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The greatest video game adaptation ever? Critics hail fungal drama of HBO's 'The Last of Us'

The Last of Us premieres on HBO Sunday, Jan. 15 at 9 p.m. ET.

By Josh Weiss
Bella Ramsey and Pedro Pascal in The Last of Us Season 1 Episode 3

You'll never look at mushrooms the same way after checking out HBO's small screen adaptation of The Last of Us.

The review embargo has officially lifted, prompting many critics to hail the show (premiering this Sunday) as the greatest video game translation ever made, owing to a rare combination of faithfulness to the source material and a desire to flesh out certain narrative ambiguities. As of this writing, it currently holds a perfect score of 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

What else would you expect from Emmy and Golden Globe-winning writer, Craig Mazin? Aided by the game's co-creator, Neill Druckmann, the acclaimed Chernobyl scribe has beautifully realized a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by a mutated version of the dreaded Cordyceps fungus, which has gained the ability to infect humans and turn them into mindless zombies.

Game of Thrones alums Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey headline the project as Joel and Ellie, two mismatched survivors slowly making their way west. Joel, a rugged smuggler and outlaw, simply wants to find his rebel-happy brother, Tommy (Gabriel Luna), while the precocious Ellie may hold the key to curing the mycelial outbreak that led to the collapse of human society.

RELATED: What happened to Sam Raimi's 'The Last of Us' movie? Creator explains why it didn't happen

Stock up on fungicide and head below to see what critics are saying...

"The best thing I can say about The Last of Us is that, as often as it made me think of The Walking Dead — and it’s unavoidable that it will make you think of The Walking Dead — it more frequently reminded me of the desperate, weary humanism of Station Eleven, and even of the deeply felt central relationship in Charlotte Wells’ film Aftersun, an otherwise very different story of a father and daughter learning to communicate in an alien world." -Daniel Fienberg, The Hollywood Reporter

"It doesn't feel even remotely controversial to call this the best video game adaptation ever made. For fans of the game, it is an adaptation of the utmost skill and reverence, yet one still capable of surprise; for people who have never picked up a controller, it is an encapsulation of the game's heart and soul — its full-blooded characters, its neat plotting, its mature themes of love and loss. It is, to finish Ellie's joke, 'outstanding in its field.'" -Stephen Kelly, BBC

"HBO's The Last of Us is an absolute triumph, offering one of gaming's most intense and engaging narratives to TV viewers and revealing exciting new aspects of the universe to those who've played the games. It's beautifully written and the casting is flawless, with Pascal, Ramsey and their co-stars adding layers of emotional depth and unsettling moral grayness to every moment." -Sean Keane, CNET

"Now that so much of what we see on the big and small screens has a vaguely unreal aspect imparted by the overuse of computerized effects, it’s a particular pleasure to see a video-game adaptation that’s genuinely cinematic, immersing us in the majesty of snow-covered mountains at one moment and the grimy details of an abandoned shopping mall the next." -Judy Berman, TIME

"Druckmann and Mazin soon begin to go deeper on these characters, and have assembled such a terrific group of actors to play them, that The Last of Us becomes at least as engrossing in its quiet moments as in its scary ones — and arguably more so when it’s just focusing on who these people are rather than the dangers they are running from." -Alan Sepinwall, Rolling Stone

"As someone who admires the original game and what it achieved, HBO’s The Last of Us is still a fascinating and enjoyable ride through an old familiar adventure tale, powered by actors who honor the original vision. When I compare the two stories, and the artistic choices made to differentiate the show from the game, I have to admit: the HBO version sometimes steals the show." -Gene Park, The Washington Post

"HBO’s The Last of Us is a more than solid adaptation in the sense that it expertly pieces together a new version of a beloved tale in a way that’s almost certain to reach and speak to a larger audience. But as the showcase of a much-lauded story that’s — for better or worse — been hailed as one of the most significant pieces of art to come out of the video game space in recent years, HBO’s new series is extremely fine. Not great, not terrible, but fine." -Charles Pulliam-Moore, The Verge

"Taking the essence of what made the original tale so enduring, it builds out the world of the game while also switching up some aspects to almost entirely stunning effect. Anchored by two outstanding lead performances from Bella Ramsey and Pedro Pascal, it delivers an enriching show for fans of the PlayStation hit, while also managing to stay welcomingly thrilling to newcomers." -Simon Cardy, IGN

"Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin’s series, faithfully adapted from the former’s acclaimed video game, is about survival, humanity, and life’s meaning in the fullest possible terms. That it can hone its sweeping statements into riveting personal stories only makes its impact more palpable and the viewing experience more poignant." -Ben Travers, IndieWire

The Last of Us premieres on HBO this Sunday, Jan. 15, at 9 p.m. ET.

Looking for more sci-fi TV? Check out shows like Resident Alien, Brave New World, Project Blue Book, Eureka, Heroes, Intergalactic, and more streaming now on Peacock. Looking ahead, SYFY has the new series — The Ark— from original Stargate film producer Dean Devlin, as well as Stargate SG-1 producer Jonathan Glassner.