One Of The Last Of Us’ Most Gut-Wrenching Lines Was Improvised By Pedro Pascal

Pedro Pascal, The Last of Us 

HBO’s “The Last of Us” doesn’t need much improvisation. The heart-pounding series from Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann pulls plenty of its best lines from the video game on which it’s based, and when writers do make changes, they tend to be for the better. Series cinematographer Eben Bolter even described the show’s Emmy-winning third episode screenplay to /Film as a “golden script” and “an instruction manual for greatness.” It sounds like improv moments were few and far between during the filming of the first season, but Pedro Pascal did manage to ad lib a line that made one key moment stronger.

In a conversation with original Joel Miller voice actor Troy Baker for “The Last of Us Podcast,” co-creators Mazin and Druckmann unpacked an emotional episode 6 scene in which Joel broke down to his brother Tommy (Gabriel Luna), revealing the true depths of his care for Ellie (Bella Ramsey) along with his fears of losing her.

‘That was from Pedro directly’

Gabriel Luna, The Last Of Us 

“Lately there are these moments where the fear comes up out of nowhere and my heart feels like it’s stopped,” Joel tells Tommy, eyes filled with tears, when he finally gets the chance to speak to his brother alone. “I have dreams. Every night.”

When Tommy asks what the dreams are about, Joel admits he doesn’t know. “I can’t remember,” Joel says. “I just know that when I wake up, I’ve lost something. I’m failing in my sleep.” The exchange may be short, but for reticent, traumatized Joel, it’s a huge show of vulnerability – one that reframes his entire character. And apparently, part of it came from Pascal himself. “That was obviously a hard monologue to write, but the [lines], ‘I have dreams … All I know is that when I wake up, I know I’ve lost something,'” Mazin paraphrases, “That was something from Pedro directly.”

Listening to the podcast, it’s clear that every word of the script, particularly for this character-heavy episode, works to deepen our understanding of the gulf between who these characters are, who they wish they were, and who they present themselves to be. Joel presents himself as a no-nonsense survivor with few attachments, but longs to be a dad who can protect his daughter from the perils of the world. These contrasting images lead to the truest version of Joel, which presents itself when he’s with Tommy, admitting he feels like a failure deep in his bones.

“That notion that when you wake up you just have a feeling that you’ve lost something is so beautiful and it’s so confessional,” says Mazin. Druckmann notes that the game features an action sequence after which Tommy realizes how much Joel cares for Ellie, but in the series, they made Joel open up instead. “This is not all like something we saw from Joel in the game,” Mazin says. “This is different. This is sadder, I think. It’s a little more broken down and it’s a little more upsetting.”

Every word in the script adds to these brilliantly broken characters

Bella Ramsey, The Last of Us

Pascal’s script addition here is a meaningful one, and in a series that’s full of foreshadowing, echoes, and subtle parallels, it connects back to an earlier scene in which Joel falls asleep during watch while traveling with Ellie. “She’s the one who’s looking after him, which is only reinforcing his growing panic that he is insufficient, that he is not going to be able to keep her alive,” Craig explains in the show’s official companion podcast. “So even as the two of them are moving through this beautiful world and seem relatively safe, he, on the other hand, keeps feeling the pounding threat of his own inability to keep her alive.”

That sense of failure reaches a fever pitch once Joel sees the security Tommy’s found and the family he’s starting to build. In contrast, Joel wakes up every day scared that Ellie won’t be there anymore, and he knows that the loss of a second daughter figure will be the last loss he’s ever able to endure. When Joel makes his fateful decision in the season 1 finale, it’s as much to keep himself going as it is to actually protect Ellie. It’s bleak stuff, but it’s exactly what we come to “The Last of Us” for, and we can’t wait to see how the cast and crew continue to build their version of this world when the show returns for its second season on HBO sometime in 2025.

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