By: Papa Minnow

The Last of Us is a post-apocalyptic video game in which the world succumbed to a fungal infection called cordyceps. 2023 saw the story of Joel and Ellie adapted into an HBO TV show that was met with raving reviews and critical acclaim. Sadly, season 1 came in at only nine episodes and the finale premiered last Sunday leaving fans desperately waiting for more.

As an avid fan of the games, I thoroughly enjoyed the adaption and decided to rank the episodes from season 1 in order of worst to best.

9) Episode 7 – “Left Behind” 

Coming in at number nine is episode 7, “Left Behind.” This episode was adapted from the game’s additional downloadable content by the same name. While this episode was well done, the adaptation just didn’t translate as well as the DLC did.

A lot of the major story elements such as the escape to the mall, the photobooth, the carousel and the arcade scene, were more favourable as video game experiences than simply visual ones. These gameplay moments tied the story to fans in a more memorable way than TV did. Despite the incredible cinematography of the episode’s last 10 minutes, the overall showing felt more like filler than a necessity to the show’s story.

8) Episode 4 – “Please Hold to My Hand” 

“Please Hold to My Hand” is structured as the rising action episode of the mid-season climax, so a lot of elements are just build-up for what’s to come next. It’s purpose is to establish the group that runs the city and shows us another side of humanity doing whatever it takes to survive in a post-apocalyptic world.

The leader of the rebel group, Kathleen, is hell bent on finding Henry for reasons unknown to us at this point, but there are other pressing matters that arise and become cause for concern. Overall it was a good episode, delivering tension and deep backstory, but its payoff comes through its successor.

7) Episode 6 – Kin 

Episode 6 was heavily emotional. Joel’s weakness was exposed to the viewers and we see that he doesn’t fully trust himself to be able to get Ellie to where she needs to be. This likely stems from being unable to save his daughter Sarah on outbreak day and the recent death of his lover Tess.

Some felt this “softer” Joel diminished his character, but I felt it brought more depth to him. He showed vulnerability for the first time and it was to someone he trusts.

Ellie on the other hand begins to feel unwanted. That leads to a very tense moment between her and Joel which captured one of the best moments in the game when Joel says, “you have no idea what loss is.”

I enjoyed that we got to learn more about Tommy and how he came to find “peace” (as much as you can get in an apocalyptic world) with his new life and wife in Jackson. The university scene was a bit rushed as the adaption omitted as to why the Fireflies left the university, but we do get some action between raiders and Joel and Ellie that has future consequences.

6) Episode 8 – When We Are in Need 

Following Joel’s stab wound from the raiders, Ellie gets the duo to safety and has to take on the leadership role while Joel recovers. News of the attack travels back to the raiders group and Ellie finds their leader David, who is a religious fanatic.

In relation to the game there’s a couple of scenes that were left out which took away from the essence of the story. The lack of a scene where Ellie and David work together to survive a clicker attack, eliminated tension, drama, and a more compassionate side to David. It also would have helped subvert David’s intentions.

The second omission was the most powerful. After Ellie slices up David, she leaves the lodge and is found by Joel. In the game however, she’s grabbed by Joel during her fit of rage and it just feels more emotionally compelling in that despite everything going on Joel helps comfort her in her moment of need.

I understand the building was on fire, but it would have been more impactful had they kept it the same as the game. A good episode nonetheless.

5) Episode 9 – “Look for the Light”

Sadly all good things must come to end, but we can rejoice that it happened and it was done well. The series finale “Look for the Light” followed the game story to a T and included the most important parts.

A part of me wishes Joel’s rampage was a bit longer, but that’s just my bloodlust. I loved the addition of Ellie’s mom’s story and how Ellie’s immunity was a factor due to complications with her birth. And we also got confirmation that Joel just killed the doctor, foregoing the nurses meaning that I’m a monster for killing the entire staff to save Ellie.

4) Episode 3 – “Long, Long Time”

These last four episodes were almost impossible to rank as they’re all deserving of the top spot with high praise. “Long, Long Time” features some of the greatest storytelling in TV history. This episode is absolutely touching. Yes, it’s a departure from the main game, completely shifting the original plot, but the concept they chose for this show felt very much in line with the source material.

We got less time with our main characters, which some felt took away from overall story telling much like “Left Behind” did, but it showed a side of humanity that any well adapted human could relate too. My main takeaway was that love conquers all. No matter what circumstance; post-apocalyptic outbreaks, emotional and physical walls, or loneliness, humans will find a way to connect.

3) Episode 2 – “Infected” 

Unfortunately this episode had one of the most uncomfortable endings and moments in TV history. I couldn’t believe my eyes when the infected accelerated Tess’ transformation orally leading many to call it the fungal kiss. But outside of that cringe moment, it was a highly intense episode with a great backstory for our protagonists and a heart wrenching ending thanks to the hive mind of the infected. 

All the actors did an incredible job throughout the various memorable scenes such as Ellie talking about her infection, or Tess convincing Joel to keep going, or Joel razzing Ellie while holding a gun to her face as she just wakes up from her slumber. This was a very memorable episode and for good reason.

2) Episode 1 – “When You’re Lost in the Darkness”

HBO could not have done a better job with the intro than they did. The source material was handled with the utmost care down to the minute details. The studio also broke out the budget adding some intense visual effects like the plane crash instead of a car crash.

I love that the writers took the risk of expanding on the base story and delivered supporting plot elements to bolster the world around it. Showing off how the outbreak occurred, what spread it, and why it was all possible was excellent storytelling that made an already compelling plot even more relatable and grounded.

As a fan of the show, it was great to see a side of Sarah that we’ve never seen before. We saw what kind of person she was and how she cared for not only her father, but those around her as well. “Infected” delivered almost every emotion from highest of highs to lowest of lows throughout its almost 90 minute run time. There was arguably zero faults at all within this episode and that’s why it slots at number 2 on this list. 

1) Episode 5 – “Endure and Survive” 

Endure & Survive; the catch phrase from Ellie’s favourite comic collection Savage Starlight, but a very apt mantra for what the characters must subconsciously remind themselves of in the apocalypse. Episode 5 showed us that the bonds between family transcend every circumstance.

The events from episode 4 laid the foundation for the characters’ stories and built a crescendo for episode 5 to climax. The tension of Sam, Henry, Joel, and Ellie trying to escape loomed large throughout the entire episode.

Ellie and Sam gave us moments of play, Henry and Joel bonded over old times, and Kathleen, despite seeming maniacal, unveiled a humanistic side as to why she wanted Henry dead.

All of this was topped off with one of the most intense fight scenes that started with our protagonists being hunted down, and ended with a vicious horde of infected attacking militant humans as they got ripped apart by a massive bloater and a childlike infected that resembled the girl from The Ring.

If that wasn’t enough after escaping such a high, we’re delivered a devastating emotional blow of a low when Henry takes his own life because of his brother’s demise.

This was the absolute peak of the series.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s