Why Audiences Are Falling In Love With The Last Of US Video Game and TV Series
By Caitlin White
As is often the case with popular TV shows and movies these days, The Last of Us first built up a cult following in a different format. But unlike recent cult favorites like Game of Thrones, this time it was not as a book that inspired the hot new series, but a video game. Initially, The Last of Us was a survival horror video game franchise set in post-apocalyptic America, a backdrop that feels all too eerily familiar after some of the recent Covid-19 lockdowns and the impact of the pandemic. In the action-adventure game, the goal is to stay alive while facing down cannibal mutants that have been infected by a deadly fungus—you know, typical end-of-the-world stuff.
In the video game, the relationship between two characters becomes a big focus of the plotline, as Joel, a smuggler, helps Ellie, a teenage girl trying to escape the chaos. After the game's initial release in 2013, it became such a hit that many critics even consider it to be one of the greatest video games ever made, and it racked up plenty more accolades and awards as well as critical praise. Following the success, spin-offs included a comic book, a live show, and, more recently, this year's television adaptation. Before getting too far into the show, it is worth noting that the success of this video game is massive, too; in the first week, it sold well over one million copies, ending up closer to two million. In the decade since its initial release, the game has sold close to twenty million copies, a coup for any visual arts media.
THE LAST OF US LEGACY
- Released for the PlayStation 3 in June 2013 and the PlayStation 4 in July 2014.
- Part, one sold over twenty million copies worldwide.
- Part two was released in June 2020.
- As of March 2023, part two has sold over eight million copies worldwide.
But as more people have been introduced to the apocalyptic world that Joel and Ellie live in through the new show, it seems like this franchise is quickly going from cult favorite to full-blown mainstream success. And with both the video game, initially, and now in the TV show, a significant driving force behind the show's dramatic moments is the expertly cued tracks, which help bring poignant scenes into focus. On the show, Joel is played by Pedro Pascal, and Bella Ramsey portrays Ellie. While Joel is tasked with keeping Ellie alive and safe, the pair are also trying to find a cure for the disease that killed so many of their fellow humans, and the adventure is more than harrowing.
The relationship between Joel and Ellie is like the one formed by Kirsten and Jeevan in the series Station Eleven. But, in both cases, the reason these storylines so move audiences is because even in the most extreme of circumstances, they serve as a reminder that it is our connection and our ability to help one another, no matter how high the stakes, that separates us as humans and ethical beings. And in those moments of vulnerability, loss, grief, or moral struggle, it is music that best exemplifies all the nuanced complexities that remain unspoken.
While a track from Linda Rondstadt had a huge impact in episode three, it's more about the role of music on the show as a whole than the use of a particular song itself. Still, for that track in particular, showrunner Craig Mazin told IndieWire he knew exactly what vibe he was looking for even before he found the song. "I remember saying to Neil [Druckmann], 'I am not sure what the song is, I just know that it has to be this incredibly sad song about yearning for love, and never getting love, and just making your peace with the fact that you will always be alone. But it can't be on the nose. And it cannot be a song that we all know.'" For context, Druckman is the co-president of Naughty Dog, the video game company that initially produced The Last of Us and serves as a writer and creative director on the TV adaptation.
Along with the mainstream and commercial songs by artists like Rondstadt and more that make a show pop, there are plenty of behind-the-scenes musical moments that are just as important, and there is where a library music catalog like APM comes in. With thousands of songs organized by mood, vibe, genre, and decade, there is something for every project in the APM archives.
Both game and TV series versions of The Last of Us used many tracks from the APM catalog, including:
Check out the full playlist HERE