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The Last of Us–An Apocalypse?

In a fictional America presented as 2023, not in the future, The Last of Us opens with the country under siege from a pandemic caused by a deadly fungus (cordyceps.)  Based on the insanely popular video game (over 20 million copies sold) by the same name, the screen adaptation takes the viewer into a toxic world with more developed characters and personalities.

Ellie (Bella Ramsey of “Game of Thrones”) is a teenage orphan who is believed to be immune to the fungal disease that has wiped out most of the planet’s population.  Those who survive the fungus turn into monstrous, vampire-like zombies.  But  The Last of Us is no “Walking Dead,” but much more of a tale conveying loss, grief, and particularly, the loss of a child.

Joel, a fifty-something mercenary of amoral character (played by Pedro Pascal of “Game of Thrones”, “Narcos”, and “Mandalorian”) promises his partner that he will deliver Ellie to a laboratory in order to develop the vaccine to save the remaining survivors.  Ellie is the key to saving humanity and is reluctant to cooperate in expected adolescent angst.

Superimposed upon this treacherous journey dodging zombies hiding everywhere is a fascist government not particularly community-spirited but more interested in gleeful, witch-burning attacks on those outside their circle.  

Rescuing  Ellie from  an oppressive military quarantine zone (“QZ”) in Boston, from one traumatic encounter after another in  a moonscape of desolation and destruction crossing the US,  Joel soon develops respect for a fourteen-year-old who heroically saves his life more than once.

In by far the stand-out episode in the series (episode 3: “Long Long Time) a heartrending story rather unrelated to the main plot line of The Last of Us, we see a lonely survivalist  (Nick Offerman) who builds a relatively foolproof fortress to booby-trap outside marauders. When a charming trespasser (Murray Bartlett) meets him, a they become close and indispensable to each other.  Beautifully written and acted, this is the best, almost stand-alone episode in the series.

The relationship building between Joel and Ellie makes The Last of Us worth watching, particularly the father-daughter vibe between the two actors whose chemistry makes this dystopian narrative credible.  While this reviewer has never played the video game, the world created in this Netflix mini-series hooks in the viewer with excellent performances and believable apocalyptic scenes.  The ending, however, was overwrought and overdone and could have ended earlier with more impact.  Another season is planned and the closing scenes are definitely setting up the storyline for Joel and Ellie.

Availability:  HBO Max

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