Title: The Last of Us S1.E01 “When You’re Lost in the Darkness”
Released: 2023

Grab your Molotov cocktails and scrounge through the drawer for some tape to upgrade your weapon! It’s zombie time! This may not be our most on-brand TV recap we’ve ever done for FYA, but I (Stephanie) love this video game and any sort of disaster/post-apocalyptic survival story, and Mandy W. (a TLoU newb) got extremely curious after watching them film scenes for the show in her city. Keep the tissues (and adult diapers?) handy and let’s gooo!

From Austin To Boston

We spend Joel Miller’s birthday with his teenage daughter, Sarah, as she goes about her school day in Austin and gets her dad’s watch repaired (with his own money lol) for his present. She’s a sweet kid, and it’s clear that she and single dad, Joel, have a very loving relationship. Unfortunately, it is September 26, 2003, and the zombie apocalypse has arrived. As Joel, his brother, Tommy, and Sarah attempt to escape, Sarah is shot by a soldier and dies in Joel’s arms. It’s gut-wrenching every time I watch it. 

Twenty years later, a dead-inside Joel is living a horribly dreary existence in the military QZ (quarantine zone) outside Boston, working menial labor for scraps and smuggling on the side. Joel has a reputation that keeps everyone at a distance except for his partner-in-crime, Tess. The two cross paths with Marlene, the leader of the pro-democracy, anti-Fedra rebel Fireflies, along with a bunch of her soldiers killed during a deal gone bad. Wounded and unable to complete her mission, Marlene strong-arms Tess and Joel into smuggling a teenage girl named Ellie outside of the QZ to the rest of her team. 

The reluctant trio sneak out, but things go from bad to worse when they encounter a soldier and Joel, deep in a flashback of Sarah’s death, kills him to prevent him from shooting Ellie. Why would he shoot her, you ask? Because she’s infected! However, she was bitten three weeks ago, which is three weeks longer than anyone ever survived not turning into a gross fungus-infested mess. So Joel, Tess, and Ellie press on into a rain-soaked, infected downtown to get Ellie to safety as ominous music plays.

Best Joel/Ellie Moment

They only meet near the end of the episode, but it’s a toss-up between:

  • Ellie watching as Joel kills the soldier. She looks curious but not disgusted (also a bit of a callback/contrast to a horrified Sarah watching Joel kill their infected neighbor in front of her), and, in the extras, they mention how it’s one of the first times orphaned Ellie sees someone go out of their way to protect her.

Survivor of the Week

I didn’t really care about Tess in the game but Anna Torv is changing my mind on her. 

Pour One Out For

Sarah, because dying from a gunshot wound to the stomach looked hella painful. Pour another one out for Joel’s humanity because you know he died right there along with his daughter. *sobs* Nico Parker (Thandiwe Newton’s daughter!) and Pedro Pascal tore up the scenery and my goddamn heart with that entire scene.

Best Time To Cover Your Eyes

Sarah, the dog clearly was telling you, “DON’T GO INSIDE THAT DAMN HOUSE, HUMAN!” Who are these insanely brave people who walk through swaths of blood to someone who was clearly just attacked?! Couldn’t be me.

(Also, thank you, showrunners, for not doing anything bad to the dog on screen. I can now convince myself that when he ran away, he lived out the remainder of his days happy in the…wilds of Austin.) 

We Must Adapt To Survive

  • There were so many moments ripped straight from the game that I’m sure I didn’t catch them all, but I wasn’t expecting how fun it would be to find them and how I was kind of affected by them? I’ll admit I wasn’t totally on-board when this TV adaptation was announced (the game was already cinematic enough) but seeing the level of detail and care put into preserving the look and feel of the locations and the story is bringing me around. This was a great episode for a “normal” TV show, let alone a video game adaptation (it’s not been the best track record). I think my personal favorite recreation scene was how they used the exact same camera angles and shots (the road sign, the burning house, going through the fields, the town street) as Joel, Tommy, and Sarah were driving through Austin.

  • When Marlene showed up I told my husband, wow, she looks/sounds just like Marlene from the game! Yeah…it was Merle Dandridge, the same actress who voiced it and did the mo-cap, lol. *facepalm*

  • Pedro is PERFECT as Joel. And I’m not just saying that because I love Pedro (though I do). The slight Southern twang he’s adopting, the scruffiness, the facial reactions, the way he moves his body as though he is completely exhausted with the world. This adaptation is 100% worth it for Pedro alone. Exhibit A: All the worn down dad vibes.

Graffiti On The Wall

  • I always have to ponder with these kinds of stories when there’s no “end” in sight (no cure or everyone you love is dead) what makes people go on. Was it Tommy that kept Joel from just ending it all after Sarah’s death? Two decades of living in a decaying society feels like at least one decade too long for me.

  • The opening scene in 1968 with the helpful recap of how the world would end (thanks, global warming, for forcing the fungi to adapt) felt very Chernobyl-y. (Also bonus Jonathan!)

  • I appreciate that the show is using the same composer they used from the game, because the music added a lot to the atmosphere. (And that flying-over-the-fungus opening credits sequence was pulling hard from Game of Thrones, no?)

  • Things to ponder for next week: Mandy W., as someone brand-new to the story, what stuck out the most to you in this episode? Did you feel connected to our main characters already, or are you reserving judgment until you get to know them better? 

What did you think of Joel and Ellie this first episode? Would you join the Fireflies? Join us in the comments!

Stephanie (she/her) is an avid reader who moonlights at a college and calls Orlando home. Stephanie loves watching television, reading DIY blogs, planning awesome parties, Halloween decorating, and playing live-action escape games.