It’s like it’s 2013 all over again. After the conclusion of The Last of Us’ first season, we’re all stuck, yet again, debating the morality of Joel’s tough decision at the end of both the original video game and the recent TV adaptation. And we’re also left with anticipation over season two and what elements of the game’s sequel, The Last of Us Part II, will make the cut on HBO. So let’s dig into what’s been said by the TV creatives who are in charge of what’s being lauded as the greatest video game adaptation of all time to get a sense of what to expect in the future.
Ending with unresolved affect, the bloody and morally uncertain end of The Last of Us is famous for sparking speculation over its many possible implications. And with a second season confirmed to follow at some point in the future, both newcomers to this world and veterans of its equally violent and emotional (if not moreso) sequel, The Last of Us Part II, will harbor many questions.
Given how closely the TV show adapted and preserved critical elements from the first game, many likely expect the second season to dive into its sequel with the same vigorous approach. Not an unreasonable assumption. Let’s dig into what the show’s creators have already shared about the expected sophomore season and discuss what’s likely in store as the show continues. I shall endeavor to do so without spoiling a drop of what happens in Part II, so if you’re averse to spoilers, read on worry free (but do exercise caution around the various links).
When was season two of The Last of Us confirmed?
After the early success of the first season, Ellie’s actor, Bella Ramsey, teased that a season two was possible if spirits remained favorable over the rest of the show. But it wasn’t until January 27 that HBO made season two official in a tweet.
And without skipping a beat, the games’ and show’s co-creator, Neil Druckmann, contributed to speculation over what material season two would cover with just over a dozen characters, tweeting: “Part II —> HBO.”
So if there was any doubt, yes, there very much is a season two on the way, and, yes, it’s going to focus on Part II. But given the scale of Part II, what can we expect from this next season? Are they going to do the whole thing?
Season two will kick off the adaptation of The Last of Us Part II, but expect changes and multiple seasons
Given Druckmann’s tweet, and how closely the first season stuck to the original game, it almost seems like a given that season two will just jump headfirst into the harrowing events of the second game. And given the events of the first season, which cover all of the events of the first game and its expansion DLC in nine episodes, you’d be forgiven for assuming the show will aim to cover as much, if not all, of the second game in its second season. But if you’ve played Part II,, you know that a direct adaptation is going to be a bit of a creative challenge.
Debuting on PlayStation 4 in 2020, The Last of Us Part II introduced a number of new characters, heightened levels of emotional stakes, and very thorough explorations of each character’s history. It gave so much context for what happened and to whom that the game was basically two full games in one. (Which you shouldn’t try to cram in a weekend. Ask me how I know.)
Craig Mazin, the show’s co-writer and creator, is well aware of this fact. To tackle the much-larger Part II, Mazin has said that fans ought to expect “multiple seasons” moving forward. Speaking with GQ, Mazin described adapting the sequel as “a daunting task,” and one that won’t come without some changes:
I think we know what we’re doing on this one. I’m not saying that in [a] snarky way, I’m saying that in a hopeful way. There are going to be things that are different, and there are things that are going to be identical. There are things that are going to be added and enriched. There are some things that are going to be flipped.
If the “different” sentiment has you nervous, Mazin and Druckmann also shared some of their collaborative process, which meditates on intentional choices and “subtleties,” not change for change’s sake. About working on the show, Mazin said:
I wouldn’t say that there were any main disagreements [over changes]. It wasn’t like for three weeks I was like “Ellie should be a boy.” These things are always tiny. “Should she say this word or this word?” All the subtleties are where Neil [Druckmann] and I invest a lot of our effort and attention, because that’s where we find beauty.
Mazin on season two: ‘I have so much anxiety myself about doing a good job on this.’
Speaking with Gizmodo, it’s clear that Mazin isn’t taking changes to the story of Part II lightly. “There’s this constant drumbeat of anxiety,” Mazin said. “If you’re anxious about something, I’m probably anxious about it. Which means we’re talking about it and thinking about it.” He described the potential changes as being reminiscent of the kinds of adaptive choices we’ve seen in the first season:
It will be different. Just as this season was different, sometimes it will be different radically, and sometimes it will be barely different at all. But it’s going to be different and it will be it’s own thing. It won’t be exactly like the game. It will be the show that Neil [Druckmann] and I want to make.
It seems like the creative aspirations of season two are in the right place: There will be multiple seasons to accommodate Part II’s length, with deliberate, respectful changes to match the needs of television drama.
The Last of Us won’t be an ‘open-ended, ongoing drama’
While the news of multiple seasons seems to make sense when you consider the massive scale of Part II, it also runs the risk of reminding us of other, once-great, but now well-past-their-welcome zombie dramas that just…won’t…die. To that end, Mazin has been clear that while there will be more seasons, he and Druckmann are aiming for meaningful doses of storytelling, not marathons of endless anguish and suffering.
Speaking to TheWrap back in early February, Mazin said that the show’s production is “committed to not making The Last of Us an open-ended, ongoing drama.” He continued:
We’re here to tell the story and we’re here to reach an end. The end helps us understand why we’re doing anything and the fact that there is an end that is baked in and definite means that the things you watch and experience as a viewer matter […] We will take up as much time as we need to finish telling the story the way we want to tell it best.
This is likely music to many fans’ ears. One of the key strengths of The Last of Us is that, while we’re likely to have divergent opinions about the morality portrayed on-screen, deliberate, focused storytelling with a clear beginning and end is what makes the games so impactful.
But if you were hoping for more specifics, like who’s likely to be cast and who might return, we only know a few concrete specifics on that front, and have a few open-ended speculations.
Bella Ramsey will return as Ellie
Ellie is about 14 years old in the first game. The second game shows her a few years later as a young adult. It’s not uncommon for shows and films to use different actors to cover age gaps, so naturally some might wonder if Bella Ramsey will return as Ellie.
This one’s easy. Speaking at a press conference recently, Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin said, in regard to the second season, that they “are making it with Bella [Ramsey].” Druckmann added:
We are extremely lucky to have Bella in the stuff you saw throughout this entire season. The only way we would ever reconsider recasting Bella is if she said, “I don’t want to work with you guys anymore.” Even then, we’re not sure we would grant her that, we might still force her to come back. [Laughs]
So there you have it: concrete confirmation that Bella Ramsey will play Ellie in season two.
Season two will have more infected, and maybe some more accurate geography
HBO’s adaptation of The Last of Us scaled back a bit on the action. At least one iconic scene from the game (which sees Joel suspended, upside down, and firing desperately at charging infected) wasn’t included.
On that front, Mazin has said that while the show aimed to focus on “the power of relationships” and sought “to find significance within moments of action,” the next season will feature more infected. But if you’re like me, a weirdo who minored in geography, well, you might be hoping that season two will try and pick locations that are a bit more accurate to where the story goes.
Back in January, horror writer Stephen King expressed skepticism at was allegedly a river bank not too far from an east-coast American city:
Craig Mazin didn’t disagree, saying that during the show’s first season, there was a sense that “every now and then you get a little bit of an ‘Oh, it’s Canada,’ when we don’t want it to be Canada.” While he didn’t share any specifics about how that little, harmless snag might get remedied, it’s safe to say that the production is well aware of the challenge in accurately portraying locales on-screen.
With the smoke from Joel’s gunshots barely having cleared following Sunday’s season finale, it will likely be a while before the show’s creators share further details about season two of The Last of Us. Right now, however, season two looks to be the start of a multi-season approach that aims to make the most of Part II’s heavy emotional beats and heightened action, and will continue with the same actors who brought these characters so memorably to life.