The Last of Us music: who composed score for HBO series - did Gustavo Santaolalla write music for the games?

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Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey star in The Last of Us

HBO’s hotly anticipated adaption of the best-selling video game series The Last of Us is finally here.

Set 20 years after a fungal pandemic causes the collapse of society, Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey star as Joel and Ellie, a grizzled smuggler and a teenager who may be the key to creating a vaccine. Together the unlikely pair will set off on an epic journey across the ruined wasteland of America.

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Originally released by Naughty Dog on the PS3 in 2013, The Last of Us has since spawned a remaster and a remake for the PlayStation 5 as well as a sequel in The Last of Us: Part II. After years in development hell, including failed movie adaptions, the live-action series will arrive on HBO on 15 January.

Neil Druckmann, the writer and co-director of the game, is one of the showrunners on The Last of Us series but he is not the only person who worked on the original involved in the project. Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson, who voiced Joel and Ellie in the games, are part of the cast and Merle Dandridge will reprise her role as Marlene.

But will Gustavo Santaolalla be returning to provide the score for HBO’s The Last of Us series? Here is all you need to know:

Who composed the score for The Last of Us?

Following its release in 2013, The Last of Us received critical acclaim for its story, characters, writing and also its sound design. Including its minimalist and spare score, heavily featuring acoustic guitars and other stringed instruments like the ronroco, which aimed at sounding emotional instead of the traditionally scary score expected in a zombie game.

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HBO announced in 2020 that Gustavo Santaolalla, who composed the music for the video games, would be returning to work on the score for the series. He wrote the theme music for the show as well as working on the rest of the music with David Flemming.

Pedro Pascal as Joel in HBO’s The Last of Us. Picture: Liane Hentscher/HBOPedro Pascal as Joel in HBO’s The Last of Us. Picture: Liane Hentscher/HBO
Pedro Pascal as Joel in HBO’s The Last of Us. Picture: Liane Hentscher/HBO | Liane Hentscher/HBO

Did Gustavo Santaolalla write the music for the games?

Fans of the video games might have recognised familiar musical cues in trailers for the HBO series. Including Hank Williams’ Alone and Foresaken, which featured in a set piece from the game, and a cover of A-ha’s Take On Me - a song that appeared in The Last of Us: Part II.

The score of the series itself will likely sound familar to those who have experienced Joel and Ellie’s journey before, with Gustavo Santaolalla having worked on The Last of Us games as well as the HBO series. Keen eared fans have already attempted to spot traces of previous score in clips from the show.

After a clip of Ellie and Marlene featured in The Late Late Show with James Cordon was shared online, one person tweeted: “I’m pretty sure it’s a remix of unbound from tlou2 (The Last of Us: Part II). Fits perfectly.”

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Santaolalla composed the scores for The Last of Us and The Last of Us: Part II. He also worked on the music for the 2014 DLC (downloadable content) The Last of Us: Left Behind together with Andrew Buresh, Anthony Caruso, and Jonathan Mayer.

Who is Gustavo Santaolalla?

Born in Argentina in 1951, Santaolalla is a musician, composer, and record producer. He is best known for his work on the films of acclaimed director Alejandro González Iñárritu as well as his scores for The Last of Us games.

He won the Academy Awards for Best Original Score in two consecutive years for Brokeback Mountain (2005) and Babel (2006). Santaolalla has also worked in TV before composing the theme music for Jane the Virgin and also Netflix’s hit true crime series Making a Murderer.

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