One of the more challenging things about adapting a video game is that much of the drama that is written is lost when you apply it to a static medium like film or television. At least they are static when it comes to interactivity. Film is an incredibly dynamic medium, but your reaction to what is happening has little to nothing to do with what you see. Games are different and as such, a lot of the drama is in the doing of the game rather than the watching. That's what makes The Last of Us Different
In the film adaptation of the popular Naughty Dog Studios property, we see some of those elements were strong to begin with. Joel's relationship with his daughter remains the home base for Joel's character and the tension throughout the episode is still there because the tension was always there. The creatures that chase after them are terrifying still and the tension remains tight. But we do feel a bit like there's something another layer down we could have gone. It's still a tight pilot, but the tension present in the game when you are at the wheel of many of the same scenes is just more exciting.
However, there are some standout performances that are well worth noting. Bella Ramsey plays a fantastic role as Ellie. Anna Torv delivers a great performance as the love interest of Joel for much of the pilot, albiet with a little less chaotic sexuality Theresa had in the orginal version of the series. It is Pedor Pascal that delivers a knockout performance, however--one that resonates on a physical level.
There is a dark quality to Pascal that provide more depth than Joel's character has had in the video game. His performance is in many ways the key to the show working. Joel and Ellie's relationship is in many ways a redemption for Joel of past failures, but it is also our window into the complicated character that Pascal brings to life for us. When Ellie challenges Joel the lights come on and he's suddenly alive again, Lazarus from the pit that his past has pushed him into.
The performance of course would be nothing without the gorgeous, unnerving, and haunting hellscape that HBO and Naughty Dog have built for the audience. Even though the future city is slightly abandoned we feel boxed in. We are stuck in this little box, the Quarantine
Zone, and this creates fantastic dramatic tension. The need to get out of that box is one of the driving forces of the pilot, which makes the episodes finale gratifying and then immediately engrossing for us. We see that there is a vast wilderness out there and the family that Joel has created with Tess and Ellie. For reasons each their own, every member of this motley crew needs to get across a fungal zombie consumed wasteland of America. It's the traditional zombie narrative, but it's these three that make the story special.
The show again is not ambitious, but it is tightly wound like a string of a guitar constantly being tuned ever tighter until the eventual snap. The audience keeps watching because the characters doing the dramatic work of getting the audience to care about these people are executing the show's intention at a high level.