Humour can be one’s companion – both in the best of times and the worst of times. The comedic elements in HBO’s new series, The Last of Us, adapted from the video game of the same name, is perhaps a shining example of the much-needed levity the grim show requires.
The tension and suspense are almost palpable in the drama thriller. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, creators Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann, attempt to evoke pathos and build a world underlined with danger. So humour acts as a key element to assuage the dire circumstances they are in.
The story is set in 2023, 20 years into a pandemic caused by a mass fungal infection, leading to the collapse of society. Joel (Pedro Pascal) is tasked with escorting Ellie (Bella Ramsey) across the zombie-infested United States.
But despite how menacing the premise of the show might be there is always room to crack a joke or two. Ellie’s book of puns, Will Livingston’s ‘No Pun Intended: Volume Too’ offers the necessary respite. The book is her prized possession and she gleefully shares her learnings from it with her travelling companions.
Joel, who is almost like a father figure to her, albeit a reluctant one, doesn’t necessarily share her passion for puns in the beginning. However, slowly and surely he also starts participating when she relentlessly persists with her puns.
But the use of humour doesn’t end with Ellie, in the third episode – ‘Long Long Time’ – the banter between Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett) makes the show more humane. Frank wants to build a home in a ghost town, but Bill is reluctant to partake. In the scene, the comedic elements are crafted through their portrayal as an old married couple incessantly bickering.
The love between Bill and Frank is also cemented when Frank first attempts to play the piano in a flashback scene – he is terrible at it. But Bill stops him from playing any longer and Frank replies, “I am not a professional”. This banter is one of their first conversations and warrants for the much-needed humour when they both suspicious of one another.
Ellie’s sense of humour also eases the tension in the show. For example, her near-perfect reading of "hehehehehehehehehehehehehe" from Bill’s letter. And to be fair, Bill’s nature to draw pleasure from watching the world burn, albeit not so much through action, but due to his general loss of faith in humanity – keeps the otherwise emotionally taxing show light and watchable.
There isn’t any doubt that the show is gritty and realistic. But by using humour skillfully, creators Mazin and Druckmann make the characters that much more compelling. Ellie is a teenager, and despite her dire circumstances she isn’t forced to act older than her age. Sure, she knows how to use a gun. But she is still a child, and her passion for that book assures we know that.
Ellie and perhaps Bill are the only two characters that dare to laugh at the face of the devil. Ellie does it with childlike humour and Bill does it with quiet resignation - it's comforting to watch especially when the stakes are so high and the situation so morbid.
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