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Kyle and Andrew sneak through The Last of Us’ by-the-book second episode

Enlarge / I’m sure they’ll both be fine.

New episodes of The Last of Us are premiering on HBO every Sunday night, and Ars’ Kyle Orland (who’s played the games) and Andrew Cunningham (who hasn’t) will be talking about them here every Monday morning. While these recaps don’t delve into every single plot point of the premiere episode, there are obviously heavy spoilers contained within, so go watch the episode first if you want to go in fresh.

Andrew: We talked last week about my concerns that the show would struggle to feel like an “adaptation” as opposed to straightforward apocalypse fiction, and let me just say, without even having played the game, there was a lot that felt “video gamey” to me about this episode. Beyond the zombie encounters, there’s something about a bombed-out shell of a recognizable place—ruined but weirdly beautiful in places where nature has re-asserted itself—that feels specific to video games. Weird to think of a TV show as having “level design,” but that’s what the ruined museum and waterlogged hotel lobby put me in the mind of.
Kyle: Yeah, one reason for that is probably that this episode was direct by Neil Druckmann, who co-wrote and co-directed the games. So it’s not shocking that a lot of moments in this episode play out as pretty direct re-creations of the games’ first encounter with the clickers. I half expected a “mash the square button” prompt to appear on screen at a few points during the action scenes.For the most part I wish the show was a little less faithful and a little more concise here. The fights with the infected end up a lot less interesting as a passive observer, compared to someone controlling the protagonists.
Andrew: Ah, yes, I’m sorry, the “clickers.” I forgot, characters in zombie fiction are not allowed to use the Z-word.Yeah, the fight was well-executed but pretty predictable. The design on the clickers is cool, relative to plain-old Romero-y zombies, but I assume those are lifted mostly straight from the games. Otherwise it did feel a lot like the initial encounter in a video game would—just a couple of monsters in an enclosed space to give you a feel for the flow of combat before it starts throwing more complicated fights at you.

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Anything that did surprise you in this episode, as someone who basically knows where all of this is going?

Enlarge / Time for another combat tutorial.
Kyle: Well, from the start I was kind of surprised we went back to pre-outbreak times for that Indonesia scene. To me that mostly that felt like a lot of wasted time going over stuff we already knew. The whole point of the story is that it doesn’t matter precisely how the infection happened, humanity has to deal with the shitty aftermath regardless.It was a long way to go to set up the fact that bombs are a good solution to a lot of infected at once, which I think becomes relatively self-evident even without that scene.
Andrew: It does also mean that the episode has two instances of people talking about bombs without actually having to go to the expense of showing bombs.I do wonder if going back to “Before” or “During” is going to be a regular thing, and that this sort of unremarkable flashback is setting us up for possibly more interesting ones down the line. Agreed that it didn’t feel vitally necessary here, especially because Internet sleuths basically figured everything in that scene out from breadcrumbs dropped in the first episode.

But yes, put me down as “generally uninterested in flashbacks that show us things we could have assumed given already-available information.”

Kyle: Yeah, after playing through dozens of hours in the post-outbreak world of the games, I never found myself thinking “gee I wish we knew more about what caused all this.” But the showrunners seem to feel differently.This is probably unfair because I’ve grown to love Ellie through the games, but… do you love Ellie yet?
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Enlarge / Only the youngest members of the cast can crouch like this for extended periods.
Andrew: I liked her in this episode! Yes, obviously, still a smart-mouth, and I am sure there are people who find her one-note, but you do get some moments of vulnerability and innocence in this episode that I talked about wanting to see more of last week. And as someone born post-apocalypse, she is a handy audience surrogate for explanations about the monsters and the world.All things considered, still just my second-favorite child who is being escorted through a hostile wilderness by Pedro Pascal on an expensive-looking sci-fi show. But there’s a surprising amount of competition in that category.
Kyle: All in all, I think they did a good job setting up Tess’ noble/technically cost-free-at-that-point sacrifice, paving the way for the core Joel/Ellie relationship that was always obviously going to drive the show (even if you haven’t played the games).
Andrew: Yeah, like I said last week (and, I suspect, will continue to say?), it’s all tropey as hell but well-done enough that you mostly don’t care? You knew the moment that Ellie and Tess seemed to be bonding that Tess was not going to make it out of the episode (the fact that there are, uh, fewer than three people in all the promotional material for the show is another giveaway).Even without foreknowledge of the games, you can see the Unlikely Bond between Joel and Ellie coming from a mile away. All the beats of both major monster fights were textbook. Will the monster walk by without noticing them? Will Tess manage to use the flaky lighter? You know the answer to both.
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Enlarge / You can almost hear the f-bombs to come.
Kyle: Yeah, I was fully ready for the last-second lighter drop, but I was not ready for that close-up, open-eyed cordyceps kiss. That image is gonna stick with me just as much as some of the more gruesome “you died in a particularly horrible way” cut scenes in the games.
Andrew: Yeah, you’re right. An excellent example of how the show keeps things just interesting enough that you can forgive the less-surprising elements of it. It also helps that Pascal plays a very watchable TV grump.
Kyle: Not to be all “Final Fantasy gets really good after the first 10 hours,” but I feel like we’re all set for the show to really hit its stride after over two hours of setup.
Andrew: That’s one place where the show’s passivity is a good thing relative to a game: if it’s boring you can keep half an eye on your phone or something and still make progress. Much easier to watch clunky exposition or unnecessary flashbacks than to force yourself to pay attention to hours of sloggy tutorial.
Kyle: This was basically my wife’s experience half-watching me play the first game and looking up for the cut scenes, and I have to say, I can see the appeal.
Andrew: That’s the big twist: This isn’t a show at all! We’re just watching footage of someone’s Twitch stream.
Kyle: We pan back from the series finale, and sitting at the PS5 holding a controller is… Nathan Drake.