Over the course of the first six episodes of The last of usJoel (Pedro Pascal) is a man without hope. But he’s trying, at least a little. After all, without it, one is left with nothing. And so Joel is constantly reminded that his herding Ellie (Bella Ramsey) west across the United States is about more than just sending off a particularly sarcastic biology experiment. As we wrap up the sixth episode, Joel comes to believe this as well, removing the scar tissue from past trauma from him until he is able to accept that he might have a purpose beyond the daily fight for survival. He gives the series an obvious place to go, even as the narrative goals change.
It’s a message that sometimes feels like a Sunday school lesson from the zombie world, but it’s also one of the parts of the show that feels most genuinely refreshing. This is especially true with regard to the Walking Deadanother blockbuster apocalyptic show, ending just before The last of us debuted If any show was set to prove otherwise, that eventually humanity’s cruelest id will emerge again and again…and again in times of strife, was AMC’s long-running epic about Rick Grimes and a cast which was constantly in and out because 90% of the time, they were on the menu.
With half a dozen episodes under his belt, The last of us has reached its emotional pinnacle so far (although it could be argued that episode 3, which shifted its focus to the beautiful relationship between Bill and Frank, is the zenith of any theme this show is going to pursue). Ellie confronts Joel about her inability to move on after her daughter’s death and how her fear is affecting her. When he changes his mind about leaving her, it’s a huge, vulnerable moment for Joel: Ellie needs him, and Joel realizes that he’s capable of being needed again and that he can be there for someone.
meanwhile, the Walking DeadThe first season of only lasted six episodes and similarly hit a great narrative point, sending Rick and company on their journey with disturbing new insights into the zombie infection, while also allowing certain characters to sour their personal issues. and even chose sudden death instead of an indefinite time. misery. At this point, both have given clear signs of their narrative intentions, and the results could not be more different.
It is in “undefined misery” that the comparisons between the two series become starker. The relationships between the characters are not totally different, although in the end it seems that the Walking Dead he would be prone to using his expanded cast as mere cannon fodder, which was not the case at first. They are often wracked with grief, and each death is met with desperate and appropriate grief. But look no further than the two main brotherly relationships: actual brothers Joel and Tommy in TLOU and close friends Rick and Shane in TWD — to find out where the paths fork.
In TLOU, Tommy is presented as the potential wild card of the family, the little brother who needs protection against his worst impulses. Joel’s search for him isn’t done just because of vague sibling ties. He needs to make sure that in the time they were apart, Tommy didn’t mess anything else up: the feeling of affection he once had for his late daughter has now been transmitted in distorted form to his brother, a grown man who should be able to fend for himself. itself. When he finds Tommy, happy with a wife and baby on the way to a commune, it’s the exact opposite of what he and the audience expect. If anything, he forces Joel to reevaluate his own life as a loner only good at dealing with more pain, and as someone who seems to long for a life away from his responsibility to others and potential human pain. that he carries He frames his final fight as painful but surmountable.
When Rick manages to find Shane in TWD and take over as de facto head of his group, the course is reversed. Any back-slapping relationship Shane ever had has been slowly dissipated by the apocalypse, revealing a violent streak. It doesn’t help that Rick’s appearance means Shane’s affair with Rick’s wife, Lori, is over, and Shane takes his frustration out on him with muscular displays of anger and revenge. Rick’s reappearance means Shane also starts fooling around with Rick’s impressionable son Carl. He’s a kid who seems taken in by Shane’s nice-guy mannerisms and tendencies and being alienated from him further crushes Shane’s purpose.
Whatever responsibility he felt as Rick’s friend and as a cop has now morphed into haphazard displays of righteous rage. He nearly beat Carol’s abusive husband to death at one point (the zombies finish the job) and one gets the feeling he did it as much out of justice for Carol as out of a simmering dissatisfaction with her diminished role in the world. He is no longer a leader or a lover, he can only swing blindly.
As such, Joel and Rick become protectors moving in vastly opposite directions. Joel has realized his violent capabilities, and almost everyone he meets acknowledges that there is, or could be, something more to him. So he fights against these impulses born of trauma, trying to become a good man on behalf of his loved ones, or at least use these violent abilities for good purposes. Rick, on the other hand, arrives as a total newbie to the zombie-infested wasteland, and while people believe in him and tend to trust him implicitly, he will actively push the boundaries of what it means to be a good man time and time again. again. The ingrained terrors of the damned world won’t allow him to act otherwise if he wants to keep himself or his party alive. His misery is not a choice, and his family and relationships offer him little comfort: he is on the brink of predestination that this world will ruin him.
Both series have the same theme: “The real the danger is not the zombies, it’s the people, because do you understand? us are the walking dead, etc., etc.” — but the relationships between the protagonists make them opposites. TLOU finds a partnership trying to get out of doom, with Joel and Ellie finding that being impersonal allows for an easier existence than the actual complications of hookup. What they have succumbed to is what seems to be a growing cultural realization: one has to make those connections and to be without them, as Tommy seems to demonstrate to Joel, is ultimately empty and downright detrimental. TWD does not offer the same aspirations: if the world is going to improve, it will do so by surpassing those who want to make it worse. Going full speed to hell, as Shane demonstrates, is almost inescapable, even with his best friend by his side again.
There have been many great works of art about humanity’s ability to escape all moral control in times of conflict and panic. The godfather of all zombie cinema, that of George Romero Night of the Living Dead, made his impact on the back of not providing a reassuring message. The closest the film gets to a hero character, a brave black man in the ’60s, is shot by a mob simply out of thoughtless fear. We left the movie knowing that humanity is perfectly capable of eating itself alive, even when zombies try to eat us alive. It is a work of art.
Now if the Walking Dead is a masterpiece is debatable, though Rick and Shane’s cataclysmic brotherhood certainly made for great television. But watching it sometimes became the TV equivalent of doomscrolling, giving us all sorts of things that can go wrong. It’s a show that started with Rick Grimes recoiling in horror at a little zombie girl before shooting her, an ugly “what to do to survive” that was horrible at first and then became numb as it got worse. Kindness was only granted to characters who survived long enough to receive it, as they had to work on what they needed first. TWD he considered our instinctive effort in realizing that the world was hopelessly ruined: paranoia, rage, and loneliness.
With no emotional ending to work towards, this left TWD feeling much like Shane, swinging blindly on a path to greater depravities. These are zombie shows, so of course both will steer towards the macabre quite often, but TLOUThe desolation of is countered by the reverse course of its main characters, while TWDNightmarish moments of terror drag the plot, the characters and all, with them. Some of these were shocking and effective, but in many cases, especially when the series fell out of favor, it didn’t result in anyone ending it.
Eventually, with everyone having committed numerous heinous acts, all that’s left is a series of vague redemption arcs, which are destined to collapse as soon as the clock turns back to “what must be done to survive.” It’s one of the reasons why the next six episodes TWD The miniseries focused on different characters, while the franchise is obvious, it’s actually a bit tantalizing: with only six episodes, the story has to be contained. The drama of the character has to lead somewhere. One cannot trust the feeling that it will get worse.
In its first six episodes, The last of us has shown that connections with others can give you a reason to live. Like the strawberries in Frank’s garden sprouting in the midst of a dead world, he instead opts for a structure about finding purpose in connections with others. In a world with infected almost everywhere, situations will only get more dire. But the show has concocted a brand of post-apocalyptic connection that seems worth saving.