The Last of Us Finale’s Runtime Exposes the Biggest Problem With the Show
Can the series stick the landing, despite a glaring flaw?
When a story moves from a video game to a linear TV series, there’s a lot that has to be sacrificed. First and foremost, the interactivity is gone. Viewers aren’t literally acting as the main character, so extra steps have to be taken to ensure the protagonist is sympathetic. But another large — and often overlooked — factor is finally rearing its ugly head, and could jeopardize The Last of Us’ Season 1 finale.
The Last of Us takes about 15 hours to play, but Season 1 only has nine hours to tell its entire story, while also cramming in additional adventures like the story of Bill and Frank, and Ellie’s flashback from the game’s DLC.
When you cut over six hours of gameplay, what ends up on the floor? There are some easy choices: looting, puzzles, and endless Infected encounters don’t translate well to TV. But there are harder sacrifices too, like all the quiet moments between Joel and Ellie where they talk about life before the Outbreak.
A few of these scenes made it into the series, but most were jettisoned to make way for a self-contained story in each episode. What would be hours of gameplay — and banter — gets squeezed into 50-ish minute episodes, and what first seemed like the most accurate video game adaptation ever is now looking like the SparkNotes version of The Last of Us given how heavily abridged and simplified it’s become.
There’s only one episode left in Season 1, and it has a lot to accomplish. Not only does it need to tell the last chapter of the game — which includes a scene that solidified The Last of Us as an instant classic — but it’s also promised to explore Ellie’s mysterious parentage.
CBR reports that the finale, “Look for the Light,” will clock in at a svelte 43 minutes, making it the shortest episode of the series. That’s surprising, considering how much is still left to cover. Does this mean Season 1 will end before the game’s final events, or will more elements be sacrificed? To fit in everything that happens in this final chapter, plus the much-rumored flashback to Ellie’s mom, something’s got to give.
The Last of Us’ pacing issue has, like a fungus, slowly crept up on us. As we look ahead to the finale, there are still a lot of storylines on the table. Will the pacing suddenly accelerate and, if so, will Joel’s relationship with Ellie be truncated even further for the sake of cramming in every plot point?
No matter what approach the show uses, the crowded finale will be a lot quicker than the final chapter of the game. At least there isn’t a boss fight waiting at the end of it.
The Last of Us is now streaming on HBO Max.