How HBO Can Redeem ‘The Last of Us Part II’ – ScreenHub Entertainment

By Sean Gallagher

Full spoilers for the game The Last of Us Part II. If you’re planning on watching the show but never played the game, you’ve been warned.

The original The Last of Us is considered by many gamers and critics alike to be one of the best video games of all time. Cinematic in scope, with a script that pulls at the heartstrings and gameplay that leaves your palms sweaty, it’s the complete package. Its sequel, The Last of Us Part II was met with some strong divisive opinions, thanks largely in part to some drastic narrative choices. I for one understood those choices but didn’t fully buy into said choices, which left me liking the game more than others, but not as much as the original first part. But I think HBO and Naughty Dog have an opportunity with the upcoming TV series to right some wrongs.

We know that the first season of The Last of Us will cover the first game, with deviations and additions sprinkled into the show, such as Graham Greene’s Marlon, an original character to the lore. But if season one is adapting the first game, what’s next? The obvious and easy answer is to go straight into adapting Part II, but I think that would be unwise to do that or to adapt it one to one.

Graham Greene in HBO’s ‘The Last of Us’ [Credit HBO Max]

The Last of Us Part II was about the cycle of violence and revenge. In it, Joel is killed off early on in the game for actions he committed in the first game. While I understand this, the game also forces the player to assume control of Joel’s killer. Considering Joel is one of the most iconic and beloved video game characters of all time (despite his many, many flaws), to suddenly have to play as his killer didn’t sit well with gamers. Plus, Abby, Joel’s killer, just wasn’t very likable. The game sort of just introduces her to the narrative without much context or backstory. We don’t know why she killed Joel until much later in the game, (Joel killed her father to save Ellie), but even once we do learn her motives, things are already too muddled and emotions are running high. We, the audience, don’t like Abby, but the game wants us to emphasize with her and her quest for revenge. Instead, we’re left resenting Abby and the decision to play as her. Again, it could have been a powerful narrative tool, but we don’t know Abby, she’s an outsider and easily resentable from an audience point of view.

Abby in ‘The Last of Us: Part II’ [Credit: Naughty Dog]

I think it would be wise for Neil Druckmann (original Game Director) and Craig Mazin (Chernobyl) to fill in the blanks between Part I and Part II, to give context and growth for Joel, Ellie and Abby. Maybe this involves rewriting the canon a bit, having Abby unknowingly working with Joel and Ellie for a few years before learning that Joel killed her father. There needs to be a stronger emotional anchor between these three characters for the death of Joel to work and for audience members to emphasize with Abby. That or perhaps Part II can utilize flashbacks in a way that makes Abby’s story clearer earlier on. Unlike a video game, however, the viewer of a TV show doesn’t have to become Abby, but the show will still have to straddle the line to ensure Abby isn’t vilified from the get-go. We should sympathize with her and feel conflicted, which is a narrative beat that the game missed.

[Credit: HBO Max]

As it stands, if HBO’s The Last of Us were to introduce Joel’s killer and then turn her into a protagonist, it would lose its audience. But by developing these relationships, the writers have an opportunity to make us care about Abby, so when it does come time to kill Joel, we as viewers are conflicted about the act, unsure who to root for. I’m sure a lot of the gaming community will go into future seasons with some preconceived bias from their experience with the game. Hopefully, TV-only audiences will feel differently and the showrunners now have a chance to adjust some elements of their original story to try and perfect what was attempted. I liked the idea of Joel’s past sins coming back to kill him and the theme that hatred is an exhausting and futile cycle, but we have to sympathize and empathize with both parties in this cycle. In order to achieve that with the show, the writers will have to find a way to make us care for Abby. Simple as that.

Ellie in TLOU2 [Credit: Naughty Dog]

That’s just the idea of redeeming a divisive concept though. The Last of Us Part II will be a very difficult show to adapt, I think. From the time jump, the loss of the lead, a new location, new histories and backstories and new characters, it will almost be like a new show and the showrunners will have to find a way to make all of this digestible for the viewer. Games and TV are different mediums at the end of the day and what worked in one won’t perse work in the other. Part II is a far denser and longer tale than the original, plus there’s the whole concept of how its narrative is told. The first half is from Ellie’s point of view, but then the game resets and rewinds, going to Abby’s point of view, where we finally get answers. This structure, most certainly, will not work with TV. My guess is they’ll likely have to go back and forth over the course of the season.

The Last of Us Part II is nowhere near the trainwreck some gamers and critics have claimed it is. The game takes some big gambles and the concept is quite interesting. I applaud the attempt to do something new and unexpected. Now, the game gets a chance at a do-over and could patch things up and change the presentation. Or, the showrunners will stick to their guns and decide that what you see is what you get. Only time will tell.

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