Bella Ramsey Isn’t Ashley Johnson, But She’s Still Perfect as Ellie in HBO’s Last of Us
Five episodes in, Bella Ramsey is showing why she earned the role of Ellie.
If we’re being honest, it’s nothing short of amazing how fast Naughty Dog’s masterpiece, The Last of Us, has managed to recreate the same success it found back in 2013, this time in the form of a television show. You probably have seen it already or have heard through the grapevine, but each new episode reaches an absurdly high new milestone, with the fourth episode seeing a 17% increase in viewership over the third, according to Variety.
What makes this journey so interesting is all the odds seemed to be stacked against the show, as The Last of Us Part II shattered the fanbase, and video game to televised media has a track record of floundering horrendously, no offense to The Witcher or Halo. Yet, here we are singing a different tune, as a lore change, and Pedro Pascal ditching one child for another has done wonders for the televised series.
Speaking of a child, we have to highlight one of the other reasons why The Last of Us is on the rise, and that’s the exceptional performance of Pascal’s latest child companion: Bella Ramsey as Ellie.
**This post will contain spoilers for Episode Four and Episode Five of The Last of Us. If you haven’t seen it yet, please come back when you have. Otherwise, proceed at your own risk.**
Before The Last of Us, Bella Ramsey starred in HBO’s previous big-name show, Game of Thrones. Her role as Lyanna Mormont drew plenty of praise, as she perfectly encapsulated what the character needed, which is quite a big achievement considering this was her first accredited role. The thought of her joining The Last of Us along with Pedro Pascal, who conveniently was on the same show, raised plenty of eyebrows.
How can this side character child actress, with relatively no experience in the industry, take on a role that is this important in a show this big? That was the question on everyone’s mind. However, if you’re like me, you’ve never watched a single second of HBO’s fantasy television series, so I had no preconceived notions going into the show, which really did help, even if the bar was still high based on the game.
To date, all we’ve correlated Ellie with is Ashley Johnson. When The Last of Us was released back in 2013, her performance was on a level like no other, as she was both believable and relatable, pushing the boundary of video game storytelling with her emotion and acting.
Whether it be the moments she shared with Sam or the horrific experience with David that transformed her into the woman in The Last of Us Part II, Johnson gave life to Ellie. Sure, Ellie’s not necessarily the most complex character, falling into the angsty teen stereotype, but she’s unique as she’s a child with the world on her shoulders, who’s also supposed to trust a random crabby man named Joel with her life.
As I started watching the show, my immediate thought process shifted to Ramsey filling in Johnson’s shoes. Could she visually reproduce what Johnson did audibly and visually, to an extent, as she did some motion capture work for Ellie, created all those years ago? At first, I was skeptical, but brief moments in the first three episodes pointed to all signs saying yes. The latest pair of episodes knocked my socks off and proved why Ramsey is in the role of Ellie.
As someone who’s played the first game, I know who Ellie is. She’s a hopeless comedian who cracks open a joke book to get Joel to open up more. She’s someone hiding darker tendencies as she fights for survival along with Joel.
At her core, she represents humanity, but it’s also important to remember that she’s still just a child. Episode four showcases all of that, and Ramsey nails every personality switch-up as she goes from cracking dad jokes to shooting a man to protect Joel, then ends the episode with the dumbest joke that made me audibly laugh.
Episode five furthers Ramsey’s case as Ellie to astronomical heights as it tells the story of Henry and Sam. Ellie develops a bond with Sam, who in this iteration is deaf, further strengthening their on-screen bond. Unfortunately, their bond tragically is ripped apart, and no amount of video game magic can replicate the palpable loss of humanity and grief washing over Ellie as Henry and Sam, their only human companions, succumb to their tragic fates.
It’s hard to watch, and that moment of pain is unbearably well-done. What makes it even harder to watch show-wise than in the game, despite the situations being almost identical, is Ramsey’s reactions. The sheer look of fear, sadness, and hopelessness throughout the whole situation, and her heartbreaking whimper after Henry pulls the trigger a second time was something that is sure to stick with fans for a long time.
Bella Ramsey isn’t going to look like Ellie, and that’s okay. If every casting looked like their inspiration, then the world would be a perfect place. Sadly, it is not, but on a much jollier tone, she nails every delivery of Ellie so far. I will say I was warm at first glance when we were introduced to her flipping off her captives in the first episode, but the last episode solidified her spot as the character.
With the second season confirmed to be in the works that will adapt the extremely divisive Part II, my eyes turn to the future, as I’m interested to see how that adaptation fairs compared to its video game inspiration and how she can remedy that plot. For now, Bella Ramsey has won me over and proved to whoever doubted the casting, she’s here to stay, and the show will continue to spread like wildfire because of it.
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