HBO's The Last of Us is the latest in a recent and encouraging trend that suggests video game TV doesn't have to be lousy to be faithful.
As an astonishing number of viewers discovered throughout its nine episodes (a cumulative audience of 30.4 million, per The Hollywood Reporter), The Last of Us was far from a lousy show. The post-apocalyptic series found a navigable middle-ground between gaming and television. The majority of its dramatic beats — not to mention quite a bit of the dialogue — was lifted more or less verbatim from the celebrated 2013 game from Naughty Dog and its DLC, Left Behind. (That's "Downloadable Content" for non-gamers.) Episodes with varying lengths — the longest being its premiere, at 81 minutes — explored the franchise's cordyceps-stricken world with unexpected grace notes and lore expansions that had yet to be revealed in the games.
Such dedication to the source meant any deviations — any, at all — might have resulted in fan outrage. And the changes brought to The Last of Us, possibly the most argued-over video game ever made, surely would have had they not been handled with care. But the franchise's adaptation was always in good hands: Craig Mazin developed Chernobyl for HBO, and Neil Druckmann is Naughty Dog's president and TLOU co-creator. Under their watch, HBO's The Last of Us has become a juggernaut success.
Its impending second season, based on the controversial sequel The Last of Us Part II, has a more difficult mountain to climb. With a recent slate of casting announcements to parse and the story of Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) still aching in our hearts, it's time to round up everything we currently know about The Last of Us Season 2.
[Minor spoilers for The Last of Us Part II video game follow.]
HBO is aiming Season 2 for an as-yet-undetermined date in 2025. And because moving on from this point without some idea of when Joel and Ellie will return feels cruel, it's worth noting that Craig Mazin told Variety that production will begin on February 12.
Road trips across America aren't very much fun when they're mostly on foot, a fact Joel and Ellie would surely attest to were they not busy hiding from/shooting at Clickers and the odd assortment of violent raiders. In The Last of Us, the world has been brought low by a fungus plague that is 1) highly contagious and 2) turns everyone who contracts it into a mushroom wraith who bites and makes clicking sounds with their throat. (Hence, the name.) America, rarely a country to unite over anything, even in the best of circumstances, is broken into factions. The primary two are FEDRA, the last remnants of the militarized government, and the Fireflies, a renegade group out to find a cure for this grossest of pandemics.
This is how Joel, a grim, violent smuggler hardened by the senseless loss of his daughter, comes across Ellie. Ellie, it turns out, is immune. So Joel is tasked with delivering her out West to a hidden Fireflies outpost where doctors can turn Ellie's immunity into a cure.
At first, this 14-year-old kid, armed with a switchblade, bad puns, and a level of profanity that would stun a sailor, grates Joel's nerves something awful. Those familiar with the concept of drama can suss out how long it takes before this plucky youngin' gets this mean old man's cold heart to melt.
The Last of Us is famous — maybe infamous — for its extreme plot developments and character decisions, an aspect of the franchise embraced by its television cousin. The first game and Season 1 end on a bittersweet note with Joel's rescue of Ellie from the Fireflies, who had been prepping her for a surgery that might have saved the world from the cordyceps virus but would have killed Ellie. Joel's decision results in a staggering loss of life as he cuts a path to save his would-be daughter. When Ellie comes to, Joel — lying to himself more than her, clearly — says a cure is impossible and that the Fireflies have cut them loose.
Ellie, wise beyond her years, knows something's not right about that story. So, the season ends with her asking Joel to swear his story is true. He does, without skipping a beat, and she says okay — though it's clear nothing will ever be okay for Ellie and Joel, not ever again.
That's a hell of a question. Simply put, The Last of Us leaves Joel, Ellie, and the people around them in a precarious state, and its sequel follows this story beat to its dramatic extremes. If you haven't played The Last of Us Part II and have successfully avoided being spoiled on its bigger plot points, it's best to continue thriving in ignorance until 2025 — because when Season 2 drops, it will hurt.
According to HowLongToBeat.com, 2013's The Last of Us is a 14-1/2-hour game (or roughly 23 hours for completionists). Season 1 came to 8-3/4 hours, swapping out the game's combat and crafting aspects to explore side characters, most notably spending upwards of an hour on Nick Offerman's wily apocalypse prepper and a subplot that introduced a villain played by Melanie Lynskey. Its sequel season won't have the luxury of expanding on such economical storytelling.
With an expanded character roster, bigger threats, and larger American scope, The Last of Us Part II is a much bigger game at 24 hours (or 42-1/2 to max out all the available content). Mazin has stated that due to this length and how it tells two intertwining stories, it's likely that Season 2 will stretch out into a third. Fans of the show's brand of emotional devastation should brace themselves, and players who recall the exhausting discourse surrounding the 2020 sequel should steel for at least two years' worth of more of the same.
While it isn't officially the case, the safe bet is that Season 2 will be set five years following the events of Season 1, the same as The Last of Us Part II. (In the series's timeline, that would place the show in 2028, or three years after its projected release date.) That puts Ellie at 19 or 20 years old and Joel, 56 in Season 1, at 61.
In Season 1, Ellie and Joel met up with Joel's younger brother Tommy (Gabriel Luna) in Jackson, Wyoming, the thriving survivor's community borrowed from The Last of Us Part II. (In the first game, they met at a hydroelectric dam.) We see that our Terrible Twosome has returned to the town's outposts by the end of Season 1, so expect Jackson (recreated in Alberta, Canada, where the season was filmed) to be the starting point from which the sprawling Season 2 shall grow.
It's been reported that HBO will expand production from Alberta to British Columbia, which sits atop Seattle, Washington, the primary location of The Last of Us Part II. That game also takes a trip to Southern California, but to say why is to spoil everything, so it's best to leave it at that.
In keeping with HBO's bloody tradition of genre TV, The Last of Us makes no bones about killing off important characters. So, naturally, the returning cast will be a small one: Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey are reprising their roles as Joel and Ellie, albeit in older versions. Gabriel Luna returns as Joel's kid brother Tommy, and while there is no official confirmation that she'll be back, Rutina Wesley (Queen Sugar) is expected to return as Maria, the quasi-leader of Jackson. (C'mon: Her character is pregnant, and she's married to Tommy!)
As TLOU can bop around the timeline when dramatic reasons call for it, it's not beyond the realm of possibility that Tess, played by Mindhunter's Anna Torv, could cameo in a flashback (she was important to Joel, after all). Just don't expect to see more from Season 1 standout Bill, Offerman's irascible prepper with a heart of gold; Mazin says Bill's days are done.
No, Season 2 has its hands full bringing the broader character roster of The Last of Us Part II to life. Young Mazino (Beef) will co-star as Jesse, a Jackson scout who "puts everyone else's needs before his own, sometimes at terrible cost." Jesse has a rocky history with Dina, a "free-wheeling spirit" played by singer Isabela Merced (Dora and the Lost City of Gold), whose burgeoning romance with Ellie and past with Jesse should make a fittingly moody love triangle for the series. (Dina was the girl you saw furtively eyeing Ellie from afar in Jackson in Season 1.)
Other characters from The Last of Us Part II (co-created by Druckmann and writer Halley Gross) will likely appear in Season 2. There's Lev (originally portrayed in motion capture by Ian Alexander, who has expressed interest in reprising the role) and Yara (Victoria Grace), a pair of siblings who factor into the game's plot in consequential ways. Of course, saying how or why is forbidden. And don't forget about Manny (Fear the Walking Dead's Alejandro Edda) and Owen (Patrick Fugit), two allies in Abby's orbit who bring some much-needed good humor to the jet-black world of The Last of Us. Further casting is in the offing.
Most crucially, Kaitlyn Dever (No One Will Save You), who was once in the running to play Ellie before Ramsey secured the role, will co-star as the formidable Abby. (As it turns out, Dever is already a Naughty Dog veteran, as she portrayed Cassie Drake in Uncharted 4: A Thief's End.) The production is currently tight-lipped about the direction Abby will take, but it diplomatically categorizes her as "a skilled soldier whose black-and-white view of the world is challenged as she seeks vengeance for those she loved." Considering Abby's brutal combat skills in the game, Dever is probably hitting the gym as we speak.
Yes, with caveats. The Last of Us is an immersive experience that some would argue is richer than Season 1, with more cathartic Clicker action and quiet interludes where Joel (Troy Baker) and Ellie (Ashley Johnson) learn much about each other through their actions and dialogue. If you loved Season 1 and want to see more of these two hard-scrabble rascals, then playing the game is highly recommended.
Part II is, in many ways, a more daunting and violent experience, just as rich if not more dramatically complex. It's a shocking, revelatory game and, as noted earlier, quite long for a third-person adventure. If you're willing to unearth all the secrets of HBO's impending second season of The Last of Us, not to mention its potential third season, to boot, then go for it: Naughty Dog has just released a remastered version of the game for the PlayStation 5. Just don't come crying to us when your heart gets shattered into a million pieces.
Jarrod Jones is a freelance writer currently settled in Chicago. He reads lots (and lots) of comics and, as a result, is kind of a dunderhead.