HBO’s The Last of Us has concluded its nine-episode first season, ending with a bold finale wrapping up Joel and Ellie’s road trip in a way true to the game and sure to get non-gamers arguing over whether Joel was right or wrong in his decision. And yet, despite the emotional journey of the two protagonists, I can’t help but feel somewhat rooted in the same place I was seven weeks ago: Bill’s Town. The third episode remains the highlight of the season, and that’s not a slight on any other episode. It’s just that good. Bill and Frank’s story is not filler as some detractors say but is incredibly important in pushing Joel onwards into his odyssey with Ellie, dealing with the same thematic arguments as the core story but concluding with a different resolution. But yes, it is also a powerful tale unto itself and I can’t help thinking that this world, with this quality of writing, could support more such stories.
The Last of Us is the story of Ellie and Joel and should remain that way. I want the premiere of the second season to begin to adapt the second game, with all the ire and heartbreak that will bring. If some tangential side story makes sense to be developed within the constraints of that narrative, then it should as long it doesn’t detract from the show’s overall focus, whether narratively or thematically. Yet I can’t help but feel greedy. I want more stories from this world, stories which wouldn’t fit the main series. So why not create another? A spin-off composed as an anthology, keeping the core show lean and potent but embracing the potential of the world at the same time.
While I’m more interested in the creative side, it makes sense from the business side too. The Last of Us is now a hot property for HBO, delivery great viewing figures. Yet it’s not some endless story they can rely on for the next decade like Game of Thrones was. Unless a third game is announced, which is certainly a possibility, the show can only really run for three seasons, and that’s if the second game is adapted into two instead of one, which is the popular consensus. A spin-off can keep the brand growing without encroaching on the main story, especially anthology episodes. A new serialised story would be a big ask for writers and need acceptance from fans.
There are decades to play with; stories from outbreak day to 20 years later when the first season takes place. And that’ll be extended to 25 years for the second, if it stays within the same timescale as the games. The world of the franchise outside Joel and Ellie, outside America even, is fertile ground. Before writing The Last of Us, Craig Mazin penned episodes of Apple’s Mythic Quest, including one of their anthology backstory episodes separate from the main story. Now that show is spinning those tales off into its own series just like The Last of Us could. The biggest potential issue I foresee is how to maintain The Last of Us’ identity. To do this each episode needs to connect thematically to the core series and games: they need to relate to the power and danger of unconditional love.
What better way to begin this anthology than by connecting to the episode of the show which inspired it. Just what happened to Bill’s Town after the events of Long, Long Time? The perfect survivalist settlement with everything one could need in this world is just sitting there. Who takes it over and what is their story? It could be another tale of love – a comparison or contrast to Bill and Frank’s romance. Maybe there could be some details which connect with that episode too. Joel hid his gun nearby, an assault rifle, which might come in handy in someone else’s story.
In the accompanying HBO podcast for the series, we learn the writers had created a backstory for Tess and planned to show it in a cold open before it was ultimately cut, probably because of the reshuffling and reediting of the first two episodes into one long one. We learn her husband and kid were infected early in the outbreak and while Tess could kill her husband, she couldn’t bring herself to kill her son and so locked him in a basement. She is traumatised by the image of his banging on the door, trying to get out, and no doubt, 20 years later, he is still there, a clicker. I loved Tess in the show and would gladly have seen more of her, although her death was vital for the propulsion of the narrative. An episode of an anthology show would be the perfect excuse to bring back Anna Torv and finally show this backstory, adding more heartbreak when revisiting the first season.
On a later episode of the podcast, Mazin states, “We could absolutely do a standalone Ish episode.” Okay then, do a standalone Ish episode. It may not have fit the structure of the first season but the story is right there, ready for adaptation. Everybody who has played the game loves the story of Ish, the man who created a settlement and school in the tunnels and sewers, only for it to have a tragic ending. I remember theories from 2013 that this story would be DLC for the game but they turned out to be untrue, with Ish’s tale playing out only through notes and environmental storytelling. I liked the connections to Ish we saw in the show’s fifth episode but would love to see it revisited and fleshed out. It’s a great story unto itself but enriches the core series too. Maybe that child clicker who killed Kathleen was part of Ish’s community.
Maria, after appearing in just a single episode, is already more interesting than she is in the games, in which she is barely a character. Given she will likely have little to do in the show going forward, I would love to see her developed in an episode of the anthology show. This goes for numerous characters dotted throughout the first season. The Jackson commune could act as a hub for stories, or maybe the Boston QZ too. I would like to know more about Fedra and that radio guy from the first episode. I would happily watch a whole hour of the Native American couple from episode six, Marlon and Florence, grumpily but lovingly arguing. And then there’s David’s community, now leaderless and starving, needing to confront the hard truths of their survival.
But, of course, while all we can do currently is hypothesise based on characters we know, the bulk of the series should be new characters and stories not enslaved to appearances in the main series. Fresh, exciting, touching tales to fill the time until the second season. Maybe the season will enter production soon but given the five-year time jump between stories in the games (apart from flashbacks) maybe they want to wait a few years for cast members to age. I know Bella Ramsey is currently 19, the age Ellie is in the second game, but she still looks like a 14-year-old kid. An anthology show is the perfect way to keep The Last of Us breathing, and clicking, in the interim while offering stories which have the potential to match the fantastic third episode.
What do you think of the idea of an anthology show set in the world of The Last of Us? Let me know in the comments and be sure to geek out with me about TV, movies and video-games on Twitter @kylebrrtt.