumps can be jarring without a narrative setup.

Here’s an example. Think about when Joel gets injured and then you flash forward to Ellie in the winter. There’s a story to be told in the middle there, the story from the DLC that sees Ellie scavenging a mall. However, that story also includes “prequel” elements that are probably, in the HBO series, best shifted earlier on or explored via a dialogue with another character. So the writers are going to have to break these up somehow. They are also going to have to include scenes that smoothly transition from Joel’s injury to the mall, to winter, while the game was basically able to cut to black and say “now you are playing the next chapter.”

There’s going to have to be a lot of little tweaks to the plot throughout the narrative. You can’t just copy-paste a video game narrative into movie or TV series and have it come out the same. When fans say they want HBO to “follow the story” what they mean is that they want to hit all the major plot beats and keep all the major character relationships the same. How you get there, on the other hand, is vastly up for interpretation and that interpretation needs to make chronological sense for the hour-long prestige TV format.

A deeper focus on side characters that didn’t get enough time in the game

In videogames we have NPCs. In movies and TV shows, we have supporting characters. They are similar, but they can’t quite be treated the same way.

Let’s look at Henry and Sam. It feels like you spend a lot of time with them right? Well you do, in a video game sense. They are the focus of the game through several very important events, but most of the time that you are with them, you are in control. They actually don’t have a whole lot of dialogue outside of cut scenes other than thinly veiled directions for solving puzzles or ferrying you on to the next set-piece. Of course, they have plenty of dialogue in cut scenes, but not enough to fill a one-hour long format.

Henry and Sam are probably going to be their own episode of the HBO series, maybe even more than one. That means we are going to actually have to go into their past, their character, their struggles, much more than the game did to fill the time that would normally be filled with dodging infected and moving boxes around. This focus also needs to feel natural, and not just like filler, and we will likely have to see the same done with other supporting characters like Bill and Marlene.

Less focus on action in general

You would really be surprised how much of The Last of Us is actually, you know, a game. Go onto YouTube and check out any versions of “The Last of Us – Movie,” you know, just all the cut scenes strung back to back, and you’ll find out that the game only has about 4-6 hours of cut scenes. A full 10 to 13 episode HBO series will take, well 10-13 hours, and you can’t just fill the rest of those hours with action and sex sequences…. No matter how much HBO wants to try.

The series is obviously going to have to show the physical realities of surviving in the apocalypse post-infection. There will have to be scenes when Ellie and Joel are going to be sneaking around. There will have to be scenes when they kill infected, distract clickers, and end up in situations where we think they will die.

However, they are going to have to tone it down a lot for a prestige TV series. A lot of the action is going to have to be replaced with dialogue. A lot of the longer multi-encounter chapters are going to have to be condensed into one major encounter just to keep pacing. In a game, you can sneak past a room of clickers, have a break, and sneak past another one because you are doing the sneaking and it still feels awesome to have another challenge. In a TV format, getting out of one room of clickers just to get into another one feels boring and repetitive.

In short, the heaviest adaptation will have to be the adaptation of actual gameplay, and in general, it’s going to have to be massively toned down to fit the feel of the rest of the series.

Foreshadowing for elements of The Last of Us Part II

So, Neil Druckmann already hinted that Abby might be portrayed in the HBO series in a tweet made last March. If they do go this route, and if they do decide to adapt The Last of Us Part II, then they are going to have to take Part II’s plot into consideration right now when developing season one.

You see, Abby’s entire story only really worked because it was part of a sequel. We didn’t see any evidence of Abby nor did we see her dad do anything other than hold a scalpel at us in part one. That’s because this character wasn’t Abby’s father back then. He was just “surgical NPC one” meant to enhance the final moments of the game.

This simply won’t fly in the HBO series. They can’t cut Abby and her backstory out completely, especially when talking about the Fireflies, and still have it feel natural. Furthermore, they could cut Abby all together, but then they have to make a decision to not go into the events of The Last of Us Part II right now.

What do you think? What would you like to see from HBO’s adaptation of The Last of Us? Let us know in the comments.