There’s hardly any upcoming season of television I’m more excited about than The Last of Us season 2. Not only do I think HBO’s 9-episode adaptation of the 2013 hit video game is one of the best single seasons of TV I’ve ever seen, but I hold The Last of Us Part II in the top 3 stories I’ve ever been told. Months after finishing the game for the first time, I’m still quite not ready to let go (and am desperately looking forward to the announced remastered version).
I think there is an endless amount of potential for Craig Mazin to write an even better season than the one we already saw. But that doesn’t mean that he, Neil Druckmann, and the rest of the team won’t face a lot of challenges to pull off this adaptation. Some of these have been in the conversation for a few months, and people online have been debating how they will tackle them. Here’s what I think recent news stories may reveal about how they will go about it.
The following assumes the reader is familiar with the (unforgettable) story of The Last of Us Part II. Needless to say, spoilers abound!
The Last of Us: The Joel in the Room
The question of how they will handle Joel in the second season of The Last of Us is really the major card up their sleeve right now. The tremendous success of the first season and the fact that Pedro Pascal is synonymous with the show right now, the recognizable face on the poster, may sway Mazin and Druckmann to keep Joel alive for a little bit longer than in the game. Here’s why I don’t agree with that sentiment.
First of all, this is HBO that we’re talking about. Remember when they killed the only recognizable face/name at the end of the first season of Game of Thrones? Yeah, they are not afraid to do that. They understand the assignment, and there are not many recent examples of that specific network missing the mark because they wanted to give a movie star more screen time.
Second, this is Craig Mazin we’re talking about. He’s been very adamant about his love of the second game and about how he can’t wait to write more stories for these characters. The fundamental point here is this: The story of The Last of Us Part II is not Joel’s story. He is a core element of Ellie’s emotional arc, but the story of the second game is the story of what happens in the aftermath of Joel’s death.
To try to change that (be it have him survive or just kill him off at the end of the season) because Pedro Pascal is on the poster is undercutting it entirely, and to try to change that because audiences like Joel is the coward’s way out. The point is that we already like Joel, so we’ll be as enraged as Ellie is once we see him die.
If you take a close look at how they adapted the story of the first game, you might notice that none of the major beats changed at all. Most of the process, aside from the Bill and Frank episode, consisted of cutting a lot of fluff from action scenes to add more emotional weight through dialogue.
I could write a whole book about the importance of Joel dying at the beginning of the second season (I predict it will be the final scene of episode 2 — Abby will be introduced in the final 10 minutes of episode 1 and brought back for episode 2, to grab that stick). But the point today is to examine recent news around the show to try to understand what they are doing.
And if we’re talking about Pedro Pascal, we have to talk about those recent Fantastic Four headlines. Apparently, Pascal is in negotiations with Marvel Studios to star in Matt Shakman’s reboot as Reed Richards, but the studio and the actor’s team are having an understandably hard time figuring out his schedule next year. He’s now shooting Gladiator 2, and also has to film The Last of Us and Zach Creggers’ Weapons in 2024.
The latter was once supposed to shoot in the fall, but the start date has been pushed and is currently unknown to the public. The latest rumor is that the HBO series will start filming in Canada in February, which is around the same time Marvel wanted to film Fantastic Four. Now, we’re already quite close to February and neither Marvel nor HBO have assembled their respective casts, so it’s possible those dates may vary.
At the same time, HBO famously figured it out on the fly in the first season and it worked out great. Mazin and Druckmann are under a lot of pressure to produce the series for early 2025, so I do think filming will start around February/March at the latest in Canada, and probably with the Jackson-set sequences, for which Joel is needed.
But the point is that Marvel won’t start Fantastic Four much later, and though Reed is apparently a secondary player to Sue Storm, it’s not like Pascal will have just a couple of weeks on set. They can probably figure out how to film without him for a month or so, but not much more.
Bottom line: Pedro Pascal will probably spend one or two months in Canada shooting The Last of Us, and then will have to go to England to shoot for Marvel. Zach Cregger will likely have to wait, or even forget about Pedro altogether.
Pascal could even return to the HBO set to film the remaining scenes, like some of the flashbacks from the game, at a later point. But if his team thinks he can shoot both Fantastic Four and The Last of Us in the same year, that means his part will definitely be reduced, kind of like I speculated at the beginning.
Abby’s Role in The Last of Us Season 2
To me, this is the most interesting question to answer now. One of the best aspects of The Last of Us Part II was the way Neil Druckmann and Haley Gross structured the story, having the first part focused on Ellie’s downward spiral into revenge, madness, and cruelty to culminate with the shocker of all shockers on that mid-point.
During that sequence, we change perspectives to not only play as Joel’s killer but also as Ellie at the end of the game, the daughter of a man killed off by the protagonist after she exercised her revenge and did nothing for her. It is one of the best story twists in all storytelling, in my opinion, and an integral part of the narrative. Mazin has said the story of the game does not fit into a single season of TV, but we don’t know what that means exactly.
Will they stop at the moment when we start to play as Abby in the game? That seems like the natural fit to me, but I still have some hesitations about forcing the audience to wait for another two years to see what happens next, especially since the point of the game is that the two are so inherently tied together. The key is that they can’t exist separately.
If they follow that structure, though, Abby wouldn’t really have a role to play in the first season beyond half an episode at the beginning and a few scenes at the very end. Mazin has said that Abby was the most important part for them to cast going into season 2, but what does that mean exactly? A report from last week said that HBO may have found their Abby, as Kaitlyn Dever is in negotiations to play the role in the new season. So that’s pretty significant, and it does back up Mazin’s comments from a few months ago. It still doesn’t solve the dilemma, though.
Will they alter the structure of the game to have Seattle Day One with Ellie, then Seattle Day One with Abby, and so on? I don’t think that works for the story the game told, but maybe they’ve come up with a specific formula for television that will solve the problem.
Perhaps they wanted to build the entire cast from Abby, even if she has a smaller role than, say, Dina or Jesse, because in the long run, this is Abby’s story as much as Ellie’s. And yet, if they were filming season 2 as just the first half of the game, Abby might as well be the last role you cast, because you don’t really need her aside from the very first episode and the very last.
But here’s a tinfoil-hat theory that I don’t want to get too attached to, but that I think is the way I would do it. The fundamental thesis here is that the stories of Abby and Ellie don’t really intersect aside from three specific moments: the beginning, the middle, and the end. Other than that, their Seattle journeys are pretty perpendicular to each other, so in theory, they could set up two different Last of Us sets, where one is focused on the first half of the story (Ellie’s half) and the second one, on Abby’s half.
You can still split the story into two seasons, but by having two simultaneous productions, you make sure audiences won’t have to wait two years to solve a cliffhanger that is resolved within minutes in the game. This is also why Abby is such an integral part of the cast: because she’s going to have a major role to film in 2024; it just won’t be all for season 2.
However, there are still a few logistic setbacks. First, Craig Mazin hasn’t really had the time to produce scripts for a second season yet, let alone a third. Second, he likes to be there for every single step of the way. He’s the kind of showrunner who oversees every aspect of production and is on set every single day. By having two major sets running concurrently, he would not be able to do so.
They could theoretically shoot both seasons back-to-back, where season 3 starts filming just a few weeks after season 2 wraps, but that would mean Mazin has to write all of the third season while on set of season 2, on top of overseeing everything there. And later, he’d have to oversee the editing and post of season 2 while on set for the third season. Seems like a lot.
Here’s another quick possibility: Dever will probably have to bulk up quite a bit over the next few months, but what if Mazin and Druckmann wanted to start principal photography with the last scene of the season, the flashback in which Abby shares his final moments with his father?
Much of this may be clarified soon, as more of the cast is announced. If Kaitlyn Dever is indeed going to be Abby, she may have to hit the gym really soon and really fast. Dina and Jesse are clearly the next names to be announced but be on the lookout for Lev and Yara. I would be shocked if we learned about those two within the next year, as they don’t appear until Abby’s Seattle Day Two and Three, but everything’s possible.
The bottom line is this: There is no one I trust more to bring the story of The Last of Us to life in the best way possible than Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann. I have no doubt I will be moved to pieces by the story and the execution, so I cannot wait.
One Final Note…
Just bring back Pearl Jam’s “Future Days”. I know Druckmann got away with the use of the song in the game because it was played live and posted to YouTube a few weeks before Outbreak Day in 2013. The series takes place 10 years before, as Outbreak Day happens in 2003, but hell with that. Just do a “Somehow, Palpatine returned” and we’ll get over it. The song is so good and so vital to the story of The Last of Us.
But what do you think? Do you have any thoughts on the direction the showrunners should take for The Last of Us Season 2? Do you have any thoughts on casting for Abby? Let us know what you think about the topic on the Illuminerdi’s social media.