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SYFY WIRE The Last of Us

The Last of Us at HBO aiming for Game of Thrones-level scope, with a budget to match

By Benjamin Bullard
The Last of Us Part II Ellie in Seattle

It’s got the Emmy-winning director, it’s got the star-studded cast, and it’s got the momentum of one of last year’s best-selling, most critically adored games. So it’s little wonder that HBO’s upcoming series adaptation of The Last of Us is setting off on its production run in Canada with a reported budget that’s worthy of Westeros.

No hard numbers dropped as Damian Petti, president of the Calgary-based chapter of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, recently shared with CTV News his insight into the upcoming production start for the series, which is reportedly set to begin a 12-month filming stretch in the picturesque small town of Fort Macleod, Alberta. But Petti did offer a ballpark number that inevitably will invite comparisons with HBO’s spare-no-expense production approach to making dragons take fire-breathing flight in Game of Thrones.

“I cannot confirm the official budget numbers but will say it is likely the largest project shooting in Canada,” he told the outlet. “… This project well exceeds the eight figure per episode mark, so there is a multiplier effect on our economy in terms of its impact. There are hundreds of related businesses benefitting from the plethora of work.”

Eight figures per episode puts HBO’s TV treatment of Naughty Dog’s post-apocalyptic game franchise right in line with the final season of Game of Thrones. At an estimated $15 million per episode, Daenerys’ ill-fated final fight to seize the Seven Kingdoms outflanked the (already pricey) seven GoT seasons leading up to the series’ 2019 finale.

Judging from Petti’s additional remarks, HBO isn’t just throwing money at Joel and Ellie's wasteland TV travelogue; it’s also doing tons of behind-the-scenes diligence to make the series live up to the vision that Emmy-winning director Craig Mazin (Chernobyl) and Naughty Dog’s Neil Druckmann (the creative director for the game franchise and a writer and co-creator for the HBO series) have put forward.

The Last of Us which commences photography this week is indeed a monster,” said Petti. “It has five art directors and employs an army of hundreds of technicians. It has had six months of prep and shoots [in Alberta] for 12 months.”

Buzz surrounding the series got a huge boost when its main cast was announced, with The Mandalorian’s Pedro Pascal set to play Joel; and Bella Ramsey — an HBO veteran as the actor behind GoT’s small but fearless Lyanna Mormont — in the role of Ellie. Gabriel Luna (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) will play Joel’s brother Tommy, while Merle Dandridge, who voiced the same character in the original video game, will reprise her role at HBO as Fireflies leader Marlene.

Production on The Last of Us is set to start later this month in Fort Macleod, via the report, before heading off to Calgary to continue production ahead of a planned HBO premiere sometime in 2022.