The Last of Us lived up to the hype for me. I was in awe of what HBO and Naughty Dog produced and found myself not only thinking about it constantly but rewatching it as well. The Last of Us is an endearing and heartbreaking television series that will captivate you from start to finish.

This cast is absolutely fantastic! Pedro Pascal brings depth to his character as we witness Joel’s incredible transformation from hardened survivor to vulnerable protector. The real standout in this show is Ellie, played wonderfully by Bella Ramsey. Ramsey is a phenom and her talents are on full display as she delivers Ellie’s heartbreaking character arc with impeccable execution. Recurring stars such as Anna Torv’s Tess and Gabriel Lina’s Tommy also serve as excellent additions to the cast. Not to be outdone, the guest stars, specifically Nico Parker, Melanie Lynskey, Nick Offerman, and Murray Bartlett also give outstanding performances in their respective episodes.

The quality of the episodes is surprisingly consistent for a show. There are no bad episodes but there are some great ones. The clear standout in this series is the third episode. Offerman and Bartlett’s performances in that episode are exceptional and inspiring. It’s the greatest example of beautifully heartbreaking storytelling and how to execute it. It’s an episode that people won’t forget for a “Long, Long Time”, also the name of Linda Ronstadt’s beautiful and haunting song featured in this episode. A close second is episode five with the achingly touching story of Henry and his brother Sam.

I loved the production value of the show as well. All the sets are truly jaw-dropping and, unless you’re Canadian like me, it’s very hard to tell this was shot in Calgary. In addition to the ruinous and eerie sets, the costumes, makeup, and effects for the Infected are creepy and superb all at once. It’s clear that a lot of love and hard work went into perfecting even the smallest detail.

Something else that stood out to me was how much of the original cast and crew from the games were involved. Not only did creator Neil Druckmann serve as a co-writer and director, but Troy Baker, Ashley Johnson, Jeffrey Pierce, and Merle Dandridge who played Joel, Ellie, Tommy, and Marlene in the games all have guest-starring roles in the show. Gustavo Santaolla also returns to score the series, having previously done the scoring for the games. It’s one big The Last of Us family and I think it’s great that they are all included in some way.

The Last of Us is not known for its gameplay, which is very simple at its core, but rather for its incredible story. The Last of Us makes us of that gripping narrative to deliver an exceptional adaptation that no other video game adaptation has succeeded in doing in the past. It manages to adapt the game’s narrative while making small changes and additions to make it even better. We still follow Joel and Ellie but with some excellent tweaks that almost always make the final product better.  

Craig Mazin might be the best writer in television right now. His work on Chernobyl was fantastic and The Last of Us is no different. Mazin, who co-wrote the series with The Last of Us creator Neil Druckmann, gives Joel, Ellie, and all the recurring characters a profound and penetrating complexity that will captivate viewers. The audience becomes so drawn and connected to the characters, that no matter how little time you spend with some of them, it makes the inevitable goodbye tragic and somber.

The Last of Us is astonishing. Not only is it easily the best live-action adaptation of a video game ever made, but it is also must-see television. Nearly three weeks into the new year, it’s already a contender for the best show of 2023.