Whatever untold adventures Joel and Ellie had together back in the good old days, when they were still just a traveling team enduring (and surviving) their western trek across America, they’ll be showing up on TV with careful input from the creative mind behind the games themselves.
Expanding on the game franchise’s existing lore in ways that do it justice is the big focus as writing continues on HBO’s TV adaptation for The Last of Us, according to series director and Emmy-winning Chernobyl creator Craig Mazin. In a recent interview for BBC Sounds' Must Watch webcast, Mazin said game creator Neil Druckmann (or just Doctor Uckmann for us card-collecting Part II fans) remains closely involved with the project, even pitching some big “OMG!” moments for Joel and Ellie that the games themselves had to sacrifice — but which will definitely make for some must-watch TV.
“Neil, at one point, he was like, 'You know, there's one thing we were talking about for a while’ — and then he told me what it was, and I was like, ‘Gonk! Okay, jaw drop: That's going in,” Mazin teased. “We have to do that. You couldn’t stop me from doing that. You will have to shoot me to stop me from doing that — so we're doing that!”
Threading the lore-specific needle for the TV version of The Last of Us is likely to come with all the carefully-guarded expectations that fans have placed on the games themselves. Game studio Naughty Dog’s road to making Part II the PlayStation 4’s record-selling top exclusive came with passionate debates among players, who are still swapping opinions online over the game’s seismic story decisions.
“[T]he one anxiety I think fans of something have is that, when the property gets licensed to someone else, those people don’t really understand it, or are gonna change it, or make it stupid,” said Mazin. “And in this case, I’m doing it with the guy [Druckmann] who did it. And so the changes that we’re making are designed to fill things out and expand. Not to undo, but rather to enhance.”
Of course Mazin remained coy about the exact sensational skipped gaming scenario that Druckmann must have whispered to HBO for the TV treatment. But he did pledge that The Last of Us on the small screen won’t be an aimless, go-anywhere affair that just plunks Joel and Ellie into random situations for the sake of milking their unique character dynamic each week.
“[T]here's quite a few things like that, where it's not like we just decided, ‘Well, wouldn't it be cool if there’s one episode where Joel and Ellie get on motorcycles and confront a motorcycle gang?’” he said. “That's not what we do. There's no episodic nonsense here. This is all very much, like, curated. But the things that are new and enhancing of the storyline that we’re doing are connected in organic, serious ways that I think fans of the game and newcomers alike will appreciate.”
HBO hasn’t revealed a premiere date for the series, but Mazin said the creative team is involved in the writing process while waiting for pandemic restrictions to lift that will allow location work to begin. On the gaming side of things, Naughty Dog just this week is releasing updates for The Last of Us Part II that ramp up the stress factor for repeated playthroughs — including the “Grounded” difficulty mode from the original game, as well as a brutal “permadeath” mode that gives you only one shot at surviving the entire experience from start to finish.