The critically acclaimed and widely watched HBO show The Last of Us had its finale on March 12th, 2023, leaving old and new fans alike heartbroken and ready for the second season.
Maintaining a 90% and above critics’ score on sites such as Rotten Tomatoes, IMDb, and Metacritic, the show was a success in the eyes of many. While some viewers were quick to shun the show for portraying LGBTQ+ relationships in the form of Frank (Murray Bartlett, White Lotus) and Bill (Nick Offerman, Parks and Recreation) and Ellie and Riley, across the board it seemed that Naughty Dog and HBO greatly succeeded in bringing The Last of Us from the video game world into Hollywood.
Beloved and infamous characters such as Bill, David, and Marlene were amplified by showrunners Craig Mazin (Chernobyl) and Neil Druckmann (The Last of Us Part II), who took the source material and realized that some characterizations needed to be made more pertinent and powerful—limiting any cognitive dissonance between players and viewers.
Fans of the game knew Bill as a brash, agoraphobic character who was likely homosexual, and audiences hardly knew Frank as anyone other than Bill’s “partner” that hung himself. When the episode “Long, Long Time” premiered, everyone was curious as to how Frank and Bill’s story would ultimately depart from the game. Most viewers were delighted and heartbroken at the authentic and tender exploration of a gay relationship during an apocalypse. Organizations like PinkNews and GLAAD were quick to make the relationship well-known and applauded. The Last of Us is not new to canonically queer relationships, with the video game The Last of Us Part II having a central storyline between Ellie and her partner Dina. However, Frank and Bill’s relationship was an elevated take and much needed representation in an industry that has a habit of “killing its gays.” The exploration of Ellie and her friend Riley (Storm Reid, Euphoria) stayed relatively the same from the The Last of Us: Left Behind game to the HBO show, with the writers adding a little more context into their interactions to better serve the idea of a youthful, lesbian relationship.
On the other side of the positive representation, viewers met the highly controversial and infamous character of David (Scott Shepard, Bridge of Spies). Despite having little-to-no content warnings prior to the show, fans of the game were quick to go to social media to warn new fans that the episode featuring David portrayed sexual violence toward Ellie. In the video game, many players knew that what transpired during the Winter section of the game was sexual violence, and yet some did not. While it was disturbing to watch and made for a skippable episode for those who have related trauma, Druckmann and Mazin were lauded for having stayed true to the source material and giving an honest, and horrific, look at the before, during, and aftermath of such an event.
Going back to the roots, in the finale, viewers met Ellie’s mother Anna (Ashley Johnson, Critical Role) and learned how Ellie became immune to the Cordyceps virus. In these same scenes, fans were shown how the Firefly group leader Marlene (Merle Dandridge, Greenleaf) came to care for Ellie. While Anna and Marlene’s relationship is not incredibly fleshed out or specific, the further characterization of Marlene allows for Joel’s inevitable dilemma to help the Fireflies or help himself a little more difficult for some audience members to answer for themselves.
Looking ahead at season two, HBO has already renewed the show with Mazin and Druckmann beginning to write the script. They say that it is possible that the second game, The Last of Us Part II, will serve as the show’s second and third seasons due to the heavy material and lengthy gameplay associated with the property. Bella Ramsey and Pedro Pascal, as Ellie and Joel, respectively, are still set to star in the second season. Fans of the game have begun guessing who will play Abby and Lev, central characters in the Part II storyline. Lev’s original voice and motion capture actor, Ian Alexander, has used their platform on TikTok to promote the show and has encouraged HBO to look at them to reprise their role as Lev—citing the importance of having trans actors play trans roles.
The second season of The Last of Us will likely not premiere until late 2024, but Pascal has been quoted as assuming that filming will begin later this year.