Now that The Last of Us has wrapped its first season on HBO Max, you probably have a few questions. Fortunately, series showrunner Craig Mazin and creator Neil Druckmann (who wrote the Sony Playstation Game on which the series is based) answered a few burning ones about the first nine episodes without giving anything away about season 2 (boo!). At least there will be one!
In the meantime, the duo talked about some of the decisions they made in season one, like bringing on Ashley Johnson (who originated the role of Ellie Williams in the video game series), how the infected zombies seemed to disappear as the series went on, and how important it is for Bella Ramsey (the show’s Ellie) to finish what she’s started.
On why the number of infected people actually decreased during the show’s run. “Part of the adaptation process is trying to figure out how to take source material that was built around gameplay and port it over to a medium that is passive,” Mazin told reporters before the finale. “And a lot of the gameplay centered on non-playable characters that you have to get around by either avoiding them or stealth killing them or just confronting them head on. That’s sort of your choices when you’re playing. And the NPCs were either raiders or cannibals, or they were the infected. So there’s a lot of fighting. I don’t know what your ultimate kill count is on a typical run of The Last of Us, but it’s in the triple digits for sure. So we did at times have choices to make about how we wanted to present the infected. I will say that even though we were green lit for a season of television, Neil and I felt like we couldn’t just make a season of television without considering what would come after. There is more The Last of Us to come. I think the balance is not always just about within an episode or even episode to episode, but season to season. It’s quite possible that there will be a lot more infected later. And perhaps different kinds. But within the episodes that we were concentrating on, I think ultimately we generally stressed the power of relationships and trying to find significance within moments of action. So there may be less action than some people wanted, because we couldn’t necessarily find significance for quite a bit of it, or [they had a] concern that it would be repetitive. After all, you’re not playing it, you’re watching it. And although a lot of people do like to watch gameplay, it needs to be a little bit more focused and and purposeful when we’re putting it on tv.”
The importance of adding Ellie’s backstory. “When we’re wrapping up the game, there are these opportunities to do other pieces of art or storytelling to help promote the game,” recalled Druckmann. “So we did this comic book called American Dreams, and that’s where we developed Riley, which later turned into the left behind additional chapter. And there was an opportunity to do an animated short. So trying to come up with a story, I wrote this short script about Ellie’s mom and how she gave birth to Ellie, how she was bitten at the same time, and wasn’t sure if she was infected during that birth. And it just became this little character drama that spoke to the same themes of parental love and how much you’re willing to do even at when you’re on death’s door. That deal fell apart. Then we were talking to another game company to potentially do it as a whole other game. That deal fell apart. Then I became interested in live action, and I was talking to Ashley Johnson about her starring in it, and then we both got busy, so that fell apart.”
“I just kind of forgot about it until Mr. Mazin and I started meeting to talk about the show. Craig was like, ‘what do you have that we haven’t seen? What is Ellie’s backstory?’ And I was just telling him all this stuff. I’m like, oh, right, there’s this other story about Ellie’s mom and blah, blah, blah. I just kind of told him about it. He’s like, ‘oh my God, we, that has to go in the show.’ And then we talked about how would it fit. Does it make sense to put it in now? It does gives some theories about why Ellie’s immune, even though we don’t answer that conclusively. But I think, more importantly, it builds the relationship between Marlene and [Ellie’s mom] Anna, so that when you get to the ending and we pit Marlene against Joel, they have their own opposite philosophical terms over how to approach of the end justify the means. Anna’s dying wish was, take care of my kid. I think it gives it more weight and maybe shows more of the tragedy behind Marlene’s sacrifice, that she was trying to make for the betterment of mankind.”
Mazin: “It was one of those moments when I would ask Neil questions and he would tell me things and we both kind of simultaneously said, wait, Ashley. That to me was one of the most fulfilling moments of the production and the show because I’m a fan of the game and I’m a fan of Ashley’s. And as I often say, Troy Baker [who played Joel in the game] disappears into a thousand roles — I can’t believe he has all the different characters he plays — Ashley sounds like Ellie, and Ellie sounds like Ashley. So she’s already this quasi-like mythological creature to me. And to see her giving birth to herself in a sense, and to create that genetic connection between her performance as Ellie and the origin story of Bella as Ellie was just profound.”
Whether Bella Ramsey will be back as an older Ellie in season 2:.”Yeah. She’s smoking six packs of cigarettes a day and is on a pure whiskey and tainted beef diet,” jokes Mazin. “When she joined us, she was 17. She’s only, she’s 19 now. Which by the way is the age of Ellie in The Last of Us, part 2. People were like, ‘she doesn’t look like [Ellie]. I’m like, it doesn’t matter. Just watch what happens. And now they know. I think there is still this anxiety, this constant drumbeat of anxiety. And all I can say to people is, I have so much anxiety myself about doing a good job on this. If you’re anxious about something, I’m probably anxious about it, which means we’re talking about it and thinking about it. We will present things, but it will be different. It will be different just as this season was different. Sometimes it will be different radically, and sometimes it will be fairly different. It won’t be exactly like the game. It will be the show that Neil and I wanna make. But we are making it with Bella.”