Adapting a beloved book for a film or TV adaptation can be perilous; hardcore fans will almost certainly find something to complain about, and most will be impossible to please. Given the immersive nature of the storytelling and the many hours (if not days) it takes to complete, adapting a popular video game might be even riskier.
Given this, it’s borderline perverse that HBO is making a TV show out of the blockbuster, universally acclaimed video game The Last of Us. Centered on a reluctant hero who must transport a young girl across a zombie-filled, post apocalyptic America, The Last of Us makes a convincing case for video games as a legit art form.
Still, if you have to adapt one of the most important games of all-time, HBO would be the place to do it. After all, this is the network behind Watchmen, a wildly ambitious sequel to one of the best comic books ever, and that series cleaned up at the Emmy awards. HBO was also responsible for the powerful miniseries Chernobyl, whose creator Craig Mazin was tapped to co-write and executive produce the new series alongside the game’s original writer, Neil Druckmann.
Despite this pedigree, millions of fans will closely scrutinize The Last of Us, perhaps nowhere as much as in its casting. That’s already caused some backlash; many fans thought that the lead role of Joel should have gone to Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, while Bella Ramsey recently told the Hollywood Reporter that the response to her casting as Ellie was, “my first experience, really, with a lot of negative reactions.”
While those two actors may not look precisely like their digital counterparts, other casting – like the survivalist Bill, who will be played by Nick Offerman – is more on-the-nose. Ultimately, as with book adaptations, the show’s success will be less about fidelity to the original characters than creating roles that feel meaningful to the show. In other words, don’t judge a TV show by its promotional photos (or a video game by its cover art).
Check out side-by-side comparisons of The Last of Us’ characters below, and be sure to tune-in to the series premiere Sunday Jan. 15 at 9pm ET on HBO.