A few weeks ago, as I was watching screeners for HBO’s new show, The Last Of Us, I immediately thought about this moment. Today. Right now. You reading this. The day after everyone else could see what I just witnessed.
I’d just watched episode three of The Last Of Us, called “Long, Long Time” and was stunned. That such a beautiful, unique, and unexpected episode of television was sandwiched in the middle of this PlayStation video game adaptation made it very clear this show was aspiring to something more. And so, the next day, when I was among a group of journalists who got to talk to co-showrunners Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann about the series, I had to ask about this specific episode. How it was created, what it meant to the show, and why now, in episode three, was the right time to do it. And now, Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann.
Craig Mazin: Well, in terms of placing it early in the series, you kind of have to have this weird, almost music-like sense of rhythm if you’re building a series. And one of the things that I felt pretty strongly was, look, we’ve got this insane first episode where the world falls apart and there’s tragedy. And then we meet Joel with Ellie, and they begin this adventure. And the second episode is incredibly tense and features danger and Clickers and tragedy. We need a breath.
One of the things that I remember from the game was that Bill was safe. I love the concept that he had built this oasis of safety, there was an allusion to his relationship with Frank, and I just started thinking that there was an opportunity there. That there was an opportunity to, first of all, help people understand how the passage of time functioned between the outbreak to now, but also to really dig into the point of the show, which is the nature of love. Two very different kinds of love and how those two kinds of love need each other.
In the best of circumstances, you get what you get with Bill and Frank, which is a success. They win regardless of how it ends. They win. They have a happy ending. But then we will see over and over throughout the season this dynamic repeat itself, and it isn’t always successful and sometimes it’s deadly. We continually have to wonder, as Joel and Ellie begin to bond permanently to each other: is this going to be dangerous or not? Because they’re both dangerous people. And what kind of love are we going to see exhibited when this is all said and done?
So it was an opportunity to just explore theme and the passage of time and to do it with Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett, who are incredible, and our director Peter Hoar’s gorgeous job. And I remember watching the director’s cut, which was quite a bit longer. It could have been 10 hours as far as I was concerned. I just was like, [crying noises]. I love it and I’m very proud of it. And what’s been really encouraging is that people who know the game accept it. They don’t go “Ohhh, it was different.” They accept it as its own thing. It doesn’t replace what happened in the game. That is always there. But it’s its own thing and it feels okay. It feels like it’s part of The Last Of Us.
Neil Druckmann: This is, I think, the brilliance of Craig Mazin ... in the game, we did our best as far as showing different kinds of relationships. But it all has to be shown through action because those are the things you’re doing in the game. So a lesser adaptation would be like, “Oh, let’s take this whole action sequence and build an action episode with Joel and Bill surviving in this town.” And instead, Craig was like, “No, no, no, let’s not do any of that.” What if instead this thing that’s hinted at over here, this corner of the game, where they talk about this relationship? What if we focused on that and blew that up and do things that we couldn’t have done in the game, which is jump around in time and show these other characters? It’s been a long time with these characters, and it ultimately reflects back in a really strong, beautiful way to the themes of the game, which is the most beautiful moments in life come from love and sometimes the most horrific moments in life come from love.
And there you have it. The first three episodes of HBO’s The Last of Us are now available to stream.
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