The Last of Us episode 1 review - When You're Lost in Darkness: Talking points, Easter eggs and questions

We’re already addicted to video game adaptation The Last of Us after an emotional and terrifying opening episode. We review and recap When You're Lost in Darkness.

By Alex Fletcher Published: 18 January 2023 - 7.01pm
The Last of Us key artwork

Stream The Last of Us weekly on Sky Atlantic with NOW

Record-breaking review scores on Rotten Tomatoes, the curse of computer game adaptations broken and an epic HBO series to rival House of the Dragon for brutality and shocking moments. It’s easy to see why The Last of Us is already being talked up as a possible TV Show of the Year, even in January.

Episode 1, When You’re Lost in Darkness will have felt very familiar to players of the classic PlayStation game, but it also gently meshes it together with a bunch of added extras and extra layers, cleverly crafted by writer Craig Mazin (Chernobyl).

Here are the five major talking points, the aster eggs we spotted and the burning questions we have after The Last of Us episode 1…

1. Bella Ramsey and Pedro Pascal are the perfect Ellie and Joel

It took just a single episode to smash all the toxic criticism over the choice of Bella Ramsey, Pedro Pascal and the rest of TLOU cast for having the wrong hair, wrong eyes, etc, etc...

What makes TLOU different from so many previous computer game adaptations is that when fans talk about the game, they refer to the characters, the relationships and the emotional impact of the storyline, above everything else.

Yes, there is a terrifying fungal infection causing an apocalyptic event that means the lead characters are surviving in a world plagued by flesh-munching, skin-crawling zombies. But that is secondary to the bond between Joel and Ellie.

47-year-old Pascal captures every side of Joel, a man who has had his heart ripped out by the death of his daughter Sarah on the first day of the pandemic. The silent pain, anguish and broken heart; the brutal strength, burning soul and intensity spilling into violence.

The success of TLOU hinges on the relationship between Joel and Ellie, the nature of love and the way it controls our behaviour. And that can only truly succeed when actors like Pascal and Ramsey strike up a chemistry to match the most intense kind of love.

A line from the show’s writer Craig Mazin sums up Joel and Ellie and the whole series: "This is a love story and that’s not good."

Talking about the official HBO Last of Us podcast, he added: "The theme that came out of the game… and we will continue to come back to it, is the notion that love conquers all. And that is problematic."

The Last of Us: Surprising trivia about the TV show

2. Why did the TV show add the science scene with John Hannah?

A part of episode 1 that wasn’t in the game is the opening sequence of the series, which features John Hannah playing an epidemiologist, who is on a talk show in 1963, forewarning that the greatest pandemic threat to mankind is fungal rather than bacterial.

Not only is it impressive that the show manages to snap up Hannah for a five-minute cameo, but this added detail about the origins of the disease and outbreak adds some extra layers of horror to the series.

Not only do his vivid (and accurate) descriptions of the fungus cordyceps invading into creatures give us shivers, it also taps into a post-Covid sense of dread we all have. What might have felt like something you only see in the movies 10 years ago now feels only too real.

Craig Mazin fought to have the talkshow scene introduce the show, because he wanted to capture that sense of a warning unheeded. It’s a theme he played with successfully in Chernobyl and we see it again running through TLOU’s premiere: the concept of people ignoring and shutting their eyes to a dangerous threat to civilisation. We’ll let you connect to the dots to real-world events in 2023.

3. Give Mercy the dog an Emmy

Although episode 1 played heavily on a post-pandemic dread, it also dished up a couple of brilliant jump scares.

Nico Parker is our guide to the pre-apocalypse world as Joel’s daughter Sarah - a subtle and deft performance which somehow gets us  emotionally invested in just half an episode.

We watch the slow beginnings of apocalyptic events unravel around a normal day for Sarah. Until it all comes crashing down in horrifying fashion.

And it begins with Mercy the sheepdog from the Adler family, who live next door.

The terrified pooch knows before Sarah that there is something afoot in the Adler house and his whines and scratches left us gulping at what was coming next – give that dog an Emmy!

The scenes where Sarah discovers the Adlers being munched on by their elderly relative (we see the old lady clicking and bending her jaw in the background of an earlier scene) is unforgettable and proper watch-through-your-fingers TV.

4. Let's talk about that brutal scene with Joel and the soldier

Joel does his best to keep a distance from Ellie in their early meeting, refusing to be drawn into any kind of emotional attachment with a girl similar in age to his late daughter.

However, in the show’s shocking closing sequence where Joel, Tess (Anna Torv) and Ellie are confronted by a soldier, the PTSD from the events with Sarah rear up and he unleashes a pounding of fists and bloodied knuckles.

The parallel between the two scenes, the burning intensity of Joel and the reactions of Ellie all come together in a powerful bloodrush moment. It gives us a little glimpse of what’s happening inside these characters and also offers us a stark warning about what may come.

5. Last of Us Easter eggs and Depeche Mode's Never Let Me Down Again

It never felt while watching episode 1 that you were missing anything if you hadn’t played TLOU before. However, it did offer a few cheeky Easter eggs for fans that were sneakily dropped across the episode.

Just a couple of examples include:

  • The firefly pattern on Sarah’s pillow;
  • The Curtis and the Viper 2 DVD that Sarah and Joel watch – a fictional film that is referenced during an emotional moment in the game;
  • The Halican Drops band T-shirt that Sarah wears is the same one we see in the game.

Another significant nod to the game is the use of Depeche Mode classic Never Let Me Down Again in the closing sequence.

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.”

The writer also teased that we will hear the song again in a different way later in the series.

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