The Last Of Us Trailer Breakdown: Fireflies, Clickers, And Melanie Lynskey

A substantial first look at "The Last of Us" is finally here, and the show's teaser trailer is as riveting and emotional as the game that captured audiences' hearts nearly a decade ago. The HBO series has been in the making for years now, with fans of the beloved video game keeping a close eye on its development in hopes that maybe, just maybe, this will be one adaptation that gets it right.

From the looks of this teaser, the small-screen adaptation of "The Last of Us" starring Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey is well on its way to nailing the intense, often heartbreaking source material. Game creator Neil Druckmann is heavily involved in the series (he developed it alongside "Chernobyl" creator Craig Mazin), and it shows, as much of the footage here mirrors moments from the game. Just as noteworthy, though, is the fact that it also looks like a show that could hook new viewers who never tried out the game. 

Moody and cinematic, with just enough hints at the broader strokes of the plot to get those friends who never watched that playthrough link you sent them on board, "The Last of Us" frankly looks fantastic. Let's take a closer look at this first teaser.

Signs of infection

This teaser makes some brilliant decisions in terms of what it does and doesn't choose to reveal, starting with the very first shots. There's no spoken dialogue until the end, but it lets the show's already-striking visuals tell its story. The most important bit of information for newbies to "The Last of Us" comes very early on: after a shot of Joel (Pascal) walking through a crowd, we see a sign explaining the curfew as well as listing signs of cordyceps infection.

This is a smart bit of exposition, establishing that the series is post-apocalyptic, that its major inciting incident was an illness, and that some semblance of civilization has survived the outbreak long enough to make already-rusty signs about it. The sign relaying the settlement's curfew rules also mentions FEDRA, the Federal Disaster Response Agency, an organization that plays a significant part in the games. FEDRA isn't the only group fighting for control in the aftermath of global catastrophe, though.

The Fireflies were here

The teaser also gives a nod to the Fireflies, a revolutionary group that faces off against FEDRA and works towards finding a cure for the zombie-like illness that's plaguing the world. Despite that altruistic description, the Fireflies aren't exactly heroes, and a shot of people painting over their red spray-painted symbol shows that the militia is not a group whose logo everyone likes to see represented. Several key characters in "The Last of Us" game series end up having ties to the Fireflies, and it's the Fireflies who kick off the action in the story when they task Joel with smuggling precious cargo — which turns out to be Ellie.

Even though the Firefly logo is quickly painted over, their slogan appears a few shots later. "When you're lost in the darkness" is emblazoned in drippy red paint that definitely calls to mind blood. This is half of a common Firefly phrase, though its ending line, "look for the light," is nowhere to be found. It's a sentence that game players will immediately recognize, and one that has particular resonance in a story that's full of both metaphorical and literal darkness. It may not be a coincidence, then, that just seconds later we first catch a glimpse of Ellie (Ramsey), who turns out to be an undeniable source of light in Joel's life.

A tragic Easter egg

Speaking of which, things get dark here before they get brighter. The first shot we see of Joel's face isn't focused on his far away expression, but on his watch. It's a great way to reveal the character because it doubles as an emotional gut-punch for viewers who already know him. Joel got that watch as a birthday present from his daughter Sarah, and it's a gift he still wears long after it's stopped ticking. The fact that we see his watch before his face is pretty indicative of where this guy's at, trauma-wise. Later, we'll see some harrowing shots of Joel carrying Sarah in flashbacks.

Easter egg aside, this is also a pretty impressive image match for the series. Pascal doesn't look exactly like Joel, which is totally fine, but in this soft focus shot of his face, with only the scruff of his beard, the bridge of his nose, and the shadow of his sad eyes visible, the actor evokes an image of Joel that's a whole lot like the version Troy Baker brought to life through motion capture. The sooner fans get over the idea that "The Last Of Us" show will be identical to the game, the better, but it's also great to get little moments like this, reminders that the people making the show already know how to hit us where we live.

'The darkness has fallen'

From here, we get lots of establishing shots, including a super impressive and ominous look at the decrepit skyline of what is presumably Boston (the starting location of Ellie and Joel's journey in the game). We see the city's crumbling skyscrapers and overgrown greenery lit up against a backdrop of a flash of lightning on a stormy night. The reveal comes just as the song that accompanies the teaser — Hank Williams' "Alone and Foresaken," which is also the title of a chapter of the game — gets to the lines "The darkness has fallen/The sky has turned grey."

There are some other glimpses of post-infection America here too, including a look at a military man turning some floodlights in what appears to be Ellie's direction, and a sign that says "WELCOME" painted above what seems to be a dimly lit quarantine zone entrance that looks anything but welcoming. We also get a shot of someone monitoring a room full of surveillance cameras, yet another emphasis on the fact that this story is as much about human-on-human distrust and conflict as it is about zombies.

Warning: existential despair ahead

"The Last of Us" is sure to be bleak as hell, and this teaser has a shot that acts as a warning for viewers who might wander in thinking they'll have a good time. "Warning: existential despair ahead" may as well be the caption on a shot that foregrounds the skeletons of a parent and child. It's a beautifully constructed shot, with Joel and Ellie (you can see her red sweatshirt) in the background. You can glimpse what appears to be a dress rotting away from the corpse of the parent, while the younger pile of bones is covered with a rainbow-patterned outfit. Yeah, this is going to get dark.

While this shot may not be a direct reference to specific characters in the game, the original "The Last of Us" story sees Ellie and Joel stumble across lots of upsetting scenes like this one, which serve as reminders of their own tenuous bond and mortality as well as reminders of the senselessness of the disease that ravaged the world. One character in particular, called Ish, leaves notes that Joel finds describing the story of a group of would-be survivors including women and children. "If you find my skeleton, please don't step on my skull," one note reads.

A prequel character appears

Having effectively laid the groundwork for its super-dark world, the teaser for "The Last of Us" then starts to focus on character reveals that will have fans of the games doing the Leo DiCaprio pointing meme for a minute straight. We see Marlene, played by original video game actor Merle Dandridge, wearing the exact outfit from the game. We see Anna Torv's Tess, standing silently with Joel and Ellie as a clicker scrambles around the other side of a glass gun case. Then we see Storm Reid's Riley. Oh, Riley.

The character briefly appears on a merry-go-round with Ellie in a warmly lit scene that looks dreamlike in comparison to the show's miserable reality. While Riley's presence won't be a surprise for folks who have been closely following coverage of the series, it serves as official confirmation that the show's first season will tell a story that goes beyond the boundaries of the 2013 game. Namely, this scene takes place in "The Last of Us: Left Behind," a downloadable expansion pack for the original game that features a prequel plot with Ellie and Riley. Reid's role is small but integral, and the "Euphoria" actress seems like the perfect person to take it on.

Hi, Bill!

The character intros just keep coming, from a blink-and-you'll-miss-it appearance of Gabriel Luna's Tommy glimpsed through flames to a peek at Nick Offerman's Bill, staring down Joel from the barrel of a gun. This is a standout moment for me in particular, because as much as I love Offerman, it's sometimes tough to see him as anyone but Nick Offerman on screen. Here, though, he's less recognizable than usual as he aims down at Joel, who seems to be caught in a trap.

This shot also reveals another change from the games, albeit one that makes a lot of practical sense. In the original storyline, pessimistic and paranoid Bill catches Joel in a counterweight trap that leaves him hanging upside down, but it's probably a lot easier to film a fall into a pit. This teaser is full of out-of-context shots of real danger, but it's great that this seemingly dire one is actually a pleasant moment in disguise for fans of the games and crotchety old Bill.

Step aside for Melanie Lynskey's Kathleen

Among the quick-cut introductions comes one that no one expected but, I think I can safely say, one that people will be glad to see. Sandwiched between a shot of Ellie crawling with a flashlight and the armored vehicle that says "RUN" (a hint that we're going to see one of the most stressful sequences in the game recreated) is a shot of a woman walking determinedly through a crowd. Is that Melanie Lynskey?! It is! The always-great actress, who can also currently be found playing maybe-cannibalistic plane crash survivor Shauna on "Yellowjackets," can be seen here storming through a crowd of military-like figures who give way for her grand entrance.

Lynskey's role in the series was quickly confirmed by Entertainment Weekly this morning, and the outlet says she's playing "Kathleen, the ruthless leader of a revolutionary movement in Kansas City." Kathleen is not a character from the games, but that revolutionary group sounds like it could be the Fireflies. The series has also reportedly been filming in Kansas City, so there's a good chance it will divert some of the action to that city.

Also, there are zombies

There's a lot more to love in this less-than-two-minute teaser, including a series of quick clips at the end that show Ellie in full badass mode as she runs and shoots at the same time, and Joel holding her blood-streaked face in his hands. The only words we hear in the whole trailer come in voiceover, from a voice that sounds like it could be Tess. "This is your chance," she says. "Our best shot. You keep her alive and you set everything right." Before she finishes her thought, though, we're treated to one last review: a clicker, in all its nasty, freaky glory.

The shot comes in the last moments of the teaser, right before the voiceover breathes, "Save who you can save." We see the monster's fungi-infected face lit up in a flashlight beam, its eyes replaced with shell-like growths and its teeth rotten and bared. It's an extremely cool reveal, and it's also one that underscores what fans of the game have been trying to tell people about it for years now: there are monsters in "The Last of Us," but it's so much more than a game about monsters. By saving its zombies for the last possible second, so that new viewers may not even realize they're a part of the story, the series puts its priorities down on paper once and for all. It's not about the end of the world: it's about two unlikely companions trying to find a reason to survive it.

"The Last of Us" will premiere on HBO in 2023.