Why The Last of Us Isn’t Just Another Zombie Show

April 21, 2023

Diehard fans of the video game and newcomers alike were excited about the television adaptation of The Last of Us. Zombies have been popular in the horror genre ever since Night of the Living Dead was released in 1968. Since then, zombie action-thrillers have been a hit with titles like Resident Evil and The Walking Dead developing devoted fan bases. It came as no surprise that people were so excited about The Last of Us. As an avid fan of all things creepy myself, I was thrilled at the idea of new undead content. I watched for the zombies. I stayed for something else entirely. 

Immediately, The Last of Us asserted that it wasn’t just about zombies. The opening 20 minutes of the pilot were a gut-wrenching narrative about love and loss. The audience followed Sarah Miller, a young teenage girl, through her seemingly normal day. We were introduced to her dad, Joel, and her uncle, Tommy. The sequence depicted a loving relationship between Sarah and her dad, making it all the more crushing when he lost Sarah shortly after.

The show then picks up 20 years in the future, and we follow Joel in a post-apocalyptic society as he transports Ellie, a teenage girl who is immune, across the United States. Immediately, Joel seems distant, far different from how he was in the flashback. Ellie, on the other hand, is full of curiosity about a world she’s never seen before. 

As they continue their trek, Joel and Ellie encounter some truly terrifying monsters: the infected. The practical effects used to bring the clickers and bloaters to life were both incredible and horrifying. The showrunners and director had a clear vision for the monsters and used as little CGI as possible. The result was actors in carefully sculpted and designed masks and makeup that brought the video game to life. 

Throughout their journey, Joel does his very best to protect Ellie, and Ellie, in turn, protects him. More importantly than that, they provide each other with family. Under all of the zombies and carnage, a beautiful relationship shines through. The real story is about both Joel and Ellie showing vulnerability and forming a bond. The apocalypse is simply a backdrop. 

This is ultimately what makes The Last of Us so different from other zombie media. The story isn’t about the zombies. It’s a beautiful narrative on the human condition and a commentary on peoples’ need for love and security. We as viewers can see ourselves in the struggles Joel and Ellie face. We feel connected, and that connection is both lasting and powerful.

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