After The White Lotus and House of the Dragon dominated Sunday night viewing in 2022, HBO is hoping to keep its streak of appointment television going with The Last of Us. And from what we've seen of it, that seems entirely possible. Based on the acclaimed video game that’s been praised in some circles as the greatest game of all time, this adaptation comes from Chernobyl creator Craig Mazin and the video game's creative director Neil Druckmann. The series is set in the aftermath of a global apocalypse where a mutated Cordyceps fungus ravaged the world's population and turned the infected into zombie-esque hive-mind killing machines. One man is tasked with bringing a young girl across the country to safety and possibly to save humanity. The word "harrowing" is used in just about every commentary about the game, so this should be a gripping good time.
The 10-episode first season is said to cover the entirety of the first video game, while Season 2 would supposedly cover the 2020 release, The Last of Us, Part II. Mazin and Druckmann have both talked about having no intention of going beyond the material in the videos games, with Druckmann assuring, "We won’t run into the same issue as Game of Thrones since Part II doesn’t end on a cliffhanger." Two seasons may well be all we get with these characters.
The cast is stacked with talent, including more than a few familiar faces, especially if you're an HBO loyalist. Here, we take a closer look at the cast, which characters come from the video game, and which are new to the series. Additionally, the series will feature performances from Troy Baker, Ashley Johnson, and Anthony Pierce, who voiced the roles of Joel, Ellie, and Tommy, respectively, in the original video game.
Twenty years after the Cordyceps infection brought the world to its knees, Joel is a hardened survivor living in a quarantine zone in Boston. Tormented by a trauma in his past, Joel must battle past all that in order to get a young girl to safety across the breadth of post-apocalyptic America. Joel is played by Pedro Pascal, a familiar face to Game of Thrones fans for his breakthrough role as Oberyn Martell. Since then, he's been led Disney+'s The Mandalorian and starred in films like Wonder Woman 1984 and The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent.
Another veteran of Game of Thrones — though she never overlapped with Pascal — is Bella Ramsey, who played fan-favorite character Lyanna Mormont in the show's final seasons. This past year, she starred as the title character in Lena Dunham's medieval coming-of-age comedy Catherine Called Birdy. She's playing the role of Ellie, the enigmatic 14-year-old girl who Joel must shepherd across the country because she may be the key to saving humanity. She's a defiant, tough little orphan who's never known the pre-apocalyptic world, and she and Joel form a tentative bond along the way.
Tess is Joel's partner, both romantically and in the smuggling business, in the quarantine zone. She's a hardened survivor and a formidable presence — in many ways more intimidating than Joel himself. She's played by Anna Torv, the Australian actress best known for her starring roles on Fringe and Manhunter.
Tommy is Joel's younger brother, a former soldier who experiences the fungal apocalypse alongside Joel. Twenty years later, he's managed to hold fast to his idealism and hope that the world can improve, though recently he's gone off the map, and Joel needs to find him. He's played by Gabriel Luna, best known for playing Ghost Rider on the ABC series Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., as well as a killer Terminator in Terminator: Dark Fate.
Marlene is the leader of the Fireflies, a revolutionary group determined to take down Fedra, the fascistic militarized ruling authority that has asserted itself in the post-infection times. She's played by Merle Dandridge, who voiced the character in the video game and is the only main cast member to be reprising their original role from the game. Dandridge is also known for her performances on Broadway (Spamalot; Once on This Island) as well as playing FBI agent Kim Hammond on The Flight Attendant.
Three-time Emmy nominee Nick Offerman (they're all for hosting Making It with Amy Poehler) co-stars as Bill, a survivalist character who rides out the Cordyceps apocalypse by fortifying himself inside an abandoned town. Offerman has been a comedic character actor for years, but he got his big break playing Ron Swanson on Parks and Recreation. He works a LOT, too; just this past year he starred in Hulu's Pam & Tommy, Peacock's The Resort, and Prime Video's A League of Their Own.
Frank is mentioned and seen briefly in the video game of The Last of Us, but the TV show is delivering a far more fleshed-out version of the character. All we knew about Frank in the game was that he was Bill's partner. In the show, we'll see Bill and Frank as two post-pandemic survivalists who get to be together in their own isolated town. Murray Bartlett might be the most HBO actor of the moment, having broken through as a San Francisco gay man/prospective chicken entrepreneur on Looking, then winning an Emmy for his role on The White Lotus, and now playing Frank on The Last of Us.
Kathleen is an original character created for the TV series with no analogue in the video game. The ruthless leader of a group of revolutionaries operating in Kansas City, she’s be played by Emmy nominee Melanie Lynskey, whose Showtime series Yellowjackets is set to premiere only a couple months after she makes her The Last of Us debut. Lynskey has been working constantly in film and television since her breakthrough role opposite Kate Winslet in the 1994 film Heavenly Creatures. She's starred in films like Up in the Air and The Informant!, and on TV shows like Two and a Half Men and Mrs. America. This is her first time back on HBO since starring in the dramedy series Togetherness from 2015 to 16.
Nico Parker, the daughter of actress Thandiwe Newton and Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again! director Ol Parker, will play Sarah, Joel's 14-year-old daughter who witnesses the beginnings of the Cordyceps pandemic firsthand. Parker previously starred in Disney's live-action remake of Dumbo as well as the HBO Max series The Third Day.
Riley is an orphaned girl growing up in post-apocalyptic Boston, where Joel and Ellie's journey begins. Riley mainly appeared in the downloadable content pack The Last of Us: Left Behind and in the comic book miniseries The Last of Us: American Dreams, though she is also mentioned in the original video game. She's played by Storm Reid, an actress best known for her role as Meg Murry in A Wrinkle in Time and as Gia Bennett on HBO's Euphoria.
Henry is the elder of a pair of brothers in Kansas City who are hiding from a revolutionary group seeking vengeance against him. He's incredibly protective of his younger brother, Sam. He's portrayed by Lamar Johnson, a Canadian actor and dancer who broke throughs on the Canadian teen drama The Next Step and more recently in the film The Hate U Give and on the Showtime drama Your Honor.
Along with his older brother Henry, Sam is hiding out from the Kansas City group that's looking for some kind of vengeance. The Last of Us marks the debut performance of Keivonn Woodard, who, like his character, is deaf.
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, Anna Torv, Bella Ramsey, Craig Mazin, Melanie Lynskey, Merle Dandridge, Murray Bartlett, Neil Druckmann, Nick Offerman, Nico Parker, Pedro Pascal, Storm Reid