The Last of Us on HBO was a triumph, a show that saw unprecedented audience growth, massive critical acclaim, and secured a second season within weeks of its first episode airing. That second season will, of course, cover the events of The Last of Us Part 2, with certain characters and moments from the original game's 2020 sequel already woven into the first nine-episode run. But showrunner Craig Mazin has already made clear that it won't encompass the entire game – "more than one" season will be required to tell that story. If that's the case, what does the structure of The Last of Us Part 2 tell us about the future of HBO's The Last of Us?
Major spoilers for The Last of Us Part 2 follow
There are, to my mind, three places where The Last of Us Season 2 could come to an end: after the golf club scene in the Lodge; after the first fight in the theatre in Seattle; or after the second theatre fight.
The first option requires the most liberty with Mazin's suggestion that he's looking to "directly" adapt Part 2, but it still works. There are five years between the events of Parts 1 and 2, but an awful lot happens in that time, much of it explored in flashbacks throughout the second game. Ellie's relationship with Joel changes considerably, with the events of season one's final episode percolating uncomfortably for several months. But in the background, there are plenty of other characters to consider: a glimpse of a character thought to be Abby points directly to her story, also explored in-depth during Part 2; Ellie's relationship with Dina begins off-screen; and there are entire new factions, crucial to a core game narrative, that could be established through a second season. And that second stretch would come to a head in the lodge, with Joel's death at Abby's hands and the beginning of Ellie and Tommy's vendetta.
Of course, if Warner Bros decided it didn't want to make the absolute most out of Pedro Pascal, it could opt for a more traditional adaptation, something closer in-line with the game itself. A couple of episodes in Wyoming would end with Joel's death, with another episode establishing the journey to Seattle. Another flashback episode – something like Bill and Frank's story from season one – would likely be needed to flesh out Abby somewhere around episode four, but Ellie would remain the core focus, her own flashbacks establishing the fracturing of her relationship with Joel.
Weaving those moments into the core story of the first three days in Seattle, with Abby a constant threat as Ellie and Tommy carve their way through the Salt Lake Crew, there's already a solid eight or nine-episode series, ready to end with Abby's arrival at the theatre, and a powerful cliffhanger. Season Three would be dedicated to Abby's storyline in the latter half of Part 2, as well as Yara, Lev, and the Seraphites' conflict with the WLF. Keeping Ellie relevant would be a significant challenge, but the story would be pointing back to her, once again leading to the devastating fight in the theatre.
Justice for Barbara
That fight could, however, come right at the end of that second season. Given the success of season one, it's not impossible that Warner Bros would order a mammoth second season, covering all of both major arcs. Episode structure could meander much like the narrative of the game, those flashbacks weaving in alongside more standalone stories – the WLF and Seraphite turf war in place of Left Behind, or the Museum level in place of Long, Long Time. Eventually, with Ellie's story orbiting chaotically around Abby, the two would clash, the action reaching the theatre at the same time.
It would be a very long, very complicated series, but it's probably the most obvious way that I – a person who is, admittedly, not a script-writer – can see to bring two very complex major narratives together, and then continue the story into a third season. There's every chance that that third season will never manifest, but it's clear that HBO has a hit on its hands, and with plenty of appetite for more of The Last of Us (even if Naughty Dog won't confirm what its next project is), a third series doesn't exactly seem to be some wild pipe dream.
Logically, that would take us to Santa Barbara. A section of The Last of Us Part 2 that really should have been part of the third game (if not DLC), it does at least offer some important narrative set-up for wherever Ellie's story goes next. I can't imagine Naughty Dog is ready to drop The Last of Us for good just yet, so however superfluous Santa Barbara felt to Part 2, it seems likely to be relevant for Part 3, and hence feature somewhere in the future of the show.
Of course, in much the same way that parts of season one divert wildly from the source material, subsequent seasons of The Last of Us will probably follow. Mazin has basically already said as much, with some of the story's future likely to stick close to Part 2 and some of it set to be "radically" different. But with a significant obstacle to overcome in the form of that timeskip, even if we don't get a second season of The Last of Us for a few years, it'll be fascinating to see how Part 2 shapes up.
If you're pretty much caught up, check out our The Last of Us episode 9 review.