How HBO’s The Last of Us Created a Perfect Mall Dystopia

A version of this story about the production design of “The Last of Us” first ran in TheWrap’s awards magazine Drama Series issue.

If HBO’s “The Last of Us” achieves anything as well as conveying the tension and dread of a post-apocalyptic society and zombies, it’s reliving the messy, savage agony of first love. While the series’ disastrous third episode depicted a same-sex romance for the ages, the show’s seventh episode, “Left Behind”, also explores this territory, with an older couple in the friends-as-possible phase. swaps. , Through flashbacks, the episode tells the story of Ellie (Bella Ramsey) who breaks out of her boarding school dorm to go on an outdoor adventure with mega-crush and military rebel Riley (Storm Reid).

Brave act? locating an honest-to-goodness retro mall designed by John Peno, which Ellie describes as “the most beautiful thing she’s ever seen”. Peno said: “It’s one of the few times you get out of the world of crumbling, crumbling everything. Ellie’s never seen lingerie. She’s never seen neon lights. It made us a great date- Knight episode. But of course we are in the world of ‘The Last of Us’ so nothing is always good. And beauty doesn’t last.

A production still from “Left Behind” (HBO)

Peno and his team found a closed mall in Calgary’s Northland Village that contained the correct bones for this ritual sequence, which also serves as the origin story for the mysterious bite mark on Ellie’s arm that did not infect her. Was. “(The mall) was completely gutted and ready for the breaking ball,” said Peno, whose team essentially had to build an entire mall and slowly tear it down to give the impression of abandonment. . They populated the space with both fictional stores and real stores (Victoria’s Secret is especially notable), and even some fun Easter eggs. (Look for the name at the photo booth where Ellie and Riley takes pictures.)

A production still from “Left Behind” (HBO)

“All the stores had to be built from scratch and have to be as perfect as the designs from 20 years ago,” said Pano, who received Emmy nominations for his work on such acclaimed recent series as “Big Little Lies” and “This Morning.” Did. Show.” “At Pinball Arcade, we had to rebuild a lot of video consoles, and update all the software, because of issues with frame rates and whatnot. We also brought all the lights and the ferris wheel.

The interior of the mall set was also in need of some TLC combined with reverse engineering to represent its descent into disrepair. “Some of the things we made look crooked right off the bat, but carpenters have a hard time making things crooked,” he said. “We built very directly, and often our last layers of paint and wallpaper and molding were pulled out and distressed.” This included a cheeky used pop-up Halloween store written into the script, which set the stage for the episode’s more tragic events. Peno emphasized the theme of innocence and discovery through Ellie and Riley, saying, “We wanted to have an ethos of something that might seem tempestuous, but also kind of corny.”

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Peno credits co-creator Craig Mazin for his tasteful, candid style, which doesn’t hat much on the political in particular, but as a Season 2 challenge, some design-forward visual commentary to ramp up Will not be ridiculed for. “I’m a sucker for putting up iconography, but we got away with it. We definitely had some stuff where we went through some billboards that were broken and things like that, but we didn’t really embrace it. It’s not the tone Craig wants to go with, and I totally understand that, but I’m a sucker for it and I’d love to do more of it. [laughs],

read more from drama series issue here.

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