When editor Timothy Good shared with then-assistant Emily Mendez the opportunity to tackle Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann’s HBO/Max series The last of usbased on the PlayStation game of the same name, Mendez – who was promoted to editor during the season – immediately responded, “That’s my favorite video game I’ve ever played, and we gotta do it!”
In the story, a pandemic has destroyed the world as we know it, and a survivor, Joel (played by Pedro Pascal), is asked to protect an immune teen, Ellie (Bella Ramsey), who may hold the key to a cure in has hands.
“The first thing they gave us was episode three (‘Long, Long Time’),” Good says of the flashback-filled tale of the lifelong romance of two survivors, played by Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett. “I swear I’ve never read anything like it in my life. It was so rich and full of hope and life and love.”
The pair spoke with THR about the overall season and developing the arc of Joel and Ellie’s surrogate father-daughter relationship.
How did you shape the emotional story of Bill (Offerman) and Frank (Bartlett) sharing their lives together in a post-apocalyptic world over the course of a single episode?
TIMOTHY GOOD It was a dream for me to be able to help them put this together. As a gay person who had gone through many, many years to understand what it feels like to be closeted – and as someone who married a real Bill in real life, and I’m a Frank type of person – it was incredible to say, “I deeply understand these characters and I understand the dynamic between them.” I feel like I can really help illuminate these characters — not just for people who are gay or in the queer community or whatever, but for everyone.
A lot of our job here was to steer clear of these performances and especially the screenplay, because the script is so well done. We have to allow for these moments of nuance between two characters I instantly recognized. These two characters spread the codes that gays will give each other to try if they’re safe, if everything will be okay, to give them space to be themselves. All these moments have been carefully worked out by the actors, by Craig in the script and by (director) Peter Hoar. (Our job was) to go into those moments and make sure they were alive.
Often people will say, “We really need to get through this faster,” or, “Maybe we can get rid of all this silence.” The silence is where the story lives, because this is where they try to figure out who they are. I think silence is the opportunity for the audience to really zoom in on how a character is feeling. A lot of these sequences between them had dueling stances, something we’re not used to doing so often in editing. Usually it’s seen from one person’s perspective, but in these scenes it was really important to Craig and Peter, and honestly to me, that everyone participates in this equally or else it wouldn’t have landed, the longevity of their love .
In episode seven, “Left Behind”, a flashback shows Ellie’s budding relationship with her friend Riley, played by Storm Reid, on the night they are bitten by one of the infected and Ellie survives. What was the challenge of this episode?
Emily Mendez The “Left Behind” episode is very special to me for many reasons. First of all, I loved the Left Behind part in the game. It was the first time I played a video game where I thought, “Oh my god, this is like me.” I connected with the character who had experienced something I had experienced growing up – falling in love with your best friend. That storyline was very special to me.
When we started our scenes, we had to find the best balance between the dynamics between Ellie and Riley’s characters, because it was important to Craig and Neil that Riley matched Ellie’s fire. She is someone who is equal to Ellie and challenges her. So we were dealing with the introduction of this new character, but also with the idea of falling in love with your friend while trying not to make it too obvious. We deal with all those emotions.
How did you develop the central relationship between Joel and Ellie throughout the season?
GOOD I think the band started at the very end of episode three, when he said, “If we’re going to do this, here are the ground rules.” And he reluctantly takes her on. Much of what binds them is humour. When Ellie pulls out her little book of puns – which returns in “Left Behind”, and we learn how the book of puns becomes important to her – it was this trajectory of him who didn’t like the puns at all to be won over and actually for the first, probably in 20 years, smile. He’s actually impressed with how she has him. She is this girl who is an echo character of his daughter, and he refuses to get close to her, because he doesn’t want to lose anyone anymore. As they travel, his instincts have no choice but to strike.
In episode four, (Ellie) fires a gun to save him, and he is forced to come to terms with the fact that he wouldn’t live (without) her. It’s actually one of my favorite scenes in the entire series, when he (finally) teaches her to use the gun. And of course what happens is she doesn’t immediately listen to him because she never listens to him because she’s her own person. (There are) these little details about how they slowly open up to each other, and of course she’s much more open. She wants a parental figure in her life, and he desperately doesn’t want another child. He pushes her away. But as a parent, sometimes you have no choice but to love, care, and protect.
The beginning of episode nine (the finale, “Look for the Light”) begins with her in this place where he’s not sure if she’s okay, and he’s worried that all of her innocence is gone. And only by seeing that giraffe and seeing her restore that childish innocence, even for that moment, does he know that she’s going to be okay. It’s almost at that point that he says, “I’m in it now.” The giraffe scene really solidifies that relationship and allows him to open up to her.
In the final scenes, after reaching the Fireflies and separating them, Joel makes a crucial choice.
GOOD Seeing what he would do to get her back in that moment is why I think that last scene hurt so much because you saw what he would do for her. But then he turns around and lies to her (about what happened) at the very end – ‘I’m lying because I’m trying to protect you. I lie because I love you.” I think she more or less knows he’s lying. I think Craig said this too, like, “Do I say, ‘You’re lying to me,’ and get into a huge fight, or do I just accept the lie now and see where this goes?” But she knows, “I can’t trust him one hundred percent.” I can’t imagine a better ending.
Interview edited for length and clarity. Listen to the full conversation in an episode of THR‘s Behind the screen podcast series.
This story first appeared in a standalone June issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.