The Last of Us: The Gamer’s Good Samaritan


Video games have become the birthplace of some dubious film and television adaptations. The more successful the franchise, it seems the further the fall from grace. Cross-media creations like Mortal Kombat, Assassin’s Creed and Uncharted, have demonstrated just how difficult it is to transfer success from one medium to another. However, HBO and showrunner Neil Druckmann may have finally achieved what no other production house has with a post-apocalyptic take on Jesus’ Good Samaritan story. But this is no Samaritan Jesus would recognise.

from Playstation to the TV screen

The Last Of Us, a TV series now streaming on Binge in Australia and HBO Max in the United States, is an adaptation of the wildly successful video game by the same name. In 2013, developers Naughty Dog achieved amazing critical and player acclaim with the release of their third-person adventure. The original game became the fifth-highest-rated PlayStation 3 title on review aggregator Metacritic, selling a stunning 1.3 million units in its first week. The second game released in 2020 and had more mixed critical reviews. nevertheless becoming the fastest-selling Playstation 4 exclusive. There have been numerous spin-offs from the original romp, including sequels, a comic book series and a tabletop game. However, it is the TV series that is likely to eclipse them all.

Now, before going much further, it should be noted that The Last Of Us is rated MA15+ for good reason. There is abundant violence, crude language and adult themes. There are also several post-Christian storylines to match the world that’s watching. In one episode alone viewers are asked to accept homosexuality, same-sex marriage and euthanasia as beautiful things. The cordyceps infection is the bleak backdrop for the series but the problems of human nature is what makes the story come alive.

the world, more bleakly

The Last of Us will feel eerily familiar to a world that has lived through the Covid-19 pandemic. A mutation of the cordyceps fungus results in a fast-spreading plague that envelopes the planet thanks to modern transportation systems and our dependence on internationally sourced foodstuffs. However, the consequences make Covid pale in comparison. The infected usually die within a couple of days, but the fungus then takes over their bodies to spread its spores. The results are frighteningly swift, unreasoning monsters that reduce the United States to a wasteland. The survivors huddle in fortified cities that are surrounded by infection without and ruled by fascist governments within.


At the centre of the storyline is a lowly worker called Joel, played by Pedro Pascal. Joel lost his teenage daughter Sarah in the initial outbreak to the rifle of an over-zealous soldier. He now makes a living smuggling goods in and out of the Boston quarantine zone. His quest to find his lost brother Tommy (played by Gabriel Luna) leads him to a revolutionary group known as the Fireflies. Their leader, Marlene, offers to supply Joel with the means to find Tommy if he will undertake a bit of human smuggling. Here, we meet Ellie Williams (Bella Ramsey), a 14-year-old girl who appears to have inestimable value to the human race. She is the one person who seems to be immune to the cordyceps infection. Marlene lays out the benefits for delivering the girl to her Firefly comrades:

“You get her there safely, they’ll give you what you need. Not just a battery. The whole thing. Fuelled-up truck. Guns. Supplies. All of it, I swear.”

we’re not good people

And that makes The Last Of Us what scriptwriters call a quest arc. The protagonist of the piece needs to get hold of an item, uncover a secret or, in this case, simply get from A to B. However, in both the game and the series, there is a human relationship that adds another dimension to the drama. Joel is provided with an opportunity to help the helpless Ellie, and in this case, his coming along at just the right time makes him something of a Good Samaritan figure. That’s the character in one of Jesus’ most famous stories who helps a wounded man he finds by the side of the road. But The Last Of Us has a decidedly more worldly take on this unexpected hero.


To begin with, the hero of The Last Of Us does not willingly stop walking when he sees someone in need. In the parable told by Jesus, a priest and a Levite pass by a certain man who has been beaten by robbers because he is none of their concern. Joel is more like them. He lacks the altruism of Jesus’ hero. Left to his gut instincts, Joel would have never struck up an association with Ellie. And when the risks run high, he is prepared to back out altogether:

“We’re still close to the wall. We sneak her back into the QZ. We find a different way to get the battery.”

Secondly, Joel is nowhere near as generous with his assistance. In the original story, the injured man is first visited by both a Jewish priest and Levite (important figures in the temple system). Both of these almost-samaritans have an opportunity to help this man (a fellow Jew) but to ignore him. The Samaritan does not simply care for the Jewish man’s wounds, he takes him to an inn and pays for his recuperation. He also makes sure that if the man needs further care, he would cover any extra expense. In this sense, our characters more closely resemble the priest and Levite than they do good Samaritans. Joel has to be paid for his services. His partner, Tess, makes that abundantly clear:

“Joel and I aren’t good people. We’re doing this for us because apparently you’re worth something.”

Thirdly, Joel would be justified in turning away from Ellie. Jesus’ story was communicated so that we might understand our obligation to all people. The point for both the people in Jesus’ day and modern readers is that to be good neighbours, we have an obligation to everyone around us, not just the people who are like like us. However, the backstory complicates things. Joel’s daughter dies in the first episode of the show, damaging him for years to come. A long time has ensued between episode one and episode two, yet for Joel the emotional wounds are still too fresh to take on a fatherly role for another young girl. Furthermore, the fallen man in Jesus’ story is a blank canvas, but the same can’t be said of Ellie. She is mean-spirited, suspicious and argumentative and at least initially, unworthy of Joel’s support. Whereas Jesus’ injured man could be assumed to be grateful for the Good Samaritan’s intervention, Ellie resents the very help she receives.


The setup for The Last Of Us begs the viewer to consider ourselves as the “first” of us. People who put others before themselves don’t last long in the world in which our characters live. Then watch as the relationship between Joel and Ellie deepens as their journey lengthens, but don’t mistake what’s happening. Joel shows increasing concern for Ellie exactly because she is becoming someone more valuable to him. But The Last Of Us says we are not obliged to do good to the needy as a matter of course—choosing to is worthy of congratulations. Place the original Good Samaritan (found in Luke 10 in the New Testament) in the same storyline, though, and a different outcome emerges.

a better story

Jesus’ representative would see Ellie as someone who is just like him, and so he would offer the help he would hope to receive. He would be engaged from the outset, he would be generous in the face of Ellie’s needs, and he would bear with her negative side, conscious that he struggles with his own sinful nature. It’s not great TV but it is a good illustration of Jesus’ second greatest commandment: to love your neighbour as yourself. And your neighbour, his story shows, is anyone whom God puts in your path.

It is interesting that the characters in The Last Of Us cannot maintain their transactional stance for long. Joel has to develop as a character. The generosity we admire in Jesus’ story, we also want to be present in his heart as well. Ellie, too, becomes more loveable. There is a sense in which The Last Of Us says there is hope for us all in a fallen world. But it remains transactional at a deeper level so long as we understand that Joel and Ellie are getting what they deserve for the efforts they are making. Jesus’ story is infinitely more hopeful, though. In the Good Samaritan there is no sense of people getting what they have earned, certainly not the injured man. That’s because in Jesus’ world, we get what we need, not what we deserve.

Mark Hadley is a media and cultural critic who lives with his family in Sydney. Please note that discussion of a media product in Signs of the Times does not imply an endorsement or recommendation.

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