Written by Carolyn Giardina, Hollywood Reporter
When editor Timothy Good, ACE shared with then-assistant Emily Mendez the possibility of tackling Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann’s HBO/Max series The Last of Us, based on the PlayStation game of the same name, Mendez — who was pro-moted to editor during the season — immediately responded, “That is my favorite video game I’ve ever played, and we have to do it!”
In the story, a pandemic has destroyed the world as we know it, and one survivor, Joel (played by Pedro Pascal), is asked to protect an immune teenager, Ellie (Bella Ramsey), who might hold the key to a cure.
“The first thing they gave us was episode three [‘Long, Long Time’],” says Good of the flashback-filled story centering on the lifelong romance of two survivors played by Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett. “I swear to you that I’ve never read anything like that in my life. It was so rich and full of hope and life and love.”
The pair talked with THR about the overall season and developing the arc of Joel and Ellie’s surrogate father-daughter relationship.
How did you shape the emotional story of Bill (Offerman) and Frank (Bartlett) sharing their lives together in a postapocalyptic world over the course of a single episode?
TIMOTHY GOOD: It was a dream for me to be able to help them put this together. As a gay person myself who had been through many, many years of understanding what it feels like to be in the closet — and as someone who is married to an actual Bill in real life, and I am a Frank-type person — it was incredible to say, “I understand these characters deeply, and I understand the dynamic between them.” I feel like I can really help illuminate — not just for people who are gay or in the queer community or whatnot, but for everyone — these characters.
A lot of our job here was to get out of the way of these performances and especially the screenplay, because the script is so well done. We have to allow these moments of nuance between two characters who I recognized immediately. These two characters were giving off the codes that gay people will give each other to try and see if they’re safe, if everything is going to be OK, to give them the space to be themselves. All these moments were carefully crafted by the actors, by Craig in the script and by [director] Peter Hoar. [Our job was] to home in on
those moments and make sure those lived.
A lot of times people might say, “We should really get through this quicker,” or, “Maybe we can get rid of all this silence.” The silence is where the story lives, because this is where they’re trying to figure out who they are. I find silence to be the opportunity for the audience to really zone in on how a character is feeling. Many of these sequences between them had dueling points of view, which was something we’re not use to doing all that often in editing. Usually, it’s seen from one person’s perspective, but in these scenes, it was very important to Craig and to Peter, and frankly to me, that each one has an equal participation in this, otherwise it wouldn’t have landed, the longevity of their love.
In episode seven, “Left Behind,” we see in a flashback Ellie’s budding relationship with her friend Riley, played by Storm Reid, on the night that they are bitten by one of the infected and Ellie survives. What was the challenge of this episode?
EMILY MENDEZ: The “Left Behind” episode is a really special one to me for many reasons. First of all, I loved the Left Behind portion in the game. It was the first time I had played a video game where I was like, “Oh my God, this is like me.” I was connecting with the character who had gone through something that I had been through growing up — falling in love with your best friend. That storyline was very special to me. As we were starting our scenes, we were having to figure out the best balance of the dynamic between the characters of Ellie and Riley, because to Craig and Neil, it was important that Riley matched Ellie’s fire. She’s someone who’s an equal to Ellie and challenges her. So we were dealing with introducing this new character, but also incorporating this idea of falling in love with your friend while trying to not make it too obvious. We are dealing with all those emotions.
How did you develop the central relationship between Joel and Ellie across the season?
GOOD: I think the bond started in the very end of episode three, when he says, “If we’re going to do this, here are the ground rules.” And he’s reluctantly taking her on. A lot of what bonds them is humor. When Ellie brings out her little book of puns — which comes back in “Left Behind,” and we learn how the book of puns comes to be important to her — it was this trajectory from him not liking the puns at all to being won over and actually smiling for the very first time, probably, in 20 years. He’s actually taken by how she’s got him. She’s this girl who is an echo character of his daughter, and he refuses to get close to her, because he doesn’t want to lose anyone again. As they’re traveling, his instincts have no choice but to kick in. In episode four, [Ellie] fires a gun to save him, and he’s forced to reconcile with the fact that he shouldn’t be alive [if it were not for] her. It’s one of my favorite scenes in the whole series, actually, when he [finally] teaches her to use the gun. And, of course, what happens is she immediately doesn’t listen to him because she never listens to him, because she’s her own person. [There are] these little tiny details about how they’re slowly opening up to one another, and she’s of course way more open. She wants a parental figure in her life, and he desperately does not want another child.
He’s pushing her away. But as a parent, you have no choice, when presented with situations some-
times, but to love and to care and to protect. The beginning of episode nine [the finale, “Look for the Light”]
begins with her in this place where he’s not sure if she’s going be OK, and he’s worried that all of her innocence is gone. And only by seeing that giraffe and seeing her have that childlike innocence restored for even just
that moment, he knows that she’s going to be OK. It’s almost at that point that he goes, “I’m in this now.” The giraffe scene really solidifies that relationship, and it allows him to open up to her.
In the final scenes, after they reach the Fireflies and they are separated, Joel makes a pivotal choice.
GOOD: Seeing what he would do to get her back at that point is why I think that last scene hurt so much, because you saw what he would do for her. But then he’ll turn around and he’ll lie to her [about what happened] at the very end — “I’m lying because I’m trying to protect you. I’m lying because I love you.” I believe that
she kind of knows that he’s lying. I think Craig has said this too, like, “Do I say, ‘You’re lying to me,’ and get into a huge fight, or do I just accept the lie right now and see where this goes?” But she knows “I can’t one hundred percent trust him.” I can’t imagine a better ending.
Interview edited for length and clarity. Listen to the full conversation on an episode of THR’s Behind the Screen podcast series.