Arts, Television

‘The Last of Us’ Showcases Unique Apocalypse Visuals in a Familiar Story


Few video games compare to the success and popularity of Naughty Dog’s “The Last of Us,” released in 2013. 

The new HBO series of the same name is true to the beloved video game’s spirit, yet is visually unique. The show follows Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) as they begin to navigate a post-apocalyptic world where a fungal infection zombifies people into creatures known as the “infected.” 

Fans of the game can expect to find a similar plot, but HBO’s take on the story offers the audience a chance to experience the story’s setting in a visually captivating way that the PlayStation game couldn’t.

The Last of Us largely takes place in a deteriorating Boston. Viewers have the chance to compare the differences between the city many viewers know and love, and HBO’s depiction of a Boston taken over by disease and neglect. 

Once the clashing duo, Joel and Ellie, enter Boston and leave the safety of their base—which was free of zombies—they encounter the wonders of the city that surrounds them. Nature reemerges as a dominant force that is beautiful, yet destructive. Joel and Ellie have to navigate through the natural world in an urban setting, in which these fungus zombies are deeply rooted. 

The original “Last of Us” game provides some remarkable shots, but the show takes it a step further with a breathtaking set composition. Episode two is stunning to watch as Joel and Ellie explore Boston and rediscover the city.

Take a scene in which the characters hole up in an abandoned hair salon. There’s a hole in the ceiling that lets streams of sunlight enter the room. The center of the room is covered in light while the far reaches of the room are dark and foreboding. Within the sunlight, colorful flowers litter the grass and cover the ground in a way that puts nature in the spotlight and showcases the beauty of what lies within the apocalyptic Boston. 

Another scene shows the protagonists wading through the lobby of a flooded hotel. Before the characters arrive on scene, the audience is given a moment to appreciate the beauty of the decomposing hotel lobby, untouched by humanity for years. Ducks wade around in the water in a playful way, like they would in a regular pond. A frog hops across the keys of an old piano, which astonishingly still works. It creates a sound reminiscent of the humanity that once was. 

Both of these shots appear to be created without computer-generated images (CGI). The feat is astonishing, as most mainstream series and movies rely on computers to create most scenery. The lack of CGI shows how The Last of Us is committed to creating a society that feels authentic to the post-apocalyptic world it created. 

The technology comes into play for the larger city-wide views, but that doesn’t make these visuals any less impressive. In most of these brief but remarkable shots, the towering buildings of Boston are covered in vines and in some places, have crumbled and collapsed. 

These gigantic shots that showcase the skylines and immensity of Boston create an almost overwhelming feeling—one you might actually get by stepping foot in the city. There’s beauty and wonder, but not the type you might normally find in a buzzing city. The audience has the chance to experience post-apocalyptic Boston like Joel and Ellie, and that’s where the show finds its purpose. 

January 29, 2023