Since the first episode, “The Last of Us” hasn’t felt the need to fill in story gaps with some good old-fashioned head-smashing. After the extended opening featuring Sarah (Nico Parker) during outbreak day, the rest of the pilot remains centered on the post-apocalyptic lives of its main characters. When it seems Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Tess (Anna Torv) are about to encounter a group of bandits in search of a battery, just like in the video game, the show opts instead to skip that part entirely by showcasing the aftermath of a shootout. The first time we see something that feels like the action of the video game is in the second episode, when Joel, Tess, and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) encounter a group of evolved clickers in a climactic fight.
Instead of transitioning from one sequence to the next through action (i.e., gameplay), “The Last of Us” keeps the narrative structure tethered to the restraints of the television format. There is no rush to get to the next bit of violence, either. The third episode revolves around Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett) falling in love in their infected-free town. The show prioritizes this love story and gives Bill a depth he doesn’t have in the game, making him more than just a vehicle to help Joel and Ellie fight the infected. By the fourth episode, things have begun to heat up, with a faction threatening the not-so-safe travels of the main duo. Even as the pace picks up, however, the show keeps its focus on what matters most.