From Game to Screen: Comparing the Casts of The Last of Us

edited May 13 in Gaming

The transition from a critically acclaimed video game to a live-action television series isn’t always an easy feat. Such was the case with The Last of Us, a groundbreaking video game developed by Naughty Dog, which captured the hearts of gamers worldwide upon its release in 2013. When HBO announced its TV adaptation of the beloved game, expectations were high, particularly regarding the casting choices. As the series premiered in 2023, it became evident that while the TV show remained faithful to the essence of the game, there were notable differences in the casting decisions and plot adaptation.  

Plot of The Last of Us 

Published by Sony Computer Entertainment, parts I and II of The Last of Us are available to play on PlayStation gaming consoles, including the PS5. Part I is also available to play on PC, and with monitor support for 21:9 and 32:9 aspect ratios, it can be fully enjoyed on ultrawide screens like Acer’s 45-inch Predator X45 and 49-inch EI1 Series ultra-wide gaming monitors. Meanwhile, it’s rumored that the PC port of the remastered version of The Last of Us Part II will be announced soon

The video game follows the journey of Joel Miller, a hardened survivor, and Ellie Williams, a young girl immune to the infection that has ravaged humanity, as they traverse a post-apocalyptic United States. Their goal: to deliver Ellie to a group known as the Fireflies, who believe her immunity could lead to a cure. Along the way, Joel and Ellie encounter various challenges, both human and infected, and form a deep bond as they navigate the harsh realities of their world. 

In the HBO TV series, the core storyline remains intact, with Joel and Ellie's journey serving as the central narrative. However, the series takes creative liberties, expanding upon certain aspects of the story and introducing new characters and plotlines to enhance the television format. It also rearranges certain timelines, and even ventures into entirely new territory to enhance world-building. 

Character Interpretations in the HBO Adaptation 

The Last of Us - Building The Last of Us Episode 4: Ellie and Joel  

The differences between the original game cast and the TV show go beyond physical appearance. The show's actors bring fresh interpretations to established roles, offering new dimensions without sacrificing the essence of the characters. 

In the video game, Joel is portrayed by voice actor Troy Baker, whose performance earned widespread acclaim for its emotional depth and authenticity. Baker's portrayal of Joel captured the character's complexity, portraying him as both a hardened survivor and a deeply flawed individual grappling with past traumas.  

For the TV series, HBO cast Pedro Pascal in the role of Joel. Known for his roles in Game of Thrones, Narcos, and The Mandalorian, Pascal brought his own interpretation to the character, infusing Joel with a rugged charm and vulnerability that resonated with viewers. Pascal's approach emphasized Joel's quiet stoicism and internalized weariness, contrasting Baker's more outwardly emotional performance in the game. While Pascal's portrayal differed slightly from Baker's, it maintained the essence of Joel's character, showcasing his resilience and protective instincts. Baker still makes an appearance in the TV show, though not as Joel. 

Actress Ashley Johnson brought Ellie to life in the video game, her nuanced portrayal showcasing the character’s wit, resilience and vulnerability. As the story unfolds, Johnson's Ellie evolves from a guarded teenager to a brave, determined young woman who forms a strong bond with Joel. Her performance added depth and emotional authenticity to Ellie's character, making her relatable and endearing to players.  

Bella Ramsey took on the role of Ellie in the TV series. Best known for her role as Lyanna Mormont in Game of Thrones, Ramsey brought a fresh perspective to the character, infusing Ellie with a youthful energy, bravery, and fierce determination that complemented Pascal's Joel. Ramsey's performance brought Ellie's sharp wit and fiery spirit to the fore, while also revealing her vulnerabilities and emotional depth. This delicate balance allowed viewers to see Ellie as a multi-dimensional character who is both tough and sensitive. 

The supporting cast is where the show has been particularly bold in its choices. Nick Offerman's hauntingly beautiful portrayal of Bill is a major departure from the game's version, voiced by W. Earl Brown, yet a celebrated highlight of the series. The expanded storyline with Frank, played by Murray Bartlett, deepens the character, showcasing a different facet of love and survival in a merciless world. 

In both the game and the TV show, actress Merle Dandridge played the role of Marlene. TV Marlene occasionally demonstrated a softer, maternal side towards Ellie, showing flashes of internal conflict as she grappled with the weight of her choices, a depth hinted at but less overtly shown in the game. 

Another significant casting development was the introduction of a new character, Kathleen, played by Melanie Lynskey. In the game, there is no such character, but in the TV show, Kathleen is a ruthless leader of a revolutionary group, adding an extra layer of complexity to the narrative. 

Challenges of Adaptation 

Adapting a beloved video game into a live-action television series presented numerous challenges for the creators of The Last of Us. One of the primary challenges was capturing the essence of the game's characters while also allowing for the creative interpretation of the actors and writers involved in the TV series. 

Another challenge was balancing the expectations of fans of the video game with the need to attract a broader audience. While it was essential to remain faithful to the source material, the creators also sought to introduce new elements and storylines to keep viewers engaged and invested in the television adaptation. 

Reception: Critics, Fans, and the Future 

Following the success of the HBO series’ first season, it's clear that the casting decisions have been a major talking point among fans and critics alike. While not everyone may agree with the choices, the performances of the lead actors have been widely praised by critics and the wider public, and the potential for even more compelling casting in season two has fans eagerly anticipating what's to come. This includes Abby, a controversial figure from The Last of Us Part II video game, who will be portrayed by Kaitlyn Denver. How will she embody a character driven by a thirst for revenge and operating in stark moral grays? Additionally, can the showrunners make Abby, a character many fans detest, not only understandable but compelling, in a TV format? We’ll find out when HBO unveils the second season in 2025. 

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About Lalaine Capucion: Lalaine has been working as a freelance writer and editor for more than 12 years, focusing on lifestyle, travel, and wellness. When she isn’t writing, she's most likely curled up with a good book or trying out a new recipe in the kitchen. She lives in Metro Manila, Philippines.    



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