When the game “The Last of Us” was released in 2013, nobody would have imagined that its storyline could have such stark resemblances to our real world. Before 2020, words like pandemic, lockdown, quarantine, and containment zone were only heard in video games or zombie films, but during the pandemic, they became our reality. Now that it is being adapted into an HBO original series, the expectation that it will match the standards set by the game is quite high. Led by Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsay, the star-studded cast has a tough job on their hands, and we hope that they pull off an impactful performance.
The pandemic showed us our true faces, and we realized that people abide by certain principles, ethics, laws, and orders as long as it is convenient for them. The socio-economic inequalities of our society, the gaping cracks in the foundation of the system, and every other weakness were exposed with the advent of COVID-19. People changed, and their perception of what’s normal and what’s not did as well. It amazes me to see how human beings get used to a situation so quickly, and things that once haunted them become so mundane that they cease to realize that it isn’t normal. In the game we saw that the Cordyceps Brain Infection (CBI) was wreaking havoc in the United States, and the entire nation had been divided into quarantine zones. When we see the snippets from the “Last of Us” trailer of the journey that Joel and Ellie undertake in the pandemic-stricken world, we are instantly reminded of that horrifying time in our lives when the government had started making preparations for the aftermath of the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
One intrinsic quality of human beings is that we do not entertain the possibility of something adverse happening to us unless and until it finally does. And I am in no way implying that we shouldn’t be hopeful for the best possible outcome, but the issue is that we start taking things for granted unless life deals us a blow and makes us realize that everything is temporary. We believe that the philosophy enshrined in the game is probably one of the most significant reasons why Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin would have decided to develop it into a full-fledged series. The various notions about humanity and mankind, the ideologies, the philosophies, and everything else that “The Last of Us” portrays would push everyone into an uncomfortable corner, and that is probably its merit. Joel’s and Ellie’s world is harsh, but our reality is no different. Threats have the potential to change the ideals of humanity, and that is what we saw happening in the world of Joel and Ellie. It is said that one mustn’t lose faith in humanity, but how does a person rise above the narrow confines of individuality in such dire circumstances, when their survival is at stake? It is a gut-wrenching feeling to imagine what monstrosities humans are capable of, and it is even worse when we realize that to look for evidence, all we have to do is to revisit the recent past.
In the teaser of “The Last of Us,” we see Ellie questioning whether there was any hope left in this world and what makes any of us keep going ahead? Joel replied to her that it is the loved ones and family that keeps him going. I don’t know what kind of situation the people in the first-world countries were in, but I know that a similar thought would have crossed the mind of a person living in a developing or third-world nation at least once for sure. During the pandemic, we witnessed a huge queue of patients waiting outside hospitals in the hope that some doctor or medical worker would come out and give them an oxygen cylinder or whatever help they needed. They waited through the days and nights together; they waited till they saw their loved ones writhing in pain; they waited till they saw their family members taking their last breath. What would you expect from the man who lost somebody standing outside in a queue in that helpless and despicable situation? Death hurts, but not being able to do anything about it due to a lack of infrastructure hurts even more. Most of the people who died in developing countries did not die because of the virus but because they didn’t get the proper care in due time. People’s hopes crumbled when they saw the entire state machinery failing them in ways they couldn’t have imagined. Well, I personally wouldn’t be amazed if, the next day, that man sheds his humanity and turns into a savage who has no regard for anything in life. The most difficult thing that a survivor had to do was keep going even after there was no energy or willpower left in his body. Hope seemed bleak, yet they had to fend for those who survived. That’s probably what Joel was doing after he had lost his daughter. When Joel met Ellie for the first time, it had been approximately two decades since the death of his daughter, but nothing seemed to heal his wounds.
In the game “The Last of Us,” basic necessities like food were being smuggled on the black market as there was martial law in a lot of places, and the military rules with an iron fist. It brings me to another important point: in the case of such chaos, where the entire system has failed, what should be the parameters of such a decision? Well, in real life and even in the game, there are no parameters, and the decisions are made according to the whims and fancies of the ones holding the reins. Though it is said that martial law is, at times, essential to curbing civil disorder, in reality, the motive is not so pure. Unprecedented power and unlimited authority are dangerous things, and as a matter of fact, they always have detrimental effects on any society. In 2022, a superpower announced martial law in territories that it had occupied a few months earlier from an adjacent nation. On paper, the president had said that he was declaring martial law to fulfill the basic military requirements of the nation, but we are all privy to what transpired after that. The UN Human Rights Commission got reports on how people were slaughtered, how properties were destroyed, and how the forces intentionally created a situation of terror. In times like these, when the regime itself loses its way and the citizens are told to conform or face dire consequences, the natural response of any rationally thinking individual who believes in the ideals of equality and freedom would be to become an insurgent. How can any government expect its citizens to accept the legitimacy of such oppressive and obscurantist actions? In the teaser preview of “The Last of Us” Episode 1, we caught a glimpse of the symbol used by a rebel group named Fireflies, who stood against the atrocities and oppression being imposed on them by the military. The rebels seeking freedom and liberation are being treated as prisoners and it is the state of chaos that we are going to witness throughout the series.
Well, coming back to the TV adaptation of “The Last of Us,” more than anything, we hope that the makers keep the essence of the narrative intact. It will do wonders if the makers are able to do justice in showcasing the relationship shared by Joel and Ellie. It would also be quite interesting to see the kind of creative liberties the makers take in order to enhance the narrative and if it plays well with the viewers or not. We do hope that the TV adaptation is able to impact the viewers, leave a lasting impression, and not only meet the bar set by the game but take the proceedings a notch higher.