The Last of Us is an American post-apocalyptic drama television series created by Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann for HBO. Based on the 2013 video game developed by Naughty Dog, the series is set twenty years into a pandemic caused by a mass fungal infection, which causes its hosts to transform into zombie-like creatures and collapses society. The series follows Joel (Pedro Pascal), a smuggler tasked with escorting the immune teenager Ellie (Bella Ramsey) across a post-apocalyptic United States.
Guest stars include Nico Parker as Joel's daughter Sarah, Merle Dandridge as resistance leader Marlene, Anna Torv as Joel's partner Tess, Gabriel Luna as Joel's brother Tommy, Lamar Johnson and Keivonn Montreal Woodard as brothers Henry and Sam, and Melanie Lynskey and Jeffrey Pierce as resistance leader Kathleen and her second-in-command Perry.
The first season of The Last of Us was filmed in Alberta from July 2021 to June 2022, while the second season is set to begin filming in British Columbia in 2024. It is the first HBO series based on a video game, and is a joint production by Sony Pictures Television, PlayStation Productions, Naughty Dog, the Mighty Mint, and Word Games. Druckmann, who wrote and co-directed the original game, assisted Mazin with scriptwriting for the nine episodes of the first season. The score was composed by Gustavo Santaolalla, who composed for the game, and David Fleming.
The Last of Us premiered on January 15, 2023. It received acclaim from critics, who praised the performances, writing, production design, and score; several called it the best adaptation of a video game. It was nominated for several awards, including 24 Primetime Emmy Awards. Across linear channels and HBO Max, the series premiere was watched by 4.7 million viewers on the first day—the second-biggest for HBO since 2010—and almost 40 million within two months; by May, the series averaged almost 32 million viewers per episode. In January 2023, it was renewed for a second season.
A film adaptation of Naughty Dog's 2013 video game The Last of Us was announced in March 2014, to be written by the game's writer and creative director Neil Druckmann; it had entered development hell by 2016, and the partnership ended and rights relinquished by 2019. Due to the extensive development of a film based on Uncharted, another game series by Naughty Dog, Druckmann ensured specific plot points were included when negotiating a deal with film and television studios; he felt more closely connected to The Last of Us's creation and development than Uncharted's and always wanted to be involved in its adaptation in some manner.
In 2018, writer and director Craig Mazin was approached by PlayStation Productions with a list of video games for potential television adaptation; he was disappointed to discover The Last of Us was being adapted into a film at the time as he felt television was a better fit. A fan of the video game, having played it about twelve times, Mazin was introduced to Druckmann through Shannon Woodward, a mutual friend, in 2019. Druckmann, a fan of Mazin's series Chernobyl, agreed that The Last of Us required the length and pacing of a television series. They pitched the series to HBO about a week after meeting. HBO chairman and chief content officer Casey Bloys and head of drama programming Francesca Orsi were unfamiliar with the game but trusted Mazin due to his work on Chernobyl and his investment in the story and world.
In March 2020, a television adaptation was announced in the planning stages at HBO, expected to cover events of the first game. Mazin and Druckmann were named to write and executive produce the series, while television producer Carolyn Strauss and Naughty Dog president Evan Wells were named executive producers, and Gustavo Santaolalla, who worked on the games, the show's composer. The show was announced as a joint production of Sony Pictures Television, PlayStation Productions, and Naughty Dog; it is the first show produced by PlayStation Productions. It is produced under the company name Bear and Pear Productions. Johan Renck, Mazin's collaborator on Chernobyl, was announced as executive producer and director of the series premiere in June 2020; he dropped out by November due to scheduling conflicts as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. HBO greenlit the series on November 20. PlayStation Productions's Asad Qizilbash and Carter Swan were named executive producers, and Word Games a production company.
In January 2021, the Mighty Mint joined production, and Kantemir Balagov was announced as the pilot episode's director. He had been interested in adapting the game for years and was set to direct several opening episodes; in October 2022, Balagov said he left the project a year prior due to creative differences. Rose Lam was added as executive producer in February 2021. Pre-production in Calgary, Alberta, began on March 15; Mazin arrived in May. Ali Abbasi and Jasmila Žbanić were announced as directors in April. In July 2021, the Directors Guild of Canada (DGC) revealed Peter Hoar was assigned to direct, followed in August by Mazin, in September by Druckmann, and in January 2022 by Liza Johnson and Jeremy Webb. In February, Druckmann confirmed he directed an episode and felt his experience reinforced and reflected his experience in directing games. After several months traveling between Calgary and Los Angeles, Druckmann struggled to fulfil obligations at Naughty Dog and returned home to advise remotely, feeling confident in Mazin. The season's original ten-episode count was reduced to nine during production; the first two were combined after Bloys felt the first would not compel viewers to return.
The Last of Us is believed to be the largest television production in Canadian history, expected to generate over CA$200 million in revenue for Alberta. Sources suggested the budget was between US$10 million and US$15 million per episode for the first season; The New Yorker claimed the series budget exceeded each of the first five seasons of Game of Thrones. The budget is set to increase for the second season. Canadian artists union IATSE 212 claimed the production led to a 30 percent increase in union membership and employment. The first season covers the events of the first game and its downloadable expansion The Last of Us: Left Behind (2014); Druckmann and Mazin suggested a second season would immediately cover the sequel, The Last of Us Part II (2020), to avoid filler; Part II is expected to span multiple seasons, and Mazin does not want the series to overtake the games. The writers ensured characters remained true to their developments in Part II in case the show received more seasons. On January 27, 2023, less than two weeks after the premiere, HBO renewed the series for a second season. Mazin confirmed plans for a third season if the second is successful, and said the series could run for four or five in total, expecting each to have different episode counts. He is not opposed to spin-off material "in principle" but suggested he would not work on any himself.
Casting took place virtually through Zoom due to the pandemic. Casting director Victoria Thomas wanted to honor the game without being limited by it. On February 10, 2021, Pascal and Ramsey were cast as Joel and Ellie. Mahershala Ali was reportedly considered for Joel, and Mazin spoke with Matthew McConaughey for the role. Candidates considered for Ellie for the canceled film adaptation—such as Maisie Williams and Kaitlyn Dever—had aged out of consideration by the time the series was in production. The producers sought actors who could embody Joel and Ellie individually and imitate their relationship.: 14:42 Though both were featured on HBO's Game of Thrones, Pascal and Ramsey had not met before the filming of The Last of Us began but found they had instant chemistry, which developed over production.
Mazin and Thomas sought high-profile guest stars; Thomas said many of the actors "don't usually do one-episode guest spots". Luna's casting as Tommy was announced on April 15, 2021, and Dandridge was confirmed to reprise her role of Marlene from the video games on May 27. In May, Classic Casting circulated a casting call for extras from Calgary, Fort Macleod, High River, and Lethbridge; anyone over 18 could apply, and those with vehicles from 1995 to 2003 were recommended. It was announced Parker was cast as Sarah on June 30. Pierce, Bartlett, and O'Neill's casting as Perry, Frank, and Bill was announced on July 15, followed by Torv's as Tess on July 22. On December 7, Bartlett claimed Offerman would appear on the show in a role close to his; two days later, Offerman was announced to be playing Bill, replacing O'Neill who was forced to drop out due to scheduling conflicts. On December 9, Žbanić revealed the casting of Greene, Miles, and Wesley.
Reid's casting as Riley was announced on January 14, 2022. In February, Mazin distributed a casting call for a boy aged 8–14 who is deaf, black, and proficient in American Sign Language or Black American Sign Language; Deaf West Theatre confirmed this was for the character of Sam, to appear in two episodes filmed in March and April. In June, Druckmann announced Baker and Ashley Johnson would star in the series; their character names were revealed in December. Lamar Johnson and Woodard's casting as Henry and Sam was announced in August, alongside the official announcement of Greene and Miles as Marlon and Florence. Lynskey's casting as Kathleen was announced alongside the teaser trailer in September, while Shepherd's casting was revealed in the first trailer in December. Wesley's role as Maria was announced on January 9.
According to Variety, casting for the second season was put on hold in May 2023 due to the Writers Guild of America strike; actors had been auditioning with scenes from The Last of Us Part II due to an absence of scripts. The production team wanted to start the second season's casting with Abby; Mazin suggested and the Los Angeles Times reported the role had been cast before the strike. According to journalist Jeff Sneider, Dever was in talks to play Abby in November, following the response to her performance in No One Will Save You (2023).
A post-apocalyptic drama and thriller, the series was written by Mazin and Druckmann; Mazin wrote all episodes except the premiere and finale, which he co-wrote with Druckmann, and the seventh episode, written by Druckmann. Druckmann was convinced Mazin was the ideal creative partner for the series after witnessing his passion for the game's story; Druckmann referred to Mazin as the story's "co-parent". Mazin said the series may represent a paradigm shift for film and television adaptations of video games due to the strength of the narrative, noting "it would only take [HBO executives] 20 minutes on Google to realize The Last of Us is the Lawrence of Arabia of video game narratives". The writers avoided making "a zombie show", acknowledging the infected creatures were a vessel through which characters are pressured to make interesting decisions and reveal their true selves. While Druckmann was not able to "unplug" from the characters during the games' development due to the medium's immersive nature, he felt he was able to do so when writing for television.
Druckmann felt the most important element of adapting the game was to "keep the soul", particularly character relationships, whereas gameplay and action sequences were of minimal importance. Mazin said the changes were "designed to fill things out and expand". Content cut from the game was added to the show, including the story of Ellie's mother, Anna, which Mazin found "gorgeous" and demanded its inclusion.: 3:39 Druckmann said some scripts borrow dialogue directly from the game, while others deviate; some of the game's action-heavy sequences were changed to focus on character drama at the encouragement of HBO. He said the series took the opposite approach to adaptation than Uncharted (2022), which tells a new story with moments from the games to give "an Uncharted flavor", whereas The Last of Us is a closer adaptation, allowing alterations such as changing character perspectives in a manner unachievable in an immersive game. The writers found the series an opportunity to delve into backstories of characters who the game otherwise ignored, wanting to better understand their motivations. Mazin compared the process to adapting a novel, with identical emotional beats despite different narrative events.
Druckmann was open to changing aspects of the games but wanted a strong reason, ensuring he and Mazin considered impacts on later narrative events. The game's outbreak takes place in 2013 with its post-apocalyptic narrative in 2033; this was changed to 2003 and 2023 as the writers felt the events taking place simultaneously with broadcast was more interesting and did not fundamentally change the story. They added the outbreak's origins to ground the narrative; following COVID-19, they recognized audiences are more knowledgeable about viral pandemics. Borrowing an approach from Chernobyl, Mazin opened the series with a fictional 1960s talk show explaining the origins of a fungal infection, implying humanity knew of the potential risk for some time. The writers removed spores—the vector through which infection is spread in the games—and replaced it with tendrils forming a unified network, inspired by the idea of mycelium. They felt spores were not a realistic threat while an interconnected network increased tension, and gas masks did not translate well into television. Visually, the fungal infection was inspired by jellyfish stings after Žbanić sent an image to Mazin during preproduction.
A writers' room for the second season was established in Los Angeles by February 2023, with Mazin and Druckmann joined by Halley Gross, who co-wrote Part II with Druckmann, and Bo Shim, a new writer. Scripts were being written by April, with a full season outline mapped, but writing was impacted by the writers' strike in May; Mazin had only written and submitted the first episode about 90 minutes before the strike began, and neither he nor Druckmann worked on the series while the strike was ongoing. Instead, Mazin would mentally outline scenes while taking walks, described as "brain-writing", as he planned to quickly complete scripts after the strike to ensure a smooth production schedule.
Calgary film officials felt Alberta was chosen for production partly due to the removal of the tax credit cap of CA$10 million per project. Supervising location manager Jason Nolan began preparation work in January 2021, leading a 115-person team that found and transformed more than 180 locations. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, cast and crew quarantined for two weeks after entering Canada. Ksenia Sereda worked as cinematographer alongside Balagov, Mazin, Druckmann, and Johnson, Eben Bolter with Hoar and Webb, Christine A. Maier with Žbanić, and Nadim Carlsen with Abbasi. Sereda used an Alexa Mini with Cooke Optics S4 lenses; Bolter used the same as he felt it was effective for handheld shots while emulating 35 mm film. The series filmed for 200 days, with around 18–19 days per episode, amounting to 2–3 pages of script per day.
Filming began in Calgary, Alberta, on July 12, a week later than originally scheduled. It moved to High River and Fort Macleod throughout the month—replicating Austin, Texas, for the first episode—before moving to Calgary in August. Balagov's work completed production by August 30, and Hoar's on October 5. Around CA$372,000 was spent for a four-day shoot in Downtown Edmonton in October, including at Rice Howard Way and the Alberta Legislature Building. Filming took place in downtown Calgary and Beltline later in October. Druckmann's episode was completed by November 7. In November, production occurred in Canmore, Alberta, replicating Jackson, Wyoming, and at Mount Royal University and the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. Žbanić's episode completed production by December 9.
In January 2022, Northland Village Mall in northwest Calgary was decorated for production. Filming took place in Okotoks and Waterton Lakes National Park in February, and Airport Trail in northeast Calgary saw closures for three days in March. Webb's episodes entered production in March 2022 and continued until the end of principal photography in June. Calgary was used to replicate Kansas City, Missouri in March. Production continued in Calgary in April and May, including around the Calgary Courts Centre, Kensington, and Victoria Park. Reshoots for Texas scenes took place in Olds in late May and early June, and High River in June. Production concluded in the early hours of June 11, two days later than originally scheduled; Additional photography took place in Kansas City on October 4.
Filming for the second season is set to take place in British Columbia, including Vancouver. Delayed by the writers' and actors' strikes, production is planned to begin on February 12, 2024. According to the DGC and UBCP/ACTRA, production is set to end on September 9, running under the codename "Mega Sword".
Santaolalla and David Fleming composed the score for the television series; the former wrote its opening theme. He said Latino viewers "will recognize touches" of his music, and drew on his experiences in film and television, having composed the themes and some tracks for Jane the Virgin (2014–2019) and Making a Murderer (2015–2018). He primarily recrafted his previous work instead of creating new music, focusing on elements he found interesting. Fleming's work was inspired by real-world sounds within a decayed civilization. A 66-track soundtrack album for the series was released digitally on February 27.
The first episode uses songs like "Tomorrow" by Avril Lavigne and "White Flag" by Dido to foreshadow Sarah's fate and Joel's character arc. Its final scene and credits feature the song "Never Let Me Down Again" by Depeche Mode, which Mazin chose due to its blend of upbeat sounds and dark lyrics;: 40:25 the song returned in the sixth episode, performed by Mazin's daughter Jessica, to demonstrate Ellie feeling let down by Joel. The third episode uses "Long, Long Time" by Linda Ronstadt, which exhibits themes of unfulfilled love and how time heals wounds, echoing Bill and Frank's relationship. Streams of the song increased significantly following the episode's broadcast; several outlets compared it to the 2022 resurgence of Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill" after its use in the fourth season of Stranger Things.
The fourth episode's title references the lyrics of "Alone and Forsaken" by Hank Williams, which is used in the episode;: 1:01 it was previously used in the original game and one of its trailers, and a trailer for the television series. The seventh episode features "All or None" by Pearl Jam to represent Ellie's loneliness and uncomfortability,: 7:28 reuses Etta James's version of "I Got You Babe" from The Last of Us: Left Behind as its romantic lyrics hidden by joyous music mirrored the feelings of Ellie and Riley,: 56:28 and uses A-ha's "Take On Me" to reflect their feelings towards each other and illustrate Ellie's journey; a cover version of "Take On Me" was used in a trailer for the series, and Ellie performs the song in The Last of Us Part II.
The production team included five art directors and hundreds of technicians. The game's art director, concept artists, and environment artists provided feedback on costumes and sets. Costume designer Cynthia Ann Summers found the series more difficult than outfit-focused media like fantasy or period pieces as the costumes had to be integral to the story without standing out. She ensured Joel's outfits demonstrated a lack of consideration, as he would place little thought into his appearance; Mazin demanded specific colours. Summers required around 30 duplicates of each outfit to account for elements like blood and dirt progression, stunt doubles, and reserves. The breakdown department, responsible for disfiguring outfits as required by the story, was led by Sage Lovett. At the request of Mazin, Summers and her team focused on minor details relevant to an apocalyptic setting, like shoelaces replacing belts. Pascal and Ramsey were happy to wear regular outfits as they had both worked on science-fiction and period pieces.
Production designer John Paino referenced the video game but focused on references used by Naughty Dog during development. He created an image collage which included a photograph of reassembled chairs, which Mazin considered the show's mandate: "the built world is unbuilt and rebuilt". Paino found several Canadian towns had similarities to American architecture, particularly Texas. He was unable to locate empty and abandoned buildings or location imitating Boston's brick-lined streets for the first two episodes, requiring manual transformation and constructions. Paino and his team constructed the Boston quarantine zone near Stampede Park over several months for the first episode, the town of Lincoln in around six to twelve weeks for the third, and the Kansas City cul-de-sac in nine weeks for the fifth.
Barrie and Sarah Gower, with whom Mazin had worked on Chernobyl, were engaged to create the prosthetics for the infected.: 0:31 Barrie Gower appreciated the series avoided "stereotypical zombies—the pronounced cheekbones, sunken eyes, lots of blood and gore". The production team created a large reference library for "fuzz, slime mold, shelf mushrooms, button mushrooms, different textures and colors". Mazin wanted the clickers to resemble the in-game design through prosthetics; he felt using visual effects would have lessened their impact.: 18:24 Their team found themselves continually referring to the original concept art from the game.: 0:44 For the approximately 70 actors portraying the infected mob in the fifth episode, 70 artists applied prosthetics to about 30 people in each three-hour shift. The 40 kilograms (88 lb) bloater suit was coated in a gel-like liquid during filming to appear wet and reflective. Paul Becker and Terry Notary choreographed the series. Notary wanted the creatures' movements to imitate each other, akin to schools of fish; for the fifth episode, he set up a boot camp to prepare the actors for the role.: 3:44 Misty Lee and Phillip Kovats, who had worked on the games, returned to voice the clickers for the series.
The series was edited by Timothy A. Good and Emily Mendez; Mark Hartzell edited the second episode, and Cindy Mollo edited the eighth. After Mazin worked on Chernobyl, Good expressed interest in collaborating; the two had been friends for some time. A different editor was employed for The Last of Us but departed due to scheduling conflicts; Good joined the series after finishing work on the third season of The Umbrella Academy.: 18:17 Mendez worked on the third episode as Good's assistant editor; he showed her work to Mazin, and they agreed for Mendez to co-edit the seventh episode as it adapted Left Behind, her favorite part of the games. She continued as Good's co-editor for the fifth, sixth, and ninth episodes.: 27:35 Good chose not to play the game and let the dailies instruct his emotional instincts; Mendez and Mazin gave him details when necessary.: 34:01 Mendez was tasked with the temporary sound design, using her own library and sound effects from the game.: 49:19 Good used Santaolalla's soundtrack from the game as the temp score during editing and found it influenced his decisions.: 50:59
Sixteen visual effects teams worked on the series, supervised by Alex Wang. The season had over 3,000 visual effects shots; most episodes had around 250. The 650-person team at DNEG worked on 535 shots for the series over 18 months, primarily focusing on environmental effects, including the scenes set in Boston, Kansas City, Jackson, and Salt Lake City; field trips were conducted to gather resources, and the team regularly referenced the video games. The visual effects teams consulted with Naughty Dog's concept artists when creating the infected, and used timelapse videos of Cordyceps growth as animation references. All studios worked on the fifth episode's action sequence; the episode had around 350 to 400 visual effects shots. Wētā FX created the infected effects;: 41:05 50 to 70 creatures were digitally added to the horde. Design studio Elastic created the show's title sequence to demonstrate the "unrelenting nature" of the fungus; creative directors Andy Hall and Nadia Tzuo researched fungi to ensure an accurate depiction and movement. They pitched several ideas to Mazin and Druckmann before settling on the realistic depiction; Mazin enjoyed the idea of the fungus appearing beautiful despite its destructive nature.: 0:40
While the series was originally indicated to begin airing in 2022, Bloys denied this in February 2022 and clarified it would begin in 2023, which was confirmed in the first teaser trailer. Following leaks from Sky and HBO Max, on November 2, 2022, HBO announced the series would premiere in the United States on January 15, 2023, and released the first official poster. The first season was broadcast on HBO in the United States, and is available to stream in 4K resolution on HBO Max; it was released on Binge in Australia, Crave in Canada, HBO Go and Now TV in Hong Kong, Disney+ Hotstar in India, U-NEXT in Japan, Neon in New Zealand, HBO Go in Southeast Asia and Taiwan, and Sky Group channels and Now in Germany and Austria, Italy, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom and Ireland.
The first episode received its red carpet world premiere in Westwood, Los Angeles, on January 9, followed by theater screenings in Budapest and Sydney on January 11, and New York City on January 12. Behind-the-scenes videos, titled Inside the Episode, were released on HBO Max and YouTube following each episode, and Naughty Dog released Building The Last of Us, featuring interviews with the cast and crew of the series and games. The first season was released digitally and on DVD, Blu-ray, and Ultra HD Blu-ray in the United Kingdom on July 17, and in the United States on July 18; a SteelBook version is set to be available in the United Kingdom. The release contains behind-the-scenes featurettes including a short film about adapting the game, a conversation with microbiology and parasitology experts, and the Inside the Episode series.
According to Orsi, HBO had been "looking at" airing the second season in 2025, but noted it may be delayed by the strikes.
The Last of Us's marketing campaign utilised "breadcrumb content": small teases to maintain engagement. Emily Giannusa, HBO vice president of marketing, planned promotional material featuring game comparisons and endorsements from Naughty Dog to prove faithfulness to the source, but discovered it was unnecessary as fans created it themselves. The marketing team conducted social listening from 2020 to identify non-gaming influencers interested in the series, leading to partnerships with celebrities like actress Felicia Day and rapper Logic; custom merchandise was sent to fans and influencers who expressed excitement about the series. Based on their experience on Game of Thrones and with its fandom, Giannusa focused promotion around the audience, noting "authentic marketing" requires flexibility based on reactions. Druckmann assisted with endorsing social and pre-release content, and Mazin worked directly with the marketing team, including creative director Badger Denehy, who edited several trailers.
For The Last of Us Day on September 26, 2021, HBO shared the first image of Pascal and Ramsey in costume, followed by the first still frame at Summer Game Fest on June 10, 2022. The first footage of the show was revealed in a HBO Max trailer during the premiere of House of the Dragon on August 21, featuring Pascal, Ramsey, Parker, and Offerman. The first teaser trailer for the show was released for The Last of Us Day on September 26, 2022, featuring the first footage of Luna, Dandridge, Torv, and Reid, and confirming Lynskey's casting; the teaser, which used Hank William's "Alone and Forsaken", received over 17 million views in less than 24 hours across Twitter and YouTube, and over 57 million organic views in its first 72 hours, the most-watched promotional video in HBO's history, outperforming House of the Dragon by 50 percent. A short clip of Joel and Ellie hiding from a clicker was released on November 16 to tease the show's appearance at CCXP the following month. Eleven character posters were released on November 30.
Dandridge, Druckmann, Luna, Mazin, Pascal, and Ramsey appeared on a panel at CCXP on December 3, where the first full trailer was released, revealing the appearances of Shepherd, Baker, and Ashley Johnson; according to Giannusa, this marked the promotional campaign "kicking into high gear" as the series drew discussion from audiences unfamiliar with the games. Giannusa's team noticed broader audiences were drawn towards cast portraying unusual characters, leading to focus on actors like Offerman and Pascal in subsequent marketing. HBO Latin America recreated an overgrown version of the fictional Boston Museum at the Warner Bros. Discovery booth on the CCXP convention floor, featuring clickers and other Easter eggs. This inspired similar installations for the premiere events in London, Los Angeles, and New York, which used 3D scans of infected provided by Barrie Gower. HBO and advertising agency Giant Spoon recreated items from 2003 at the Angelika Film Center in Manhattan for the premiere in January 2023, attended by 1,500 people over seven screenings; attendees were given wearable Firefly pendants.
Pascal, Ramsey, Baker, and Ashley Johnson presented at The Game Awards 2022 on December 8. HBO announced Baker would host a companion podcast alongside the series, featuring Mazin and Druckmann. In January 2023, Pascal and Ramsey were featured on the cover of The Hollywood Reporter, while Pascal was on the cover of Wired. HBO released the first behind-the-scenes featurette on January 6, and several press outlets published interviews with cast and crew based on roundtable discussions from the previous month. Ramsey appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live! alongside a clip from the series on January 9, and on The Late Late Show with James Corden on January 10. A season trailer was released after the airing of the first episode on January 15. The decision to develop The Last of Us Part I—a remake of the original game—was partly based on the potential to introduce show viewers to the games; it was released for PlayStation 5 in September 2022, and for Windows in March 2023. A two-hour trial was made available for PlayStation Plus Premium members after the season premiere.
HBO utilised virtual marketing for the series, including a lens on Snapchat adding post-apocalyptic overgrowth to worldwide landmarks, such as Grauman's Chinese Theatre and the Storting building. Google released an Easter egg in late January, adding mushrooms to the screen when searching for The Last of Us or Cordyceps. On January 27, the first episode was released for free on HBO Max in the United States, and on Sky's YouTube channel in the United Kingdom. To promote the third episode, Bartlett appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on January 30, and Offerman on Jimmy Kimmel Live! on February 1. Pascal appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on February 2, and hosted Saturday Night Live on February 4; a viral skit from the latter featured Pascal portraying Mario in a "prestige drama" based on the Mario Kart series inspired by HBO's The Last of Us. Pascal appeared on Late Night with Seth Meyers on February 15, The Graham Norton Show on February 24, and Hot Ones on March 9; the release of The Last of Us overlapped the promotion and release of The Mandalorian's third season. A 31-minute special chronicling the production of the series aired on HBO after the finale on March 12. Ramsey appeared on The Jonathan Ross Show on March 18.
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, The Last of Us has an approval rating of 96% based on 478 reviews, with an average rating of 8.75 out of 10. The website's general consensus reads, "Retaining the most addictive aspects of its beloved source material while digging deeper into the story, The Last of Us is bingeworthy TV that ranks among the all-time greatest video game adaptations." Metacritic calculated an average of 84 out of 100 based on 43 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim". Several reviewers considered it the best adaptation of a video game, with GameSpot's Mark Delaney saying it "feels like the beginning of a new era" for the genre.
Reviewers praised the differences from the original game's narrative implemented by Mazin and Druckmann, and some believed the scenes lifted directly from the game were among the weakest and led to issues with pacing. Variety's Daniel D'Addario felt the show relied too heavily on action sequences, while TechRadar's Axel Metz wanted more action. IGN's Simon Cardy wrote the series "often shines brightest" during its quietest moments. Critics overwhelmingly considered the third episode the season's best, and some named it among the greatest episodes of television overall. The Hollywood Reporter's Daniel Fienberg felt it elevated the series to a new level, and Empire's John Nugent called it "moving, surprisingly romantic, and one of the finest hours of television in recent memory". Some critics found the first episode well-made but too familiar, and /Film's Valerie Ettenhofer considered it the season's weakest. RogerEbert.com's Brian Tallerico found the final two episodes rushed.
Several critics lauded the production design. Digital Spy's David Opie wrote "every set feels like it was ripped straight out of the game". Conversely, Slant Magazine's Pat Brown felt environments appeared too manicured and carefully placed. Inverse's Dais Johnston praised the use of lighting to highlight the humanity of both the characters and creatures, and called the cinematography "something other video game adaptations could only dream of". TV Guide's Keith Phipps called the series "visually striking", and IGN's Cardy wrote it "is often a sight to behold". Santaolalla's score received praise, with CNET's Sean Keane feeling it added "a yearning of sadness to the narrative".
The cast's performances received widespread acclaim, with critics singling out the chemistry between Pascal and Ramsey for praise. Evening Standard's Vicky Jessop said the two "steal every scene they're in", while Rolling Stone's Alan Sepinwall called them "compulsively watchable and almost instantly endearing". Empire's Nugent and /Film's Ettenhofer referred to Pascal's performance as the best of his career, citing his ability to portray nuance and rare vulnerability. TechRadar's Metz described him as the "perfect real-world manifestation" of Joel. Several critics found Ramsey gave the show's breakout performance for their balance of comedy and emotion, with Time's Judy Berman calling them "the show's greatest asset" and IGN's Cardy applauding them for "making [their] mark" on Ellie, a character already considered iconic long before Ramsey's portrayal. Some critics considered the seventh episode Ramsey's strongest.
Guest performances throughout the season were highly praised. For the premiere, Rolling Stone's Sepinwall lauded Parker for "holding the screen" and establishing Sarah as likeable, and Push Square's Aaron Bayne wrote Luna flawlessly "slips into the role" with little screen time. Den of Geek's Bernard Boo found Torv in the second episode sophisticated and heartbreaking. Offerman and Bartlett's performances were described by Complex's William Goodman as "career-best" and by Inverse's Johnston as Emmy-worthy. Lynskey's performance in the fourth and fifth episodes was praised for juxtaposing humanity and viciousness. For the fifth episode, IGN's Cardy lauded Johnson's emotional performance in his final scene, and Total Film's Bradley Russell felt the naivety of Woodard's role intensified the narrative. Critics enjoyed Pascal and Luna's chemistry in the sixth episode, and Ramsey and Reid's in the seventh; Bleeding Cool's Tom Chang called the latter two "award-worthy", and Push Square's Bayne felt Reid effectively captured Riley's sense of "youthful pride". The A.V. Club's David Cote called Shepherd's performance "masterful in its wry, understated charm".
The premiere episode had 4.7 million viewers in the United States on its first night of availability, including linear viewers and streams on HBO Max, making it the second-largest debut for HBO since 2010, behind House of the Dragon. It was streamed for a total of 223 million minutes in its first three hours. The total viewing figure increased to over 10 million viewers after two days, 18 million after a week, 22 million within twelve days, and almost 40 million within two months. In Latin America, the series premiere was the biggest HBO Max debut ever. The second episode had 5.7 million viewers on its first night, an increase of 22 percent from the previous week, the largest second-week audience growth for an original HBO drama series in the network's history. From January 16 to 22, the series was streamed for 837 million minutes, ranking sixth for the week and outpacing House of the Dragon's first two episodes in the same interval; it maintained its sixth position with 877 million the following week. By January 31, the first two episodes averaged 21.3 million viewers.
The third episode had 6.4 million viewers on its first night, a 12 percent increase. The series was streamed for 1.19 billion minutes from January 30 to February 5, ranking fourth for the week, and 1.1 billion minutes the following week, ranking third. The fourth episode had 7.5 million viewers, a 17 percent weekly increase and 60 percent increase from the first episode. By March 6, the first five episodes averaged almost 30 million viewers across linear viewers and streams; by March 12, the first six averaged 30.4 million, the highest figure for an HBO series since the eighth season of Game of Thrones, surpassing House of the Dragon's ten-episode average. The fifth episode had 11.6 million viewers in its first weekend, while the sixth and seventh had 7.8 and 7.7 million viewers, respectively, on their first nights. The series ranked fourth for streaming with 943 million minutes from February 13 to 19, and third with 1.187 billion minutes from February 20 to 26. It was the second-most streamed series of February with 4.4 billion minutes, behind New Amsterdam.
The final two episodes had 8.1 and 8.2 million viewers on their first nights, a 74 and 75 percent increase from the premiere. It ranked third for streaming with 1.01 billion minutes from February 27 to March 5, fourth with 1.058 billion minutes from March 6 to 12, and sixth with 817 million minutes from March 12 to 19. With over 3 million viewers in the United Kingdom, the ninth episode became Sky's most-viewed finale for an American debut series, topping House of the Dragon's first-season finale. The series broke HBO's subscription video on demand viewer ratings in Europe, and became the most-watched show on HBO Max in Europe and Latin America. By May, the series averaged almost 32 million viewers per episode in the United States.
The video games increased their sales following the premiere. In January, The Last of Us Part I was the eighth-most-downloaded PlayStation 5 game in North America and tenth in Europe; on PlayStation 4, The Last of Us Part II was the seventh-most-downloaded in both regions, while The Last of Us Remastered was thirteenth in North America and fifteenth in Europe. In February, Part I rose to sixth in North America and seventh in Europe, Remastered to ninth and seventh, respectively, in Part II to first in both regions. In the United Kingdom, in the week after the premiere, Remastered sales increased by 337 percent over the previous week and The Last of Us Part I by 305 percent, with both reentering the charts as a result. The following week, Part I saw another 32 percent increase at retail, and Remastered 27 percent. For the month, Part II sales increased 317 percent, and Remastered 285 percent. In the United States, Part I reentered the January charts at 11th, climbing 25 positions from the previous month.
The Last of Us led the 2023 MTV Movie & TV Awards with three wins including Best Show, and was tied for most nominations at the 39th TCA Awards with five, including Program of the Year and Individual Achievement in Drama for Pascal and Ramsey. It has the most nominations at the 1st Hollywood Creative Alliance Creative Arts TV Awards with six, including two (Bartlett and Offerman) for Best Guest Actor in a Drama Series. The series earned the biannual Seal of Authentic Representation from the Ruderman Family Foundation for Woodard's role as Sam.
The Last of Us received five nominations at the 75th Primetime Emmy Awards and nineteen at the Creative Arts Emmy Awards, making it the first live-action video game adaptation to receive major awards consideration. Ramsey, who identifies as non-binary, considered withdrawing due to the lack of non-gendered categories following Liv Hewson's withdrawal for Yellowjackets, but decided to contend for Lead Actress after discussions with Mazin, not wanting limited language to prevent celebrating non-binary performers; Ramsey's is the second non-binary acting nomination and the first for a leading role at time of nomination. Woodard is the second-youngest Emmy nominee, the youngest ever for Guest Actor in a Drama Series, and the first nominated black deaf and second deaf actor, while Pascal is the second Latino nominated for Lead Actor in a Drama Series and the first since 1999.
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