If you only know Pedro Pascal from his eye-gouging run as the honorable Oberyn Martell in Game of Thrones or his villainous turn as Max Lord in Wonder Woman 1984, the actor may seem a left-field choice to play The Last of Us protagonist Joel in the upcoming TV series. However, fear not, because Pascal’s an excellent choice for the part, as exemplified by his other high-profile role: The Mandalorian.
Yes, his face is mainly obscured by a helmet in the Star Wars series. Yet, beneath the Beskar armor, Pascal gives an impressive performance that showcases the emotional heft the actor can bring to a performance that hinges on the bond between a father figure and a child.
Manners maketh the Mando
The Last of Us games focus on a young teenager called Ellie (set to be played by fellow Game of Thrones alumni Bella Ramsey), who’s shown to be invulnerable to a zombifying virus that has swept the world. Joel is tasked with protecting the young Ellie as they attempt to reach a quarantine zone. No spoilers here for those who haven't picked up Naughty Dog's seminal series – but the game’s story has been heavily praised for making us invest in the relationship between Joel and Ellie, and the TV show will have to accomplish the same.
So, the big question: does Pascal have the chops to pull it off? Almost certainly. Not only does his Big Dad Energy radiate through Wonder Woman 1984 – where he plays a villain who fails to impress his son by granting his every wish – but throughout The Mandalorian, we see his character’s bond with Baby Yoda (real name Grogu) grow into the Star Wars show’s emotional core. There, one scene encapsulates how great Pascal’s performance is.
In the closing moments of the second season, The Mandalorian has to say goodbye to Grogu. Removing his helmet during the scene, Pascal says so much with so little, subtly dropping the character’s protective stance in order to do what needs to be done. It’s simultaneously heartbreaking and, crucially, something immediately recognizable to every parent or child watching. That universal aspect of family – be it by blood or otherwise – is an oft-overlooked aspect of The Mandalorian that also courses through the veins of The Last of Us.
That scene, though, was the (current) endpoint in The Mandalorian and Grogu’s father-son relationship. Like The Last of Us, the importance lies in the journey. At first, Mando was frosty and saw ferrying Grogu across the galaxy as little more than a job. The same can be said of Joel as he takes Ellie to her destination. Both of the older characters see their exteriors gradually thaw, and the parallels continue further still.
There are minor moments of connection between the characters that are very similar. In The Mandalorian, we see the bounty hunter partially lifting up his helmet while eating in Grogu's company, which helps strengthen their bond. Compare and contrast that with Joel teaching Ellie to play the guitar, a defining moment for the duo, and there's every reason to believe The Last of Us' greatest strength – its quieter scenes – will become Pascal's too.
With Ellie and Joel's story taking place over several years and hitting more than one bump in the road, we witness that smart, subtle evolution in body language as Joel becomes a more protective figure. It’s a compelling blueprint for the journey Pascal will share with Bella Ramsey’s Ellie – an actual actor he can bounce off.
It sounds almost obvious to bring up, though it's worth noting that, yes, Baby Yoda is an animatronic puppet. That in itself speaks to Pascal's ability as an on-screen dad. The warmth that radiates from the actor in the scenes he shares with Grogu make you forget he's essentially talking to a toy. While Pedro can literally guide an inanimate object through scenes, it's worth noting that Ramsey is no slouch herself.
The performance of Ramsey's Lyanna Mormont in Game of Thrones, whatever your thoughts and feelings over the show's ending, cannot go unnoticed. In a series filled with the Mount Rushmore of child actors, from Maisie Williams to Sophie Turner, Ramsey held her own and even excelled in a role that was originally a bit-part one and grew into a fan favorite on the sheer will of her acting ability alone.
The Last of Us may require some initial reining in of the natural charisma on her part, but she's got the most able partner in the business standing across from her both on-screen and off-screen. It's going to be a joy to watch their interactions, their arguments, their gritted teeth, and softly spoken home truths explode to life in the video game adaptation across potentially multiple seasons.
The Last of Us will destroy its actors emotionally and physically, but that could all count for naught: the show lives and dies on the connection between Joel and Ellie. Bella Ramsey's casting is especially important given Joel's proclivity for keeping schtum. But being a man of few words shouldn't matter: Pascal has already put in the legwork. He's ready to be a dad a thousand times over, kiddo – and is the perfect choice to play Joel in The Last of Us HBO series.