“The Last of Us” Makes Video Game Adaptations Hot, and Queer

The groundbreaking series and other game-inspired shows are leaning into LGBTQ storylines and characters

As The Last of Us season finale looms (ratings for HBOMax’s hit post-apocalyptic action-drama have decent odds of competing with Oscars viewership when it airs Sunday), the impact of the groundbreaking thriller about a (real!) zombifying fungus is crystallizing.

Over eight deftly-crafted episodes, show co-creators Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann have lain waste to the idea that video games can’t translate to meaningful narrative series, which gamers have been saying for a long time. “It was always going to happen eventually,” wrote Ryan Coogan in the Independent. “The dorks won the culture wars a long time ago; now that we live in a world where most of our mothers can identify Rocket Raccoon on sight, it was only a matter of time before gamers managed to shed the decades-old image of a maladjusted Dorito-stained gremlin living in their mother’s basement.”

True, The Last of Us wasn’t just any video game: The much-lauded, multi-award-winning title was a standout upon its release in 2013, and 2020’s The Last of Us 2 went boldly forward from there (we’ll get to that). But the masterful way the show’s first season courted both seasoned gamers and newcomers sets a high bar for all the other game-inspired shows and movies in the pipeline. There sure are a lot of them, shaping up to fill the inevitable void when viewers succumb to Marvel and DC ennui. Apple TV+ is even rolling out a Taron Egerton-starring Tetris movie, billing it as a “Cold War-era thriller on steroids.”

You’ve got to hope Mazin and Druckmann are basking in the impact the series has had in the industry and the timeliness of its surprisingly emotional storylines. It’s been hugely heartening to see, as the GOP continues its noxious war on gay, trans, and nonbinary people, that this gore-splattered zombie thriller embraces its LGBTQ+ characters, moving miles away from a genre that nearly a decade ago spawned the misogynist hatefest known as Gamergate.

Episode three, dubbed “Long Long Time,” is already widely viewed as the show’s masterpiece. It barely included the series leads, diverting into a love story between Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett), while episode seven saw Ellie’s (Bella Ramsey) friendship with fledgling Firefly Riley (Storm Reid) deepen into a kiss before things inevitably go south.

Furthermore, TLOU stars the proudly nonbinary Ramsey, who’s celebrated the “gay army” defending her against online homophobes. Meanwhile, Pedro Pascal, the internet’s daddy, has been a nimble defender of his young co-star.

Reid, for her part, has called homophobic criticism and review-bombing “nonsense,” in a Buzzfeed article that also nicely rounds up delighted fan reactions to her awesome, if doomed, kiss with Ramsey in a post-apocalyptic mall.

As the series heads into production on its second season, things are going to get even spicier. The Last of Us 2 (the game) spawned its own backlash for including a non-gender-conforming female character, a trans character and an exploration of Ellie’s relationship with Dina, a girl who has (maybe?) already been spotted in the show’s Jackson, Wyoming episode.

Twitter can’t wait.

It remains to be seen how queer any of this year’s other game adaptations are, but it’d be surprising if at least some didn’t have an LGBTQ+ presence. Meanwhile, two game titles that haven’t yet been picked up, Mass Effect and Dragon Age, have queer character options, my gaming sources tell me. Get on that, screenwriters! Netflix’s animated Dragon Age: Absolution, an expansion of the game narrative, certainly leans into its queer storylines.

So the gauntlet has been thrown down to bigoted gamers: The future of The Last of Us – and, mark my words, other adaptations – is gonna be queer as hell. Learn to embrace it or miss out on the year you’ve been waiting for.

Stay on top of the latest in L.A. news, food, and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.