The Last of Us: Episode One - 'When You're Lost in the Darkness' Spoiler Review

Video game adaptations have negative connotations associated with them, but there are a fair number that are entertaining and a large amount that are trash. The Last of Us premiere episode suggests that it might be sitting at the top of the mountain when it comes to video game adaptations. I am curious how audience members that have no knowledge of the game will react to the show (especially the premiere). I have never owned a Playstation, and I have rarely played any Playstation games so I have never played The Last of Us, but I know all about it. I am not sure how I came across the game, but on Youtube I saw someone upload the cinematics from the game. I am not sure why I watched it, but I clicked on the video, and I became enthralled in the first 30 seconds. The opening of the game is a masterpiece; it has to be the best opening cinematic to a game ever. The first episode of the series has all of those same elements with some extra details added so that we get to know our main character of Joel (played by the amazing Pedro Pascal), his daughter Sarah (played by Nico Parker) and Joel's brother Tommy (played by Gabriel Luna). Those opening scenes while short gave the viewers reason to care about Joel and Sarah; which is why what happens is so heartbreaking that it will hook the audiences in. After the opening the show skips forward 20 years, and that is the only critique I had, the time jump felt off because the same actor was supposed to have aged 20 years. I do not blame the show, but I wonder if they looked at a smaller time jump; in the game it is easier to age a character up but in live-action it is a lot harder to do believably. 

I have spoiled the series for myself years ago when I watched of all the cinematics for the first two games in the series, but I am excited to see how the series will tackle the story. The story in present time feels very similar to The Walking Dead, which I do not think is a bad thing at all. The post-apocalyptic world is a genre unto itself now, and I am excited to see more of The Last of Us universe. The opening scene featuring a talk show interview in 1968 was haunting, and the work done by John Hannah was terrifying. I know the science of that 1968 interview was not reality, but it was delivered in such a way that had me question if it might. Having a cast with Pedro Pascal (The Mandalorian), Bella Ramsey (Game of Thrones) and Gabriel Luna (Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D.) was a nice find by the casting group. Pascal, we know has the range to play Joel in a way that honors the game, but also can be deepened. Bella Ramsey had a very noticeable presence on Game of Thrones as the straight-talking Lyanna Mormont, and I think she is the perfect choice to play Ellie. Gabriel Luna was not in the first episode as much as I thought he might be, but I am excited to see more of him in the coming episodes. This is a nine episode first season so there is eight more episodes before I become impatient for a second season.


The episode begins with a talk show episode in 1968 where two scientists talk about the threat to humanity. One of the scientists believes the greatest threat is fungus which due to global warming could adapt to survive in the human body. The fungus would take control of our bodies, and if this happens there is nothing we can do to stop it. The conversation starts out lighthearted, but the host and the audience become increasingly unnerved by the scientist's description of what could happen. We then move forward to 2003, and we see Sarah Miller waking up to a nice-looking morning. Sarah's father works construction with his her uncle, and it is her dad's birthday. Sarah goes to school while her father (Joel) and her uncle (Tommy) head to work. Sarah heads to the city after school to have her father's watch fixed as a birthday present. Joel comes home later than he said he would, but as they are watching a movie Tommy calls Joel saying he is in jail. Tommy needs Joel to come bail him out, and he says that things are crazy. Joel brings Sarah to bed and leaves, but when Sarah awakens hours later Joel is not home. Sarah hears helicopters and bangs in the distance, and when she goes outside she sees the neighbours house door is open. Sarah goes inside to find the couple dead with the grandma being the culprit. The granny chases Sarah who runs outside as Joel and Tommy arrive and Joel hits the granny with a wrench when she attacks. The trio flee trying to get out of the state, but the roads are clogged and there are police and military personnel everywhere. The truck is flipped, and Joel gets separated from Tommy so he needs to carry an injured Sarah through a group of infected. As Joel is about to be caught he is saved by a soldier who is then given orders to kill Joel and Sarah. Joel attempts to flee as the soldier shoots and he falls down a hill, Tommy kills the soldier, but Sarah was hit by a bullet and dies in Joel's arms.

The story moves forward 20 years, and we see the now fortified city of Boston where Joel is living with Tess (played by Anna Torv). Joel is planning on leaving the city to search for Tommy, but their plan to buy a car battery falls apart. Inside the city there are a group of freedom fighters called the Fireflies who are holding a teenage girl (Ellie) prisoner. As Joel and Tess attempt to stop the deal for the battery they come across the post-deal mess of dead Fireflies and the battery dealer. The dealer was selling a bad battery which caused the shootout. The Fireflies are hurting and they ask Joel and Tess to take Ellie out of Boston, and they agree. While Tess looks for a safe way out Joel and Ellie rest at Joel and Tess' place. While there we see Ellie figure out that the music book by the radio is a code book, and Ellie trick Joel into revealing what 80's song means (trouble). On the way out of the city they come across a police officer Joel knows, but the officer still searches them and he gives them the test for infection. Joel and Tess pass, but when he does Ellie she stabs him with a knife. Ellie is threatened by the officer and Joel snaps beating him badly. Tess sees the testing machine noting that Ellie result is positive, Ellie tells them that the infection is three weeks old and that nobody lasts past a day. The trio leave the quarantine zone as the episode ends in the raid in Joel's place comes alive playing Never Let Me Down Again by Depeche Mode signaling trouble.  


The best thing about HBO is that their top level shows often have great pilots, Game of Thrones original pilot has never seen the light of day. The original Game of Throne universe series shot a pilot, but the project was killed to move forward with House of the Dragons. The Last of Us is an example of just how good HBO is when it comes to making quality content. Even though I knew what would happen to Sarah I became attached to her, Joel and Tommy very quickly. We never see Tommy in 2023 (but I'm sure we will), but his reaction to Sarah's death shows just how defining of a moment that was for the brothers. Joel in 2023 appears to have turned himself into someone living day-to-day just trying to survive, and it is implied that Tommy is a Firefly. Even though I watched all of the cut scenes from the first game I do not remember a lot beyond the opening part of the game. Nailing the first episode was crucial because that is something that the game accomplished so expertly. The least interesting role of Pedro Pacsal's career might be The Mandalorian since we rarely see his face, and most of his dialogue is short, stunted and boring. The Last of Us gives Pascal a lot to work with especially in the first episode, even though we never see Sarah's mother there appears to be a sadness to Joel. Pascal in the 2003 setting is able to convey every emotion perfectly, and when Sarah is killed you feel his pain. The 2023 Joel is a different Joel, he is now doing work but he looks empty inside, and it is seems that the pain of Sarah's death is still with him. 

The series was forced to make some decisions that would push the series a little away from being a perfect adaptation. In the game the virus is spread through spores in the air, and everyone needs to wear masks at times to keep themselves free of infection. The show seems to imply the infections is spread from the infected themselves, like Grandma Adler had those tendrils coming out of her mouth. This change bothers me not at all since I don't want Ellie and Joel needing to wear masks all the time, but I could see a way for the game to stay true to the roots at times. I could see a moment where we see spores in the air, and we encounter bloaters who are spewing the spores into the air. The show opened with a talk show scene, and while not in the game it did instill a sense of dread into the show from the start. Sarah was given more screen time, but that was because we needed to care more for her so that when she dies we feel Joel's pain. Those opening scenes with Sarah also flesh out the world, and we get to see signs of the infection everywhere, those little moments also added a tension. When we jump to 2023 we follow a boy walking alone outside of the city, and we follow him inside where the guards test the child for infection. After a positive result they give him a needle and we next see his body being thrown into a firepit. That scene was important to see what a positive test result looks like, but also to show what they do with those who test positive. The additions made to the story were all done with a purpose that justified their inclusion, and I agree that those adjustments made the episode better. 

I am going to give When You're Lost in the Darkness a 9/10, and I think the only thing that keeps it from a 10/10 is that I knew everything that was going to happen. The episode was directed by Craig Mazin who is also the showrunner, and he also co-wrote the episode along with Neil Druckman. Druckman was the creative director and writer on The Last of Us game, and he was also the writer on the first two Uncharted games. Mazin was the showrunner for the Chernobyl limited HBO series, and while I was never able to finish that series (it was too horrific and scary for me) what I saw of it was really good. The title of the episode is really good, but it never occurred to me where they got it from. I had to google it and I realized it was part of the Fireflies slogan "when you're lost in the darkness, look for the light". I forget a lot about the cut scenes from the game so I don't remember much about the Fireflies, so I am curious how important they will be. We did not get to spend too much time with Ellie and Tess (and I can't recall how important Tess is to the story), but I know Ellie will be the co-star going forward. The ending of the episode also gave us a brief and distant glimpse of our first clicker which was on top of one of the broken building outside of the quarantine zone. I am curious if the show will show the four stages of infection (runner, stalker, clicker and bloater/shambler). I would like to have the 20 years time jump be explained, but that might be something we see in small doses over this season and next season. If you liked episode one, and you have never played the game nor watched the cut scenes from the game then I encourage you to stay ignorant until the season is done. I wish I knew nothing about the games going into the show, I think Sarah's death would have hit harder as would the reveal that Ellie is infected. 

Thank you for reading my review of episode one, and please let me know what you're looking forward to seeing in season one. 

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