‘The Last Of Us’ Season 2 Episode Count Revealed As Craig Mazin & Neil Druckmann Explain Decision & Tease Additional Seasons

EXCLUSIVE: It’s a case of good news-bad news for The Last of Us fans who have been patiently waiting more than a year for new episodes of HBO’s award-winning drama adaptation based on the acclaimed video game. When Season 2 finally arrives in 2025, it will be shorter than Season 1, consisting of seven episodes. But the good news is that a potential third season will be “significantly larger” and possibly bigger in scope, and there could very well be a Season 4 coming behind it according to series co-creators, executive producers, showrunners and directors Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann. Plus, one of the Season 2 episodes will be “quite big” in length.

The size of the Season 2 order was hinted at in January when Deadline revealed the lineup of the season’s seven directors, including Mazin and Druckmann. The duo arrived at the number of episodes after careful consideration.

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“The story material that we got from Part II of the game is way more than the story material that was in the first game, so part of what we had to do from the start was figure out how to tell that story across seasons,” Mazin said. “When you do that, you look for natural breakpoints, and as we laid it out, this season, the national breakpoint felt like it came after seven episodes.”

That means that Mazin and Druckmann envision the series running for at least three seasons, and possibly four. So far, The Last of Us has been picked up through Season 2 by HBO, so further seasons will depend on viewership, something the duo is cognizant of.

“We don’t think that we’re going to be able to tell the story even within two seasons [2 and 3] because we’re taking our time and go down interesting pathways which we did a little bit in Season 1 too,” Mazin said. “We feel like it’s almost assuredly going to be the case that — as long as people keep watching and we can keep making more television — Season 3 will be significantly larger. And indeed, the story may require Season 4.”

Later in the interview, Mazin sounded even more definitive.

“One thing is absolutely for sure, I don’t see how we could tell the story that remains after Season 2 is complete in one more season,” he said.

In the interview conducted earlier this year, Mazin and Druckmann looked to dispel any fan concerns that they planned to tell the entire story from Part II of the game over Season 2’s seven episodes.

“We just want to put people’s minds at ease that the idea that this season coming up is a little bit shorter than the first one is not because we’re taking less time to tell the stories, it’s because we want to take more time,” Mazin said. “The story that we’re telling is much bigger than the story of Season 1, there’s just a lot more going on, it’s a lot harder to produce but we want every episode to feel like its own blockbuster to be honest with you.”

Season 1 of the post-apocalyptic drama followed Joel (Pedro Pascal) and teen girl Ellie (Bella Ramsey) whom he was hired to smuggle out of a quarantine zone as the two embark on a brutal, heartbreaking journey across the U.S. and have to depend on each other for survival.

Pedro Pascal as Joel in Season 2 of ‘The Last of Us’
Pedro Pascal as Joel in Season 2 of ‘The Last of Us’

Mazin and Druckmann are keeping the themes of the PlayStation game’s two existing parts, which have been described as unconditional love (Part I) and revenge (Part II).

“More specifically, it’s a continuation of love from the first season, and this is just the dark side of that coin, the pursuit of justice at any cost for the ones you love and the exploration of that,” Druckmann said of Season 2.

One thing Mazin and Druckmann will not do is get beyond the existing source material the way fellow HBO genre drama Game of Thrones carried on after covering the published five novels in George R.R. Martin’s series; Martin is yet to finish planned sixth and seventh books.

There had been speculation about a third The Last of Us game, though a new installment has not been picked up or put into development.

“As a fan, I’m thrilled that there might be a third Last of Us game. As the co-creator of this television show, there’s no world where I would want our show to go beyond the source material that people have in the world,” Mazin said. “Our show as people know it on HBO is going to cover the material from the second game and then quite a bit of material that is relevant to that story but, as I said, wanders down interesting new paths, unseen stories that were told within the context of that games material.”

Druckmann, who is head of Naughty Dog, the studio behind The Last of Us game, would not address the prospects for a potential Part III, something he hasn’t discussed with Mazin either.

“Our focus is the two games,” Druckmann said. “As Craig mentioned, there’s quite a bit of material there that we’re taking our time with, and we’re looking at each piece individually to make sure it’s got its own arc, its own journey that the characters go on, but there is a grander plan that ties all the seasons together.”

As part of that, Season 2 of the series will be revisiting events from Season 1.

“The two stories are so interconnected that inevitably we’re going to be touching on things from the first season or the first game because there is a continuation of those characters,” Druckmann said.

Sadly, two of Season 1’s most beloved characters, Bill and Frank, will not be featured on the show again, Mazin confirmed to Deadline in January.

“We do tricks sometimes, we do some interesting things. The Bill and Frank story from Season 1 was inspired by the characters in the game but it was a very different approach. There will be things that we do that are different, as in before, but we were very much focused on telling the story of the second game, which, as Neil says, is inextricably linked and intertwined with the events of Season 1.”

There has been a lot of curiosity among fans of the game whether the Season 2 arcs of some of the characters (particularly one) would be expanded.

Of course, Mazin would not elaborate beyond reiterating that “we will continue to do things our way.”

“Sometimes that means we do things just like the game, sometimes we do them differently,” he said. “I think it’d be fair to say that since we are taking our time to dig into the story and expand certain areas, of course there are going to some things that are are going to be expanded, but which characters and how we’ll keep that secret.”

Since they have the end point of the source material locked in, Mazin and Druckmann say they have mapped out the entire TV series.

“Pretty much, we have a pretty good concept of how that will work,” Mazin said about their master plan, adding that it is subject to change. “I think what happens naturally when you really begin to focus on a season and where that natural breakpoint should occur then, who knows? It’s a good theory, once we put it in practice, who knows?”

One thing is certain.

“I don’t see a world where we go through and we go, that’s shorter than we thought,” Mazin said. “We are committed to delivering people great seasons and arcs, and HBO was amazing about this. They let us pick that natural spot. Instead of us having to figure out how to create seasons around an artificial number, we create the length of the seasons around the story and how we are telling it.”

Druckmann picked up on that, stressing how “structure is incredibly important to us,” which is what they focused on when they got to the seven-episode Season 2.

“Our process was, we sketched out multiple seasons, then we did a deep dive on Season 2,” he said. “To echo what Craig is saying, there is no padding, everything that is in there is intentional. There is always a goal in mind that we’re heading towards, we are never meandering the sake of meandering, it’s always to say something greater for these characters and the themes.”

Bella Ramsey as Ellie in Season 2 of ‘The Last of Us’
Bella Ramsey as Ellie in Season 2 of ‘The Last of Us’

Once again, The Last of Us, co-produced by Sony Pictures TV, will not be beholden to the rigid standards for uniform, traditional-length episodes. Season 1, originally plotted for a 10-episode run, was instead comprised of nine episodes, with a supersized, 90-minute opening installment. And the praised Bill & Frank Episode 3 clocked in at 1 hour and 12 minutes, so overall, “Season 1 really was a 10-episode length season in hours,” Mazin said.

“And certainly in Season 2, there’s an episode that is going to be again closer to — I don’t know if I would say feature length but quite big,” he added. “I like generally hitting about an hour, it’s a great length, I love working in that format. What we don’t want to do is, say a season of seven episodes where each episode is 90 minutes; part of why we’re doing seven episodes is finding that nice line.”

Deadline spoke with Mazin and Druckmann when The Last of Us was one week into production on Season 2. Since then, HBO has released two first-look images from the new season, featuring Pascal and Ramsey.

“I love making the show. I just finished my first full week of directing on Episode 1 of Season 2, and I couldn’t be happier or more excited,” Mazin said. “The scope of this thing is at times absolutely massive. And Season 3 promises to be just as big if not bigger.”

For the Emmy-winning writer-producer behind HBO’s Chernobyl, the joy is mixed with some anxiety as The Last of Us has a high bar to clear after logging the most-watched debut season of an HBO series ever and winning eight Emmy Awards, two SAG Awards, a BAFTA Award, a DGA Award, a WGA Award, an AFI Award and a Peabody Award.

“I told my wife — she’s up here visiting — I said I’m actually happy and she was like what? I’m feeling happiness, this is very strange,” he said, adding, “I worry so much about making the show great. I think about the audience all the time.”

Season 2 of The Last of Us features returning stars Pascal, Ramsey, Gabriel Luna as Tommy, and Rutina Wesley as Maria, joined by a slew of new cast members including Kaitlyn Dever as Abby, Isabela Merced as Dina, Young Mazino as Jesse, Ariela Barer as Mel, Tati Gabrielle as Nora, Spencer Lord as Owen, Danny Ramirez as Manny and Jeffrey Wright as Isaac, with Catherine O’Hara also guest starring.

“The first week of shooting on any new season of any show is inherently difficult because you’re getting back to work. You got to shake up the rust a little bit,” Mazin said. “We’re working with new actors playing new characters, we’re discovering new things and this week went about as well as I could have imagined. We did get to work with some of the new cast; they’re outstanding. And the material that we shot and the new elements that we’ve included are terrific. I’m just incredibly optimistic about what we’re doing here, and it’s only just begun. I think we are set to deliver something special. Hopefully that’s how it turns out.”

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