With HBO's The Last Of Us, Craig Mazin Wanted To Outdo Expectations, Not Subvert Them

HBO's live-action adaptation of "The Last of Us" has a lot to live up to. From the award-winning performances to the devastating stories that surround them, the original game is a pinnacle of excellence in the gaming scene for a reason. Judging by what we've seen so far, the show will be a faithful retelling that deviates to some degree. Pedro Pascal looks perfectly cast as Joel, and Bella Ramsey seems like a revelatory choice for Ellie that may just steal the whole show. However, hitting the markers of the video game is not the only thing HBO wants to accomplish. "The Last of Us" will look to stay true to the source material while attempting to surpass our very high expectations.

It's no secret that when a video game is adapted in live-action, there is typically an attempt by the filmmakers to drastically change key elements to better fit the medium. "Sonic the Hedgehog" is an example that has worked for audiences, while other films, like "Uncharted," failed to recapture what made the original special. "The Last of Us" will indeed introduce new characters and small changes, but the ultimate goal remains closely tied to the heart of the source material. The series showrunner has made it clear that the intention is to outdo expectations, not subvert them. So don't expect any curveballs just for the heck of it.

'I'm not interested in subverting expectations'

/Film's Ben Pearson attended an interview roundtable for "The Last of Us," where series co-creator Craig Mazin explained his approach to adapting the beloved game and cleared up any doubts that the show intended to twist the story to shock audiences:

"There's this phrase that gets kicked around out there a lot, 'subvert expectations.' I'm not interested in subverting expectations. I'm interested in outdoing expectations. That's what I'm about. I want to say, 'Look, you expect it to be this good. [Raises hand] I'm going to try and come in at this good.' [Raises hand higher] And the way you do that is by understanding and connecting completely to the heart and soul of the material, and then asking yourself as a fan, 'What would I want more of?'"

As a "The Last of Us" fan, Mazin's words are like music to the ears. Changing what worked in the original game at a fundamental level would have always been a mistake. A faithful adaptation should try its best to replicate the heart and soul of its predecessor. However, the series should not limit itself, either. Although everyone has their wishlist for the "The Last of Us" show, it's important to note that a one-for-one adaptation without taking advantage of the medium would not be ideal.

Adding, not subtracting

Mazin hit the nail on the head about adding to the available material instead of subtracting from it. A television adaptation inherently brings new opportunities to add nuance to the story in ways the video game could not. The trailer already teases we're going to get to spend a bit more time on outbreak day, which means we could get to know Joel's daughter, Sarah (Nico Parker), a lot more than we do in the game. There are gaps in "The Last of Us" timeline that could (and should) be filled with original material that does not negate the established canon.

Attempting to recapture the heart and soul of "The Last of Us" in another medium may seem like a futile effort, but the possibility to greater enhance the original story through a television adaptation seems like a natural fit. Whether it means seeing more of the relationship between characters like Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett) or Sam (Keivonn Woodard) and Henry (Lamar Johnson), "The Last of Us" has a chance to exceed our expectations in the best way possible. After all, it's been confirmed that the show will also adapt "The Last of Us: Left Behind" prequel, so the foundation is there to fill in the gaps of an already great story.

"The Last of Us" is set to premiere January 15, 2023 on HBO and HBO Max.