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HBO's The Last of Us (2023) Review

Neil Druckmann and Naught Dog's stellarly successful action-adventure game, The Last of Us, revolutionized the impact of heartfelt and gut-wrenching storytelling through their PlayStation exclusive. The past has been troubled by translations of video games into live-action media that have been staggered by poor execution and a gross misunderstanding of the game's intentions. Though some stand-out adaptations such as Sonic the Hedgehog and Detective Pikachu have executed a solid understanding of what well-crafted gaming films should look and feel like, HBO's The Last of Us has since increased the standards and expectations through small-screen storytelling.

HBO's breathtakingly impressive execution of what is alleged to be one of the greatest video stories so far has masterfully captured the unshakable emotional weight of loss, grief, perseverance, and hope. The simplicity of the will to carry on is tightly bottled throughout the show's first season. While the on-screen iteration is not exactly pitch-perfect and applies some reasonable changes that stray slightly away from The Last of Us's lore, HBO, in the company of Druckmann and co-showrunner Craig Mazin (Chernobyl), presents a grounded encapsulation of the game's soul. The Last of Us thrills from its first episode to its season finale, which is driven by truly phenomenal performances from its leading cast. Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey are a brilliantly- matched team as their ever-tightening bond refuses to snap.

Though the nine-episode span may feel slightly rushed as each episode sprints toward its end credits, there is no absence of emotional beats in abundance. The Last of Us is at its best when it does not succumb to the pressure of its own run time. There's a delighting feeling to see the game's most iconic and memorable scenes spill across the scene as they are brought to life once more, though the lesser-explored stories that are finally fleshed out undeniably stand out as some of the show's finest moments. The Last of Us values love as a central theme - emphasizing how precious it truly is when the world seems to tear it apart - and its importance to the series is crafted with a tender touch.

The praise handed to The Last of Us's screenwriting, performing, and directing teams is greatly deserved - without overlooking the achievement of the audio-visual artists that create such an immersive landscape. Even as death and despair reap a desolate country, The Last of Us offers a visual spectacle. Its ugliest moments are shot and framed in a way where they're meant to be marveled at, daring to pull audiences into a decaying and desperate world. Muted earth tones permit bursts of color to illuminate the screen, and overcast bleakness is sure to find its own levity. The Last of Us may stand as a visual feast, yet its audio elements are unapologetically haunting. The contrast between unsettling silence and the chittering of Clickers near or far is chilling enough to spook even the bravest souls.

The Last of Us is a worthy testament to the timeless game series that ensures that yes, the human spirit is unbreakable, even in the face of nature's harshest cruelties. 9/10.

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