While The Last of Us on HBO is a Good Video Game Adaptation, It Doesn’t Dodge Action Movie Tropes

Not enough to ruin the show, but takes you out of it a bit.

by J.R. Waugh
The Last of Us Action Tropes
Image: HBO

The Last of Us on HBO is good. Correction, it’s a sensation. Every episode is reasonably well-received by prominent outlets and hyped by fans and viewers for everybody to check out. It’s the water-cooler hit making the rounds early in 2023 for its drama and tragic turns, while also being a distinctive twist on the post-apocalyptic quasi-zombie genre. But even just watching episode 5, it kicked in for me with exactly one problem I still have with the series. In The Last of Us games, bullets are a precious commodity, but on HBO, they’ve got infinite ammo unlocked and seem to rely on classic tropes.

Spoilers for Episode 5 ahead!

Bottomless Magazines and Infinite Supplies in The Last of Us: Do These Tropes Hurt the Show?

I’ll clarify that I have no problem with Kathleen’s army unleashing bullet hell on the swarm that emerged from the sinkhole. While that part felt over-the-top, it’s not the problem at hand, and it felt warranted, even if it emptied their stockpile as it felt genuinely desperate. But where it takes you out of a brutal, relentless story of survival at all costs is when Joel encounters a sniper performing overwatch while Joel flees with Ellie, Henry, and Sam, equipped with the Bottomless Magazine trope.

Let me explain: the episode is attentive to this trope, but more so with Kathleen’s army than anything else. The Bottomless Magazine is the most common of action movie tropes where their stars fire copious amounts of bullets while not having to reload, or conveniently only when the story deems it necessary. But when Joel gets his hands on the sniper rifle, there’s only seemingly one reload, and bursts of anywhere from 6, to 14-20 shots between. That’s an awful lot for a gun that is not loaded with a magazine. But in a post-apocalyptic world, are bullets that common to be fired so haphazardly? Or does it fall into the Infinite Supplies trope?

Brightness raised to show details, Image: HBO

The Infinite Supplies trope needs no explanation, but it warrants mentioning just how conveniently characters find bullets and supplies (except maybe food) in The Last of Us. Going to Frank and Bill’s town helped with the resupply, but it breaks the immersion into the world so thrillingly conveyed in the game where bullets were often found in small clusters even just one at a time.

Bullets, materials for first aid, and general survival items were often intensely limited, but in this climactic episode, everybody has everything they need, except for a bullet-sponge raid boss of a Bloater. It just seems that, in a gritty, grounded story of survival and human drama, oftentimes one has to forsake the other to keep the story going, and it can occasionally turn into generic action in those moments. It just feels odd that a video game has a better grasp on grounded survival than a prestige drama adaptation.

The Last of Us premiered on January 15, 2023, on HBO and HBO Max, and will air weekly every Sunday. International viewers can catch this series on Sky Atlantic and Crave.

- This article was updated on February 13th, 2023