The finale of “The Last of Us” sums up everything that the first season of the show did right

Editor’s note: This article contains heavy spoilers for the first season The last of us and minor spoilers for the game The Last of Us Part II.

Last night’s first season finale of HBO The last of us it turned out to be a microcosm of everything that worked in the nine episodes, as well as a reminder of what showrunners Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann will want to work on when they get the hang of season two. Throughout the season, The last of us was extremely faithful to the original story — but Mazin and Druckmann cleverly expanded on the stories of everyone around Joel and Ellie to make the world that much richer. At a perhaps too tight 44 minutes (the shortest episode of the season), the series wrapped up the first part of the story, ending with Ellie’s “Okay,” just like the game.

This word that tells us that Ellie buys into Joel’s lies about what happened between him and the Fireflies, that he’s being honest when he says they stopped looking for a cure, and that her immunity means nothing. Joel is seemingly desperate for his murderous rampage at the Salt Lake City hospital to save Ellie from having her brain dissected by the Fireflies. Of course, Ellie as a cure for the Cordyceps infection was the whole point of their trip — but not the point for Joel. And the look on Ellie’s face throughout the episode’s coda tells us she’s not convinced, despite what she says before everything fades to black.

Really, there was no other place he could stop. Throughout the season, Mazin and Druckmann made many deviations from the main story of the game, but things always came back to the most important beats in the relationship between Joel and Ellie. The importance of these events at the Salt Lake City hospital cannot be overstated, as they form the basis for everything that follows in the game The Last of Us Part II. As such, some were expecting to get some hints about how the hospital bloodbath would tie into upcoming events, but the show remained firmly focused on the events of the first game. This is for the best, like Part II it has a long, complicated history of its own. Teasing out a few teases of what’s to come would probably have taken away the immediacy of what happened between Joel and Ellie.

Before Joel’s murderous spree and Ellie’s acceptance of his lies, we’re treated to another flashback that Mazin and Druckmann have masterfully done throughout the season, this one leading up to Ellie’s birth. People who checked the game’s many collectibles were sure to find Ellie’s letter in her backpack from her mother, Anna, who writes to the newborn knowing that her life is about to be cut short.

Liane Hentscher/HBO

The game doesn’t make it clear, but here we see that Anna (played by Ashley Johnson, who plays Elle in the games) is both infected and about to give birth. We also see Firefly leader Marlene vowing to keep Ellie safe before ending her friend’s life. (Also, we now know that Anna gave Ellie her trademark, which I’ve always believed but wasn’t clear about in the game.) Given how important Marlene’s presence is in this episode, it was a good time to see her beginning of her relationship with Elli. And, as with every other supporting actress on the show, Johnson crushes her limited screen time – it’s much more than an Easter egg for fans of the game. The glimpses of lives beyond Joel and Ellie we’ve seen throughout the season have made the world The last of us they feel much richer, whether they get an entire episode (like Bill and Frank in “Long, Long Time” or Riley in “Left Behind”) or just a few minutes.

My only complaint about this flashback is that Johnson’s story eats up the precious little time we have left for Pedro Pascal and Bela Ramsay to share the screen together. Throughout the season, the two actors had great chemistry – but in episodes seven and eight, the story dictates that they spend very little time together. The finale shares some of the strongest moments of the entire season, but there are so many plot points to get to that I wanted even just five extra minutes to let things breathe a little. But moments like the famous giraffe scene and Joel telling Ellie how he really got that scar on his head were just a few more emotional high points between the two characters (and actors) in a season full of them.

With the first season (and adaptation of the first game) now behind us, I can’t help but wonder how Mazin, Druckmann and the rest of their team will begin to adapt The Last of Us Part II. While the first game told a fairly linear story, Part II it’s full of twists, flashbacks and shifts in perspective – without going too far into spoilers, the game devotes a third or more of its 24-hour playtime to an entirely new set of characters. It’s an essential part of the story, but it should also be a significant challenge for the cast to incorporate it and maintain the emotional impact of the story without leaving familiar characters behind for hours at a time.

Fortunately, Mazin showed off his narrative chops in the first season, deftly developing a number of flashbacks — some new to the story and some straight from the game. As for the divergent storylines, I’d have to imagine there will be a lot more interconnection between them than in the game. A good example is what director Peter Jackson did The Two Towers and Return of the King. Both original books split time into two ongoing stories, and you stick with one set of characters for half the book before meeting another group in the second half. Instead of leaving Frodo and Sam for large chunks of screen time, he interrupted the stories as they progressed.

If Mazin does something similar, you’ll need to rethink how you make the game’s dramatic moments land, but that comes with the showrunner’s territory. Whether or not he can pull it off will be crucial for future seasons The last of us – the acting, set design, effects and everything else should still be top notch, but it won’t matter if the storytelling doesn’t hold up. Of course, a vocal subset of those who played Part II were strongly negative about the game’s story, so it’s likely we’ll see future seasons be much more divisive than the first.

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