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Sizing Up The Last of Us' Emmy Odds

The acclaimed video game adaptation could be a strong Emmy contender… if in-network competition doesn't crowd it out.
  • Murray Bartlett, Pedro Pascal, Bella Ramsey (Photos: HBO)
    Murray Bartlett, Pedro Pascal, Bella Ramsey (Photos: HBO)

    HBO’s The Last of Us may have recently wrapped a successful first season, but already its Emmys odds are being weighed by critics and fans alike. The competition is fierce, and much of it is coming from other HBO series. The final season of Succession is going to demand a lot of Emmys attention, just one year removed from leading all shows at the 2022 Emmys with 25 nominations. Meanwhile, The White Lotus will move into the Drama Series categories after cleaning up in the Limited Series categories last year. And then there's House of the Dragon, which likely won't end up replicating the Emmys dominance of Game of Thrones, but even a fraction of its parent show's usual nomination tallies should make HOTD a significant Emmy player.

    Where The Last of Us sits in HBO's hierarchy, awards-wise, will be an interesting question on Emmy nomination morning. Ratings-wise, The Last of Us is the most formidable HBO contender since Game of Thrones, which could make The Last of Us too big to ignore in the Outstanding Drama Series category. That said, the show's roots as a video game could invite snobbery from voters, who have much more traditional Emmy fare to vote for, not only from HBO but from historical Emmy faves like The Crown.

    As for how things are expected to shake out for the show's cast members, writers, and directors, a lot could depend on the competition. Below, we're breaking down who from The Last of Us stands the best shot at getting nominated, and where the show might struggle for recognition.

    Best Odds

    By far, Pedro Pascal has the best chances among TLOU cast for an Emmy nomination. His performance as Joel was widely lauded by critics, and Season 1 afforded him plenty of opportunities to deliver in moments of high drama and intensity. While Pascal was already a leading man on The Mandalorian, The Last of Us has pushed him into full-blown stardom. (It helps when you don't have a helmet on all the time.) The show’s rise coincided with Pascal becoming a meme daddy, hosting Saturday Night Live, and presenting at the Oscars. He's got name value now.

    The competition Pascal faces in Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama is considerable. Both Brian Cox and Jeremy Strong will be back in the mix for Succession's final season, and Bob Odenkirk's last hurrah in Better Call Saul will also be on the map. Harrison Ford (1923) and Jeff Bridges (The Old Man) will bring their formidable Hollywood gravitas to the table. There should be support behind the Emmy campaigns for Matthew Rhys (Perry Mason) and Diego Luna (Andor), and if House of the Dragon resumes Game of Thrones' Emmy fortunes, don't count out Paddy Considine either.

    Still, Pascal's chances seem as good or better than almost everybody aside from the Succession stars. Awards voters love an actor becoming a star via a particular role, and Pascal did just that.

    As Long As They Don't Hold Her Age Against Her

    When the Emmy nominations are announced in July, Bella Ramsey will be 19 years old. If she shows up on the ballot, she'd be the youngest Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama nominee since Claire Danes was nominated for My So-Called Life in 1995. Is that indicative of Emmy voters not valuing the performances of younger actresses, or have we simply not had a performance like Ramsey's to consider in a long time? Certainly, Ramsey's age makes her performance as defiant survivor Ellie all the more impressive. Her ability to straddle the line between fortitude beyond her years and age-appropriate vulnerability will likely draw a good number of votes into her column.

    The Lead Actress category is even more crowded with possible nominees than Lead Actor. Ramsey will have to find space between the stars of Yellowjackets (Melanie Lynskey), The Crown (Imelda Staunton), House of the Dragon (Emma D'Arcy), and The Handmaid's Tale (Elisabeth Moss), not to mention Oscar winners like Helen Mirren in 1923 and Hilary Swank in Alaska Daily.

    Writing and Directing

    Here is likely where the true strength of The Last of Us as an Emmy player will be revealed. It's also where the show will find itself most inconvenienced by its HBO siblings. In Succession's first three seasons, the show landed three writing nominations and six in directing. The White Lotus is expected to perform quite well in both categories, and House of the Dragon's massive scale should at least give it a boost in the directing category. With all that competition just from inside The Last of Us' own house, will the video game adaptation be able to compete?

    Working to its favor is the fact that its structure featured several detour episodes which stood out from the season-long storylines, making them more memorable for Emmys consideration. The standalone episode "Long Long Time" and the flashback episode "Left Behind" could contend in the writing categories, while the premiere episode or the action-backed Kansas City-set "Endure and Survive" were both directorial showcases.

    Honored Guests

    With Pascal and Ramsey the only regular cast members in the first season, the rest of the show's cast will compete in the Guest Actor and Guest Actress categories. The best chances at nominations there should come from Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett for the acclaimed "Long Long Time" episode. Bartlett won an Emmy just last year for the first season of The White Lotus, which could be an indication as to which way the voters will go. There's also Melanie Lynskey, who played the ruthless Kansas City faction leader Kathleen. With Lynskey an Emmy nominee last year (and likely this year) for Yellowjackets, voters could opt to double up her nomination haul this year.

    Other possibilities for Guest nominations include Merle Dandridge's bookending appearances in the season premiere and finale as Marlene; Scott Shepherd as the terrifying religious cult leader David; and Ashley Johnson, who played Ellie in the video game, making a brief but impactful performance in the season finale as Ellie's mom.

    The Last of Us Season 1 is streaming on HBO Max. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: The Last of Us, HBO, Succession, The White Lotus, Bella Ramsey, Melanie Lynskey, Murray Bartlett, Nick Offerman, Pedro Pascal, Primetime Emmy Awards