All That Remains

And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love; but the greatest of these is love. 1 Cor. 13:13

The first season of HBO’s series The Last of Us has just concluded with a ferocious, though not-entirely unexpected ending. If you are not a fan of dystopian, apocalyptic survivalist dramas, then this show probably has nothing for you. But after watching this season’s nine episodes, I wondered if it had left behind many of it’s ardent fanbase, those who have played the game it is based on and were expecting more of the same.

I have not played the video game but am familiar with the first-person action genre: the goal of surviving hazards and shooting and/or killing as many of your opponents for high scores is not my cup of coffee. But I am interested in the world-building and dramatic choices that go into creating these immersive environments. Granted that an episodic television series can not deliver the same level of adrenaline rush that games can, I wonder where the series can excel apart from recreating or mimicking the gameplaying source material. And it seems to me that the television genre, because of its ability to control the physical environment, pacing, and character development, manages to give us an experience that transcends the game.

Here is where many of the online comments, hundreds if not thousands in numerous blogposts, took issue with the show: it is too slow, and there aren’t enough of the infected (this world’s version of zombies) to kill. The show lacks the very thing that made it exciting, engaging. But its ability to create deep space, a world in which recognizable characters can interact, make choices, and experience the repercussions of the choices they make, I think vastly outweighs its deficits.

That being said, the world (or societies) that writers Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin have envisioned post-apocalypse is deeply disturbing. Societies are either fascist, violently revolutionary, or ravenously monstrous. It struck me as odd that the only safe spaces are inhabited by couples (Bill and Frank; Marlon and Florence). The juxtaposition of enduring relationships, developing ones, and doomed relationships such as Henry’s and Sam’s gives the show depth that a video game can’t. It remains to be seen whether the community in Jackson WY can endure as a welcoming environment or not: Silver Lake and it’s small community led by the show’s only apparent man of faith, and the Fireflies’ group in Salt Lake City, proved to be exceedingly dangerous to the show’s protagonists.

In a world absent of faith, where hope is expressed as “endure and survive”, love really is all that remains. In “The Last of Us”, the cost of love is exceptionally high. Joel and Sarah; Joel and Tess; Ellie and Riley; Bill and Frank; Henry and Sam; even Kathleen and her brother Michael (resistance leaders or brutal Hunters) are all doomed relationships. Perhaps the story of Joel and Ellie offers more than merely surviving, but the cost, at least to others, has been significant so far. Season two is expected in 2025 and hopefully will be filmed again in Alberta, Canada. At least the landscapes are impressive.