The Last Of Us Part 2 Is Harder To Adapt Than It Seems
HBO is reportedly planning to adapt The Last of Us Part 2 for the second season of the Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey-starring series. This makes sense on paper In the same way that one A Song of Ice and Fire book could pretty neatly translate to a season of TV, one narrative video game should, seemingly, do the same.
I haven't seen the HBO series yet, but Naughty Dog's 2013 game was already structured like a prestige TV show. TLOU is broken up into seasons, which map pretty cleanly onto the multi-episode arcs that comprise a season of TV. Within those larger stories, there are shorter incidents that work as episodes. "Summer" is an arc, while Bill's town or Ellie and Joel's time traveling with Henry and Sam are episodes. The game is also only around 13 hours long, a good length to adapt for a nine-episode HBO season.
But The Last of Us Part 2 isn't doing showrunners Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann any favors. It's bigger and more strangely-shaped than its predecessor, which will create some challenges as they attempt to adapt it for TV.
Unlike The Last of Us,TLOU2 is split into two equal halves. That's the big spoiler-y hook of the game: you play the first 15 hours as Ellie then the next 15 hours as Abby. Much of what makes the game interesting is that, as Ellie, you don't know what Abby is doing, but when you switch to Abby, those details are slowly filled in. That narrative gambit is a huge part of why the game feels fresh and bold.
Applying that structure to a season of TV is more difficult. The easy answer might be to interweave Ellie and Abby's journeys throughout the season so that their stories are being told simultaneously. But, that would mean abandoning the structure that makes the game so interesting. Instead of presenting a bifurcated story that gives equal weight to the villain's perspective by asking you to play as her for the full-length second half of the game, this approach to adaptation would give you an A plot and a B plot. In other words, standard TV storytelling. That would be functional, but it would have less emotional weight than what the game is able to accomplish.
On the other hand, HBO could split the season in two, devoting the first half to Ellie and the second half to Abby. To do justice to the game's length, it might even be better to have an Ellie season and an Abby season. But, that would mean spending hours with the characters we know from the first season, before swapping to a completely different storyline with different characters. It would be a big ask for the audience to go along with; House of the Dragon got complaints for swapping out its leads midway through the season, which was a tame move by comparison. Regardless of how they choose to adapt it, The Last of Us Part 2's length is something the showrunners will have to contend with. Unless they cut a lot of plot, it would only really work as two full seasons of TV.
Furthermore,The Last of Us Part 2 is filled with flashbacks to the time between the games, as Ellie grows from a young teen to a young woman. That poses another challenge for the team behind the series. They could wait a few years to shoot the second season so that Bella Ramsey can age up a little. They could move the events of The Last of Us Part 2 closer to the first game so that the jump in age isn't as noticeable. Or, they can just age Ramsey up or down through makeup, costuming, digital de-aging, or some combination of all three. Whatever they do, Ellie's age is significant to her arc in TLOU2. As Part 2 begins, she's lost the youthful spark and cheerfulness she has in the first game. The time between is vital to her losing trust in Joel's version of events and searching out the truth for herself.
With all those challenges, my attitude toward a second season is similar to the attitude I had toward The Last of Us Part 2 when it was first announced. That game needed to be a meaningful extension of Joel and Ellie's journey; the story had to be something that needed to be told. Until The Last of Us airs, it's impossible to say if HBO has a story worth continuing.
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