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The Last of Us Episode 1 Recap breaks down everything you need to know about episode one of The Last of Us.

HBO’s adaptation of the hit PlayStation game, The Last of Us, debuted with a premiere that brought us back to 2003 and kicked off Joel and Ellie’s journey across the US. For our inaugural recap of The Last of Us, let’s talk about everything we loved about episode one.

How many episodes of The Last of Us

The first season of The Last of Us has nine episodes. The Last of Us airs Sundays on HBO and HBO Max at 9:00 p.m. EST/6:00 p.m. PDT. Read our HBO Max review to learn more about the streaming service.

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The Last of Us
“When You’re Lost in the Darkness”

The Last of Us (HBO)

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Poor Sarah

Image courtesy HBO.

Fans of The Last of Us game know the juggling act that Sarah (Nico Parker) has to pull off. Despite being a character who doesn’t even make it to Act 2 of the premiere, Sarah carries the task of introducing us to Joel (Pedro Pascal) and the world pre-outbreak.

Parker and Pascal have a lived-in chemistry that sells their relationship when they talk about missed grocery runs (they could’ve used those birthday pancakes) or Joel’s birthday watch. After her untimely death, it’s not hard to believe Joel would go from a regular single dad to someone unfazed after working a shift on cremation duty.

Fans of the original may also recognize the sequence when Joel, Sarah, and Tommy flee Austin, which borrows more than a few beats from the game, as seen in the clip below. It’s a nifty instance of a video game adaption using visuals from the source material.

At the risk of going down the critical rabbit hole, game creator Neil Druckmann is also a fan of Children of Men, another post-apocalyptic drama with elaborate single-shot sequences. Who’s to say movies can’t beget video games that beget prestige cable TV shows? (For readers who don’t remember the early aughts “can video games be art?” discourse, it was exhausting! But at least it was also a waste of time.)

Who is Riley in The Last of Us?

Image courtesy HBO.

When Ellie and Marlene discuss the Fireflies in Ellie’s holding room, newcomers might be confused when Marlene mentions someone named Riley. We’ll keep clear of spoilers, but Riley is a friend of Ellie’s who appeared in 2013’s comic book prequel The Last of Us: American Dreams and 2014’s The Last of Us: Left Behind.

Euphoria’s Storm Reid will play Riley on the show.

Within every zombie show lies two shows

Image courtesy HBO.

Between its creative pedigree, strong premiere ratings, and a budget exceeding the first five seasons of Game of Thrones, The Last of Us was built to take over The Walking Dead’s mantle as our preeminent zombie apocalypse TV show.

But at the same time, we’re hoping that The Last of Us avoids one of The Walking Dead’s biggest pitfalls: story bloat. Critics and viewers alike jumped ship in The Walking Dead’s later seasons for a lot of reasons: winding storylines that never paid off, constant character deaths, and a mind-numbing amount of lore.

It’d be premature to say that The Last of Us won’t fall victim to The Walking Dead’s narrative problems, but out of the gate, we’re safely onboard with the show. Although the premiere has its share of narrative table setting for plot points like FEDRA, the Fireflies, and Ellie’s immunity, its sharpest scenes are the moments that fill in the margins of the show’s universe—like Sarah’s death or the infected boy’s arrival.

Druckmann and show co-creator Craig Mazin clearly understand this—the season’s third episode is a standalone story that focuses on side characters played by Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett, and critics say it’s a highlight of the season. (Mazin’s also no stranger to standalone episodes, having penned a great one for season two of Apple TV’s Mythic Quest.)

We’re suckers for a good zombie action sequence, but we’ll be equally enthused if The Last of Us continues to draw from the Station Eleven side of the post-apocalyptic fiction shelf.

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