It’s that time of year again! Time to celebrate the Resurrection with a weeklong plunge into all things zombie! Here’s the history: In 2008, Dr. Girlfriend and I decided to spend a week or so each year marathoning through zombie films that we’d never seen before, and I would blog short reviews. And simple as that, the Easter Zombie Movie Marathon was born.

For the curious, here are links to 20082009 (a bad year), 201020112012 (when we left the blog behind), 20132014201520162017201820192020, 2021 and 2022.

Here there be spoilers.

Right off the bat, let me make it clear that I have never played the The Last of Us (2013) video games, I avoided as many spoilers as possible (unless they’ve been picked up in the osmosis of the internet), and I haven’t really been all that interested in watching, having already burnt myself out on The Walking Dead. I do like the idea of the fungal infection being the cause of the (not) zombie outbreak, which was used very effectively in The Girl with all the Gifts (both the 2015 novel and its 2016 film adaptation) and has introduced some pretty chilling monsters that don’t show up in the first episode, but have featured heavily in the promotion.

So, with the first episode spending its opening scenes establishing the 2003 pre-apocalyptic world – even jumping back in time to a 1968 TV talk show to give me a Christopher Heyerdahl and John Hannah fix as they debate how the world will end – I was a bit shocked when we suddenly jumped forward twenty years. I guess with 48-year-old Internet Daddy Pedro Pascal playing Joel, he’s suitably able to pull off both 36 in the preamble and 56 in the rest of the show with only light make-up enhancement. He’s solidly believable as the devoted-and-then-grieving father character, and I’m sure he’s glad to not have to wear a stupid helmet all the time for this “accompany the chosen child across the wasteland” role.

Bella Ramsey plays Ellie, the proverbial chosen child, who seems to have a natural immunity to the rampant mutated Cordyceps pandemic. Joel is charged with making sure she gets safely to some other place where maybe she can provide a cure and save the world. Just in this opening chapter, The Last of Us does a better job of establishing this world than the TV adaptation of The Passage (2010/2016) did a few years ago (same basic idea but with Vampires instead of not-zombies). The Passage wasn’t too bad, but it didn’t catch on and was canceled after a single season.

If you’ve watched The Walking Dead, Fear the Walking Dead, or The Walking Dead: World Beyond, you get the set-up post 20-year time jump. Gated communities, hard times, oppressive forces, and struggling rebels, but without all that pesky history to wade through. Joel is your standard good guy doing bad things to survive while his brother Tommy (Gabriel Luna) runs with the rebels – the Fireflies – or seems to in this first episode. He doesn’t show up after the time jump, so that mystery will have to wait. Anna Torv (Fringe, Mindhunter) plays Joel’s tough-talking lady friend can take a punch and knows how to selectively dole out information to keep the story moving.

We’ve got some standard corrupt soldiers/cops and rival smugglers/drug dealers and before you know it, our forced family unit are on the run outside the city walls after killing a soldier and discovering that Ellie is immune. It’s all pretty standard stuff, but it’s well done and while I’m not entirely into seeing where this goes (I’m sure we’ll find out that not-zombies are bad, but people are the real monsters, not to mention that nothing good ever lasts – the same constantly-repeated lessons that drove The Walking Dead into a ditch), despite being a fan of Internet Daddy and Torv. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that Bella Ramsey was one of the highlights of Game of Thrones (before it drove off a cliff, too).

As far as not-zombie action, it’s pretty light this episode, which means that this was an hour of driving around, running around, and skulking around, talking tough and taking no guff. I mean, the fact that when Joel’s daughter, Sarah (Nico Parker) dies in 2003, it’s from a soldier’s bullet rather than the infection kind of telegraphs the way this show is going to tell its story.

But the only real time see the infection taking hold is disturbing as hell. Mostly we just get people being jumped on and bitten in the usual zombie/not-zombie way, but for one close-up the camera lingers on an old lady with tendrils of mushroomy goodness writhing from her mouth to the wound on her victim. That’s the good stuff, right there, as is the mushroomy corpse they find later that gave off serious Annihilation (2018) vibes.

The rest of the show in this first installment was solid post-apocalypse TV but didn’t really try to do anything too groundbreaking. The most original elements – the monsters – are barely on display, which means that hopefully the bonds between characters will be built quickly and efficiently, given the nine-episode season isn’t really a lot of time for development or growth.

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