Dear HBO: Please Give The Last of Us Room to Breathe

Nick Offerman, Murray Bartlett HBO The Last of Us. Photograph by Liane Hentscher/HBO

If you’re a human on planet Earth, you might have heard about a little show called The Last of Us on HBO. Based on the Playstation game by the same name, the series follows Tough Guy Joel and Angsty Teen Ellie as they traverse a post-apocalyptic USA. I need to warn you, there are spoilers ahead for both The Last of Us and The Walking Dead, so if you are not up to date with both of them, and don’t want to be spoiled, stop reading. But if you’ve seen everything so far, please come with me, because we need to talk.

The Last of Us – The Show

The Last of Us is an American post-apocalyptic drama television series created by Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann for HBO. Based on the 2013 video game developed by Naughty Dog, the series is set in 2023, twenty years into a pandemic caused by a mass fungal infection, which forces its hosts to transform into zombie-like creatures and collapses society”. That’s the generic, run-of-the-mill synopsis from Wikipedia.

The first season will be 8 episodes long, with each episode having a runtime of about an hour.

Honestly? The show is great. Like, really good. It breaks down barriers like few others, in particular, the gender and sexuality ones. Which is why bigots are constantly review-bombing it. However, as good as the show is, it is not perfect. And the solution is not as hard as it may seem. So let’s cast our mind backs to a genre great, and why it worked.

The Walking Dead – The Show

Before The Last of Us, there was The Walking Dead. A franchise that needs no introduction, The Walking Dead was popularized by the AMC TV show of the same name starring Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes. The show ran for 11 seasons over 13 years, with each episode running for 45 to 60 minutes. At 177 episodes, That’s around 140 hours of television. 140 hours for us to fall in love with characters, to develop deep connections with the storylines. To really suffer a death.

Do you remember when Negan killed Glenn? It was absolutely heartbreaking. But even as early as season 2, when Carol’s daughter Sophia turns, you could hear a million tears hit floors around the world.

And this happened because we cared. We cared about these people, what they were going through. The characters had room to develop.

The Problem with The Last of Us

Now, I’m not saying for a hot minute that The Last of Us needs to last for 177 episodes. I’m not in a “turn The Hobbit into a three-part film” mood. But The Walking Dead serves as an example of how important it is to let characters grown in people’s hearts.

So far, there have been two prime examples of episodes that have felt like they could have used about half a season of character development.

The first is the Frank and Bill episode. We get one episode about this gay couple who met during the apocalypse, and 20 years of their time together get compressed into 40 minutes of television. Sure, the video game on which the show is based is less than 20 hours long. But that is interactive storytelling. It’s different than just sitting in front of the TV.

Because you’re not an active participant in the decision-making process, you don’t feel the weight of the characters’ deaths when they come, the way you did when playing the game. The episode is great, and it broke many boundaries, but can you imagine if we got Frank and Bill peppered throughout 10 episodes? We’d have gone bananas when they passed.

A similar thing happened with Ellie’s girlfriend Riley. We get one episode, enough to piss off the bigots, but definitely not enough to care too much about Riley. I feel a bit less inclined to say we needed half a season of this, as teen angst can get tiring pretty quickly (right, Carl?), but there just isn’t enough emotional baggage for us to shed a tear when Riley gets bit.

The Walking Dead‘s Transition to Video Games

Funnily enough, The Walking Dead was a TV show before it was a video game (while it’s the other way around for The Last of Us). Sure, the video game adaptation of The Walking Dead doesn’t follow the Rick Grimes story, instead focusing on a totally original plotline.

But it is similar to The Last of Us in video game for: not that long, somewhat episodic, absolutely heartbreaking. And this is because Telltale Games artfully loaded every one of our decisions as players with consequences.

We cared. We cared when Lee got bit. We cared, damn it.

The Solution for The Last of Us

Simply put: more runtime. We have the opportunity to tell one of the most important stories ever told in the history of video games through a new medium. And we’re rushing through it like it’s a McDonald’s cheeseburger at 3am.


We need longer seasons, more character development, more time to care. Now, HBO has viewing figures. It has ratings. HBO knows we want more of The Last of Us. Video games are not the same as television. Passive and active storytelling do not have the same emotional weight.

Please, HBO: give The Last of Us room to breathe.


About Marcos Codas 279 Articles
Lover of portable gaming and horror cinema. Indie filmmaker and game developer. Multimedia producer. Born in Paraguay, raised in Canada. Huge fan of "The Blair Witch Project", and "Sonic 3D Blast". Deputy head at Vita Player and its parent organization, Infinite Frontiers. Like what I do? Donate a coffee:

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