HBO Max’s TV show “The Last of Us” reached 4.7 million viewers on its first day, earning a 97% Rotten Tomatoes score and making it one of the highest-rated video game television adaptations ever.
The new series, based on the 2014 game of the same name released by video game company Naughty Dog, follows a military veteran named Joel, played by Pedro Pascal, traversing a zombie apocalypse with a young girl named Ellie, played by Bella Ramsey. The protagonists are on a mission to cure a fungal zombie outbreak and save the world.
Some BYU students have already taken notice of this new series. Cort Lawrence, BYU student and host of the “Knights of the D-Pad” gaming podcast, is a fan of the original game but was skeptical going into watching the show.
“TV and movie adaptations have historically been less than stellar. The show surpassed my expectations, however, with an amazing performance by Pedro Pascal,” Lawrence said.
The series has already received rpraise among critics for its faithful recreation of the game’s atmosphere, its character depictions and for showcasing some chilling scenes. Craig Mazin, the series showrunner, has earned a reputation for quality, previously creating the HBO mini-series “Chernobyl,” which received an Emmy for Best Limited series.
Viewers may recognize Pascal as the protagonist in Disney Plus’s “The Mandalorian.” The Chilean actor has also appeared in other popular franchises such as “Game of Thrones” and “Wonder Woman.”
BYU political science major Luke Amor also played the game and weighed in on the show.
“I found it enjoyable. I thought it relied a little bit too heavily on maybe some of the cliches and tropes you see in lots of other zombie media.”
However, Amor thinks there is one way “The Last of Us” also brings a unique twist to the zombie genre. While many films and series like “The Walking Dead” or “World War Z” depict viruses reanimating the dead, “The Last of Us” uses fungi as the source of the outbreak.
The show’s opening scene depicted a talk show panel discussing potential global pandemics. One scientist on the fictional panel dismissed the existential threat of viruses on humanity but drew attention to a parasitic fungus that occupies insects and controls their actions. This real-life fungus called Cordyceps lives off its insect host, keeping them semi-alive, before eventually allowing it to die and infect other insects around it.
The scientists acknowledge fungi cannot live in humans because our body temperatures are too high, but he asked, “What if the world were to get slightly warmer?” He proposed fungus could evolve to match the climate, thus bringing its tolerance for heat up in line with our body temperature.
Roger Koide, a BYU professor specializing in plants and fungus, weighed in on the science.
“I suppose it is possible for a fungal parasite to evolve the capacity to produce chemicals that affect our nervous system,” Koide said.
However, he clarified, “fungi do not have brains and do not have wills.”
Many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints may also be familiar with the game because it features Salt Lake City. Players can walk the abandoned city, and even see Church landmarks like the Salt Lake Temple.
The first series will run for nine episodes and has already been renewed for a second season.