'The Last of Us': What to Know About the HBO Zombie Series Starring Pedro Pascal
By Stacy Lambe
Adapted from the wildly popular video game franchise of the same name, The Last of Us is the latest project to bring the zombie apocalypse to life onscreen. This time, the HBO series adapted by Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann and starring Pedro Pascal, tells the story of a man hired to smuggle a teenage girl out of an oppressive quarantine zone as the two set out across America on an epic journey of survival.
Here’s everything to know about the anticipated series ahead of its debut on HBO, including the news that video game voice actors Ashley Johnson and Troy Baker have joined as new, onscreen characters and the series released a new image of Pascal and Bella Ramsey.
The Video Games
The action-adventure survival games from Naughty Dog were developed and created by the game’s director, Bruce Straley, and Neil Druckmann, creative director and writer of the franchise. The first installment, The Last of Us, debuted in 2013 to critical acclaim, sold over 1.3 million copies in its first week and won several awards. It was later accompanied by the positively received downloadable expansion pack, The Last of Us: Left Behind.
In 2020, a sequel taking place five years after the events of the first was released. This time, Druckmann co-wrote the story with Halley Gross. The Last of Us Part II sold 4 million copies in its first weekend, becoming the fastest-selling Playstation exclusive, and earned multiple awards and massive acclaim from fans and critics alike.
The HBO Series
According to HBO, the story takes place 25 after modern civilization has been destroyed. Joel, a hardened survivor, is hired to smuggle Ellie, a 14-year-old girl, out of an oppressive quarantine zone. What starts as a small job soon becomes a brutal, heartbreaking journey, as they both must traverse the U.S. and depend on each other for survival.
The adaptation is being led by executive producers Mazin, who created and wrote the HBO limited series Chernobyl and described the franchise as “the Lawrence of Arabia of video game narratives,” and Druckmann. The two developed the series and wrote the first season’s 10 episodes.
Russian filmmaker Kantemir Balagov has been tapped to direct the pilot, while Ali Abbasi, Jasmila Žbanić, Peter Hoar, Mazin and Druckmann are reportedly helming episodes throughout season 1. Most of the filming is set to take place in Calgary, Alberta, with production lasting until 2022.
Additionally, the composer for the video games, Gustavo Santaolalla, will write an original score of the series.
As previously reported, the cast is being led by Pascal, who currently stars on The Mandalorian as the titular lone gunfighter. He’ll play Joel, a survivor tasked with smuggling a girl named Ellie out of a quarantine zone and across the U.S. Ellie, meanwhile, will be played by Bella Ramsey, the breakout star of the final seasons of Game of Thrones. What makes Ellie special is the fact that she is immune to the Cordyceps brain infection, which caused the zombie apocalypse, and could be key to creating a vaccine.
Rounding out the lead cast is Gabriel Luna, who previously appeared in Terminator: Dark Fate and as Ghost Rider on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., as Joel’s younger idealistic brother and former soldier named Tommy. Other key roles have gone to Anna Torv (Mindhunter), Merle Dandridge (Greenleaf, Once on This Island) and Jeffrey Pierce, who provided the voice and motion capture for Tommy in the video games.
Torv will appear as Joel’s smuggling partner, Tess, while Dandrige will play Marlene, the head of a resistance movement trying to break free from military control dubbed the Fireflies. Pierce will play one of the series’ original characters, Perry, who is described as “a rebel in the quarantine zone.”
Also in the cast is The White Lotus star Murray Bartlett as a survivalist named Frank, who lives in an isolated town with Bill, who will be played by Con O’Neill (Chernobyl), along with Thandiwe Newton’s daughter, Nico Parker, as Joel’s preteen daughter, Sarah, and Storm Reid (Euphoria) as Riley Abel, an orphaned girl growing up in post-apocalyptic Boston.
“It’s an incredible cast,” Bartlett told ET about being part of the series. “They’ve put in a lot of love and energy into making the show, you know, do justice to the game. It’s epic.”
He added, “It was super exciting and it’s gonna be a really beautiful show.”
Additionally, Ashley Johnson and Troy Baker, who voiced Ellie and Joel in the video games, have been confirmed to join the series, playing characters different from those they voiced.
Queer Icon Status
While the series has been praised for its gameplay, story and performances, it’s also been celebrated for its queer representation. Since The Last of Us first debuted, the franchise has featured several LGBTQ characters, including Ellie, who is a lesbian.
And when it came to developing the sequel, Druckmann said he wants players to “see the perspective of people that have different identities, different sexual attractions, they come from different countries,” and explore how the characters act when dropped in this world. As a result, when The Last of Us Part II was released, it marked the first time a major game featured a lesbian woman as its protagonist and eventually won the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Video Game.
In addition to Ellie, the franchise features several other LGBTQ characters, including Dina, a bisexual or pansexual who dates Ellie in the sequel; Lev, who is reportedly the first transgender man to appear in a major video game franchise; Riley, a young girl from Ellie’s past; as well as Bill and Frank, two gay men who Joel and Ellie encounter on their journey.
How authentic the representation will be on the HBO series remains to be seen, but Bartlett, who is openly gay, has at least been cast in one of the canonically LGBTQ characters.
On the eighth year of The Last of Us Day aka Joel’s birthday, which is Sept. 26, Pascal and Ramsey shared the first official look at the duo in The Last of Us. “I got you, baby girl,” Pascal captioned the image, while Ramsey wrote, “Day and night, all we do is survive.”
Expected to premiere in 2022, the series will air on HBO, marking the video game adaptation for the premium cable network, and will be available to stream on HBO Max. (We may receive an affiliate commission if you subscribe to a service through our links.)