The Last of Us HBO Series: How Melanie Lynskey’s Character Expands the Game’s Universe

HBO's adaptation of The Last of Us looks exactly like the games, but Melanie Lynskey's character hints that the show will be so much more than a tribute.

Melanie Lynsky The Last of Us
Photo: HBO

While there’s a lot to talk about when it comes to the first full trailer for HBO’s upcoming adaptation of The Last of Us, it’s no surprise that people are already fascinated with the brief look that trailer offers of Melanie Lynskey’s character. Not only is Lynskey red hot at the moment thanks to her incredible run on Yellowjackets, but it turns out her Last of Us character isn’t directly based on a known character from the games.

Shortly after that trailer was released, HBO confirmed that Lynskey will play Kathleen: the “ruthless leader of a revolutionary movement in Kansas City.” As mentioned above, there is no prominent character called Kathleen in any of The Last of Us games released so far. For that matter, Kansas City has (to my knowledge) never been referenced in any of The Last of Us games. At the very least, Kansas City isn’t a prominent part of The Last of Us games, nor is it a previously revealed Quarantine Zone.

Now, all of that information has led some to believe that Kathleen must be some kind of “one-off” character who is barely featured in the upcoming show. However, it now seems that is not the case.

On Twitter, The Last of Us creator Neil Druckmann (who is also involved with the series as a writer and producer) replied to a Melanie Lynskey tweet and said that the actress “crushed [her] episodes.” Note the use of the word episodes. HBO also indicated that Lynskey will appear in multiple episodes of the upcoming series.

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That’s fascinating. It’s one thing if Lynskey had simply been cast as a “very special guest star” who only popped up in a scene or two. The fact that she’s actually playing a named, previously unknown character in a new corner of The Last of Us universe naturally opens up entirely new possibilities.

While we knew that The Last of Us show would inevitably need to expand upon the original games in order to offer a season’s worth of storytelling, most of the footage and photos we’ve seen of the series so far have been pulled pretty much directly from the games. We haven’t really seen any indication that the series will expand The Last of Us universe beyond what is necessary to help pad the show’s runtime.

Melanie Lynskey’s character changes all of that. We now have definitive proof that The Last of Us series will give fairly prominent roles to new characters, potentially feature new locations, and (logically) feature new storylines that the last two things would naturally require. Now everyone is scrambling to figure out who Kathleen is and what role she may play in the series/the greater The Last of Us universe.

So far as that goes, my first thought was that Kathleen must be on her own adventure somewhere in Kansas City. That’s certainly the way her character is presented in the official information that’s been shared about her so far. However, that would mean that the show will ultimately feature sequences that don’t involve Joel and Ellie. Maybe the Kansas City sequences are flashbacks involving some other major Last of Us character, but again, they would seemingly need to be presented independently of the series’ main storyline. That opens up room for the series to potentially grow beyond Joel and Ellie and focus on other stories.

Then again, it’s possible that Kathleen is simply a character from Kansas City who encounters Joel and Ellie on their adventure. That would arguably be even more interesting. After all, Joel and Ellie’s storyline in The Last of Us can seemingly only be altered so much without seriously impacting where it ultimately needs to go. As we haven’t gotten any indication that The Last of Us series will avoid some of those major moments from the game, characters like Kathleen would seemingly need to exist in moments that could fit into the bigger stories of the game. That’s not an impossible task, but it does raise questions about how much wiggle room the series’ writers really have to work with.

I’ve also heard some speculate that the Kathleen story could eventually lead to whatever will happen in The Last of Us Part 3 and…well, that’s certainly a possibility. I honestly think that theory may be a little optimistic, but given that Druckmann has been indicating that the Kathleen character has some kind of secret he can’t yet discuss, I certainly understand why some fans are optimistic that the character could reveal something significant about future games.

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Ultimately, that should probably be your biggest takeaway from the reveal of the Kathleen character. One way or another, The Last of Us series will expand the universe of The Last of Us games in some way. Unless Naughty Dog has made the stunning decision to abandon The Last of Us Part 3 and advance the universe of the games via the TV show (which is doubtful), then we’re looking at a unique situation in which the show and games will build a shared universe at the same time. HBO’s Game of Thrones proved that such a multimedia arrangement can be tricky at best, but the very idea that The Last of Us series could end up having that relationship with the games does strongly suggest that the series could indeed be the most significant live-action video game adaptation ever.