The Last of Us | Episode 1 recap: When You’re Lost In The Darkness

Episode 1 of The Last of Us introduces us to our key players, Joel and Ellie as well as the infection-ravaged United States. 

the last of us episode 1

The wait is finally over. Join us every week as we dissect every episode of the long-awaited adaptation of The Last of Us, starring Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey. 

Episode 1 introduces us to our key players, Joel and Ellie, as well as the infection-ravaged United States. 

Spoiler alert: These reviews will include spoilers for each episode, so if you’d rather go in cold, we recommend you return to this review after watching the latest episode. 

The very first episode of The Last of Us, HBO’s much-anticipated adaptation of Naughty Dog’s award-winning video game, begins in 1968. We already knew they changed the timeline from the original game, but this seems extreme. 

The first scene includes John Hannah’s Dr. Newman explaining the dangers of certain fungi and what they mean to humanity’s survival. The host presses on, what happens to us if that does indeed happen. 

“We lose.”

the last of us sarah joel

Credit: HBO

It’s a bleak beginning and it’s only going to get worse from here. The familiar tunes of Gustavo Santaolalla’s score take us through the opening credits and it’s enough to raise the hairs on my arms. It feels so good to be back, immersed into the world of The Last of Us. But the question remains: can a TV show ever do justice for such a morally murky, engaging game? Over the next nine weeks, I guess we’ll find out. 

We then meet Joel (Pedro Pascal), still young and spry with dark hair and a nary line on his face. It’s now 2003 and life is still normal for everyone. Joel’s daughter Sarah makes him a very special birthday breakfast (shell-laced scrambled eggs) and the two joke and bicker lovingly throughout their morning routine. They’re still blissfully unaware of what’s about to happen, which makes it so much worse because we, the audience, already know what’s coming.

Sarah visits their neighbours after school and while she’s browsing the DVD collection, the old lady in the wheelchair, out of focus, begins to squirm and twitch. It’s starting. 

Sarah later wakes up in the middle of the night at home and all hell is breaking loose. Their neighbours, as we know, are infected and attacking each other, hungry for blood and guts. 

the last of us ep 1 marlene

Credit: HBO

Sarah, Joel, and his brother Tommy get in a car to escape, but their journey is cut short and the unthinkable happens. A soldier, aiming for Joel, shoots Sarah and she dies as Tommy shoots the soldier. Joel is devastated and traumatised. 

We then move through time again and learn exactly what life looks like in the infection-ravaged United States in 2023. As they now know, a mutated Cordyceps fungus has infected the majority of humans who have turned into mindless, violent, zombie-like creatures. 

FEDRA, or The Federal Disaster Response Agency, has set up Quarantine Zones but life is bleak and depressing in those. Food is scarce and bland and jobs are menial. This isn’t life, but is what survival looks like in 2023. 

We meet Joel as he throws bodies into a fire, among them a young child. We also meet Ellie, who Marlene, the leader of the anarchist group Fireflies, has chained in a bare room. Marlene needs Ellie transported to another group of Fireflies and it just so happens that Joel and his smuggling partner Tess (Anna Torv) need Marlene’s help in getting a car battery, in order to get the hell out of the Quarantine Zone – so they agree to take Ellie. 

the last of us joel tess

Credit: HBO

This sets Tess, Joel and Ellie on their journey across the country. Showrunners Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann do an exemplary job at adapting the gnarly, visceral world of The Last of Us to TV. The first episode sets up a lot of things, most notably Joel’s emotional arc.

The Last of Us, based on the first episode alone, is a treat for both the fans of the game as well as complete newcomers to the story. The show features a lot of lines lifted directly from the game, but through small changes, Mazin and Druckmann make The Last of Us stand on its own two feet as a TV adaptation. After all, TV and video games are two completely different mediums; what works in one, might not in the other. 

The timeline has been changed so the action takes place in 2023. That and our very recent experience with a world-crippling pandemic lends a lot of authenticity to The Last Of Us. The show’s emotional core stays the same and the first episode proves that it’s not an easy watch regardless of whether you’ve played the game. 

Sarah’s death is still just as devastating as it was on my first play-through of the game. Pascal’s Joel feels distinctively different from Troy Baker’s original performance, but I found myself fully believing Pascal’s version of the character. Ramsey’s Ellie is even more spirited and spikier in this. We don’t get a lot of her quite just yet, but I’m sure there will be plenty of opportunities for Ramsey to bring a lot of nuance to this wonderfully complex character. 

That’s it for this week, join us again next Monday for recap of Episode 2 of The Last of Us. Next week, Joel, Tess and Ellie continue their perilous journey and face their first infected. 

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