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The Last of Us TV series has finally arrived on our screens a decade after becoming one of the most played and loved computer games of all time.
Early reviews for the series suggest that the HBO show has broken the computer game curse and managed to capture the horror and heart of the original in its adaptation.
Starring Pedro Pascal (The Mandalorian) and Bella Ramsey (Game of Thrones) as the two leads Joel and Ellie, the apocalyptic drama mixes horror with emotional personal stories. You’ll be hiding behind your sofa in one scene and sobbing uncontrollably the next.
Here are some surprising facts about the HBO series – which you can stream weekly on Sky Atlantic with NOW – that you might not know…
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1. Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey have starred in a HBO smash hit together before
Although Pedro and Bella had never met before making The Last of Us, they both starred in HBO's global phenomenon Game of Thrones.
Pedro had a memorable short-lived role as Oberyn Martell in the series, before he met a head-squashing ending. And Bella would go to star as fan favourite Lady Mormont in later seasons.
“I fell in love with Lady Mormont like everyone else, I was a little fanboy. Don’t say you watched my scenes?” Pedro told Rotten Tomatoes, in a joint interview with Bella.
His co-star joked: “I didn’t. But I did hear you get your eyes squashed out!”
2. There were plans to make a Last of Us movie, but it didn’t work
This HBO series isn’t the first attempt to bring The Last of Us to screen. The game's huge success initially sparked plans for a movie and Sam Raimi (Spider-Man) was signed up to direct.
Neil Druckmann, the creator of The Last of Us game and executive producer for the TV series, said that the film failed to get off the ground because it was losing the essence of what made the game great.
Rather than following the source material, the movie was cutting out chunks of the story and trying to turn the story into a big blockbuster.
"A lot of the thinking and notes were like 'how do we make it bigger?' Druckmann told the Script Apart podcast. "I think that's ultimately why the movie wasn’t made."
3. Other star names were considered to play Ellie
Neil Druckmann admits that casting Ellie required “dozens and dozens” of auditions.
He told The Hollywood Reporter that when he was working on the movie he spoke with Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams and Booksmart actress Kaitlyn Dever did a table read.
When the audition process restarted for the TV series, Ramsey blew the producers away with her tape.
“It was like Ellie realised in live action,” said Druckman.
4. Creator Neil Druckmann hit back at casting criticism from game fans
It feels like a right of passage for every TV adaptation these days to face criticism before an episode even airs about “woke” casting and minor changes from the source material. It happened on House of the Dragon and there have also been complaints online from a more toxic element of the The Last of Us fanbase.
Druckmann has responded to the complaints, describing the fans as “misguided”.
"They're hanging onto superficial things and think that if those things change, somehow we've got it wrong,” he told Yahoo.
“But I would like to ask them: When you first played the game and [you met] Sarah, was it her relationship to Joel [that affected you] or that she had blonde hair? What's important versus what's not?
“To me, it was more important to capture the essence of those characters when we cast them.”
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5. The Last of Us isn’t going to turn into The Walking Dead
The Last of Us will inevitably face comparisons with another phenomenally successful apocalypse survival series The Walking Dead.
However, one key difference between the two shows will be their duration.
The Walking Dead ran for 11 seasons and is still alive through various spin-offs that are coming in the next couple of years. The Last of Us, however, is going down a very different route and will just do a single season for the first computer game and a second season for game 2.
“We have no plans to tell any stories beyond adapting the games,” said Druckmann.
“We won’t run into the same issue as Game of Thrones since Part II doesn’t end on a cliffhanger.”
Craig Mazin added: “I don’t have any interest in a spinning-plates-go-on-forever show.
“When it becomes a perpetual motion machine, it just can’t help but get kind of … stupid. Endings mean everything to me.”
6. Bella Ramsey and Pedro Pascal were told NOT to play the computer game
But did they listen? Bella says she followed the advice of the producers, who didn’t want her to copy the performance of Ashley Johnson in the game.
Pedro was a little cheekier and ignored them.
“I tried to play the game, and I was very, very bad at it,” Pedro told Wired.
“It was important to me to play notes that were directly related to what was originally in the game - physically, visually, vocally.”
7. Fans of the game can look forward to loads of Last of Us Easter Eggs
Although writer Craig Mazin didn’t want to spoil and give anyway any details to fans, he has promised fans of the game that they can look forward to lots of little Easter Egg references they will enjoy.
“There are so many throughout,” he told Radio 1.
“All I will say is, our philosophy was everything needed to have resonance. Even for those who don’t play the game. But we were always looking for opportunities to reward people.
“It’s love. I love the game. They love the game. We want to take care of them as we bring it to the rest of the world.”
8. The Last of Us TV show will sound familiar
One of the most important signings for the TV series was composer Gustavo Santaolalla.
Gustavo is a two-time Academy Award winner for Brokeback Mountain and Babel, but more importantly he’s also the man behind The Last of Us computer game soundtrack.
He will be bringing some familiar haunting music to the series and expanding upon it for the TV show.
9. The Last of Us might get a third computer game
Druckmann has been quite busy getting the TV show launched, but there is still hope and constant rumours of a third Last Of Us computer game. The relaunch of the game on PS5 reignited rumours last year that plans are afoot for a sequel, and demand is likely to increase when the TV shows earns the game even more fans.
The creator told Script Apart that he had worked on a story outline for TLOU 3 with Halley Gross.
He said that the important factor was to feel “jazzed” and challenged by a storyline in a third game. Fingers crossed we’ll hear more soon, because another game means another potential season of the TV show.
10. Troy Baker who plays Joel in the game appears in The Last of Us TV series
Troy Baker appears in episode 8 of The Last of Us, playing James, a senior member of David's cult-like cannibal group.
Troy Baker famously played Joel in The Last of Us computer game and hosts the official Last of Us TV show podcast.
He's famous for his voiceover work in animation and games and holds the record for the most acting nominations at the BAFTA Games Awards.
11. Mortal Kombat II wasn't in the original Last of Us computer game
FINISH HIM! Viewers of a certain age will have got a definite nostalgia rush as Riley and Ellie button bashed their way through a couple of rounds of Mortal Kombat II in The Last of Us episode 7.
In the original game of The Last of Us, Neil Druckmann couldn’t use an official title, so created a game called The Turning.
Druckmann and Mazin replaced it with Mortal Kombat - an infamous title which caused a huge stir on release because of is gory violence - because they felt that it was a great opportunity to do something that wasn’t possible in the game.
The duo described the beat-em-up as “the best” arcade game and Mazin said he became particularly obsessed and granular with capturing the sound of the quarter being dropped in the machine (“The way it would feel in your stomach”).
The meta use of a computer game in a show based on a computer game is cute, but it also neatly ties up with the scene from episode 3 where Ellie finds a broken Mortal Kombat II machine with Joel. That scene and her words about an old friend she used to play it with gets a whole new level of meaning after this scene.
12. The Ellie and Riley scenes were filmed at a real Calgary mall
Showrunners Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann revealed on The Last of Us podcast that they got incredibly lucky with the mall scenes in episode 7 because they found one in Calgary, Canada, that was scheduled for demolition.
“And they said, you can do what you want,” said Mazin. “The only problem was that the mall was a little sad and it only really had one floor with a little escalator at the end.”
That means the magical moment where Ellie is staring out into the mall as the lights are switched on had to be shot on a soundstage and created with visual effects. Adding a second floor to every scene was a daunting prospect for the creative team, but Mazin said that the ‘love for the game’ among the crew kept driving them and inspiring them to make these scenes and sequences happen.
13. The ending of the Bill and Frank episode was a lucky accident
It was the perfect way to close episode 3 and end Bill and Frank’s story. Long, Long Time playing out, an open window, the wind blowing, sunshine breaking into their home. The darkness and shadows we saw at the start with Bill in his basement, replaced by love and optimism. Bill and Frank are at peace.
But the creators admit that they came to that final shot in an unusual stroke of fortune.
They revealed that their had been a plan to start every episode with a window and a curtain blowing. The idea was to have a ‘Press Play’ button alongside it, inspired by the menu screen on the computer game.
Mazin and Druckmann later admitted it was a “misfire” of an idea, but it did give them this beautiful ending.
14. Why did they choose Linda Ronstadt's Long Long Time for The Last of Us episode 3?
Will we ever be able to listen to this song and not think about Bill and Frank? The hit track from 1970 sang by the couple and heard playing over the closing sequence of The Last of Us episode 3 was the suggestion of Broadway legend Seth Rudestsky.
He was challenged to come up with a song about “lifelong loss and longing” by Craig Mazin and immediately replied with Long, Long Time.
Talking on the HBO Last of Us podcast, Mazin said: "I’d forgotten this song existed, but it couldn’t have been more perfect.
"The lyrics are someone saying, everyone says it will OK. Love will find me. Pain and heartache and loss and disconnection will heal. No it doesn’t. No it’s not. The person that I longed for from afar, I will love them forever in the most unrequited manner.”
Mazin added: "What a beautiful notion, that you can’t ever get there. That the closer you get, the further the light gets away."
15. What is the significance of Depeche Mode's Never Gonna Let You Down Again in The Last of Us?
Another significant nod to the game is the use of Depeche Mode classic Never Let Me Down Again in the closing sequence to episode 1.
Talking on the HBO official podcast, Craig Mazin explained: "There is a grand tradition of 80s music in The Last of Us - and 80s means trouble. I love that line.
"One of the things that Neil and Naughty Dog does with the game so beautifully is to hurt you for the things you love. Taking things that are bright cheery and optimistic and getting this dark undertone.”
On the song choice, he added: “It feels like an upbeat song, but lyrically it has a darkness to it. What he was singing about was drugs. It’s a song about addiction.
"Ellie is about to take a ride with her best friend, but he’s dangerous. Joel is about to take a ride with his best friend. He just doesn’t know she’s he’s best friend yet.
"The whole point is that they are going to let each other down. Then they’re not. They are again. Then they’re not.”
16. Did you spot the Curtis and the Viper 2 and Halican Drops Easter eggs?
In The Last of Us episode 1, Sarah is seen wearing a Halican Drops band t-shirt, the exact same one we see in computer game.
Also in episode 1, we see Sarah and Joel enjoying the DVD Curtis and Viper 2, a film reference which appears during an emotional moment in the game with Ellie.
Stream The Last of Us weekly on Sky Atlantic with NOW.
More on The Last of Us
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All about Ellie: Bella Ramsey's best TV shows and movies in spotlight
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