One of 2023’s first big premieres draws viewers into a dark alternate timeline of societal collapse and mold-infested zombies — a world that’s already quite familiar to video game enthusiasts, because they’ve played it. This is why The Last of Us executive producer Craig Mazin says that in adapting the award-winning video games for HBO, he and executive producer Neil Druckmann made sure that any changes they made during the adaptation process were “always purposeful.”
“A lot of people, they go, ‘I want to adapt a thing.’ And someone says, ‘Great, you can.’ And then they’re like, ‘I’m changing all of it.’ And I’m like, ‘Well then why did you want to adapt it?'” Mazin tells Consequence during a roundtable interview. “Sometimes counterintuitively, I’m the one that’s saying, ‘You know what, Neil, I actually don’t want to wander away from what you did.'”
Starring Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey as survivors of a deadly plague who head out on a dangerous road trip in search of hope for the future, the new series represents a new level for adaptations of video games — in part thanks to the involvement of Druckmann, the writer and director of the original source material, who serves as a writer on the series, and also directs the second episode.
But the process was also served by Mazin’s status as a self-proclaimed gamer, who was determined to getting this right: “Because the game means too much to Neil, it means too much to me, and it means too much to millions and millions of people across the world.”
Fans of the game or fans of prestige HBO dramas alike might be curious about what that all means, and below Mazin and Druckmann explain what to expect from the upcoming series, from how much has been changed from the original narrative to whether the show will match the level of violence in the games. Also, don’t get excited for this series to outrun a show like Game of Thrones, for which Mazin has a very good reason.
How Do the Last of Us Games Connect to the TV Show, Exactly?
While Druckmann’s involvement would indicate as much, Mazin confirms that the answer is pretty close: “The first season is the events of the first game. And if you have played the game, you can tell from watching the marketing materials that we’re also covering the events of the Left Behind DLC.”
How Many Seasons Will The Last of Us Run?
While Mazin’s answer above might lead you to believe that the series is only planned to run for two seasons (Season 1 covering the first game, Season 2 covering the second), that isn’t the plan. While Season 1 does explore the events of the first game, Mazin says that “the amount of story that remains, that we have not covered, would be more than a season of television. So yeah, assuming we can keep going forward, the idea would be to do more than just one more season.”
Could The Last of Us Run Indefinitely?
The answer to that is no, says Mazin. “This isn’t the kind of show that is going to be seven seasons, or six. I just don’t believe in milking it. I think every episode should deserve your eyeballs. I don’t like filler, I don’t like stretching. I want everything to be as compelling as possible. Concision still matters, especially in a world where streamers tend to give creators so much flexibility, that they sometimes just indulge a little bit and you get very long episodes and seasons that are too long. I hate that. So I just want to make sure that if someone sits down to watch an episode of The Last of Us, it’s awesome, every single time. It is not designed to just go on and on.”
Druckmann agrees, adding that “Craig and I think similarly about story structures. You have to know the ending to understand how you structure everything else, because everything else has to funnel back to this climactic point, which is the end. And when we built the games, every single time we did it, it was with the mindset of like, ‘The story might end here. There might never be an opportunity to do a sequel, so this has to be a strong enough ending, not a cliffhanger that you’re waiting for more story to unfold. This is the end.’ And when we did [The Last of Us Part II], we approached it the same exact way, like, “There might never be a Part III, so this has to work as an ending.”
Adds Druckmann, “I remember early on when we started this process, I’m still feeling out my relationship with Craig and with HBO and what is this process going to look like? I asked, ‘How many episodes does this need to be?’ And there’s no need. It needs to be as long as the story dictates and no more. And likewise, that would be our approach for how many seasons it would be if we get to tell more of the story. It’ll be as many seasons as it needs to be and no more. That’s it.”
One advantage the show has that the original game did not, Mazin says, is “knowing what the Left Behind DLC was and knowing where the second game goes, and understanding a little bit more about the fuller context. So we certainly took advantage of understanding that fuller context when we plotted out this season.
Also, Mazin notes that “if we are lucky enough to get the audience that justifies more, personally I am not interested in going beyond the existing source material.”
The reason, he says, is that “As a viewer, I have no problem watching shows that just keep going and going and going, no problem. But as a writer, I don’t want to be in the position of spinning plates to just spool out season after season of stuff. To me, it’s important that things are purposeful. And if they’re purposeful, that means they have endings.”