On Sunday, the first episode The Last of Us (on Crave in Canada) achieved one of the largest cross-platform audiences for a premiere HBO has ever seen, with social media reactions proving the show is already a big hit with fans and critics alike.
For The Last of Us star Gabriel Luna who plays Tommy in the series, brother to Pedro Pascal's Joel, seeing the first episode have such an impact on its audience, including fans of the PlayStation game, makes him feel "incredibly proud."
"It was a very difficult shoot for everyone involved," Luna told Yahoo Canada. "The fact that we made it, we actually survived and got to the other end was enough. And then for the world to respond the way they have is just icing on the cake."
As Luna explains, the nature in Alberta created difficulties, with The Last of Us filming over both summer and winter months in the Prairies.
While contending with the Canadian environment wasn't necessarily easy, Luna stressed that he feels the adaptation of the beloved, detailed and cinematic video game likely couldn't have been executed anywhere else.
“You got the sense that there's nowhere else on Turtle Island where this could have been shot, possibly nowhere else in the world,” Luna said. “We have to be in Texas. We have to be in Boston. We have to be in the wild west and Wyoming, we have to be in all these places and we were able to find every one of those places in Alberta, Canada.”
“I had certain moments where I had to pinch myself. The Last of Us is a story of immense scope and you're going to need a place that has equally immense beauty and magnitude, so it feels set in the right place.”
The Last of Us filming took place across several areas of Alberta, including Calgary, Canmore and Fort Macleod, and has been marked the largest TV production in Canadian history.
Luna recalled multiple highlights from his time in Alberta where the cast and crew were just in awe the beauty of the province.
"I was just looking at the backdrop and it was perfectly set, mountains right in the distance that just framed the whole scene," Luna shared. "Alex Wang, our VFX supervisor, turns to me and he's like, ‘Man, I could make that in a computer and it wouldn't look as fake as that looks right now,' because of how amazingly beautiful it was."
"All over the province were places like that, where people truly just had to stand in all the beauty of the place.”
'The Last of Us' scene cast, crew were 'dreading'
If you still haven't gotten on board for The Last of Us, maybe because many video game adaptations to TV and films have been (frankly) flops, that couldn't be further from the truth for The Last of Us.
In terms of why this world works so well for a TV series, the game itself was already quite cinematic in its look, but the HBO show can also elevate this detailed world building and dive deeper into more characters.
“There's a real sense that there's a world beyond the characters that you're engaged with," Luna said.
"In our show ... we're able to go and bubble out and explore sides of characters we’ve met. But also introduce characters that we haven't met, that maybe we just heard of or saw a photo of, or saw some last words they scribbled on a piece of paper that you find in a drawer.”
Proof of success in The Last of Us being an effective adaptation can be seen in one particularly heartbreaking scene in the premiere, when Joel's daughter Sarah (Nico Parker) dies in her father arms, in front of Tommy, after getting killed by a soldier as this apocalypse has taken over their community. That specific moment really touched fans, even those who knew it was coming.
“I remember in the game feeling those feelings as well," Luna said. "[We had] to make the audience fall in love with Sarah, and fall in love with our tiny little family of three so that once that moment hits, our audience feels the gravity of it, and feels the loss along with us.”
“It was something that we all were anticipating, and in some cases dreading, just because of the weight of the scene and the importance of it. … We wanted it to be, of course, real and to feel all the emotions, but to have to do it at the drop of a dime in the middle of the night, when the sun's coming up and we're racing against the sun.”
Luna added that he remembers Pascal "cared so much" when creating the moment of Sarah's death.
“We just locked eyes as the brothers and let the emotions flood from there because our family of three was down to two in that moment,” Luna said.
“The one thing that is concrete is their relationship to each other spatially. So even within the world of the game, I took note of a lot of the spatial relationships between the brothers specifically. That scene with Sarah in the game, Tommy only advances so far because … he knows what it means.”
'He's once again in that process of emerging and growing out of this dark place'
While much of the rest of the series has a focus on Joel and his journey with Bella Ramsey's character Ellie, Luna explains that Tommy is on a "cyclical arc" in his life. As a character who is a former army sniper, the actor feels there is a strong "duality" to Tommy.
“He's very capable, very strong. He's a warrior," Luna explained. "On the other side, there's a joker element to him. There's a playfulness. There's a fun, loving demeanor about him."
"He's obviously healed from a lot of the things that he endured as a man in the service.”
The actor went on to say that when we meet Tommy at the beginning of The Last of Us series, Tommy has done the work to deal with the trauma of being in the army, but then Cordyceps fungus spreads and the world becomes a "dangerous" and "unloving" place.
“He has to revert back to what he was as a soldier, but that's not who he is in his heart and that's not who he wants to be," Luna said. "He's somebody who believes in life and the beautiful things in life, and that life is worth living."
"But in order to do that, ... you need love, and you need friends and you need community. Having endured yet another trauma, the loss of Sarah and then of course dealing with the world as it now is, he has to once again emerge from that. That's where he is, I think, in that cycle. I think he's once again in that process of emerging and growing out of this dark place, and reuniting and building love and community.”