Narratively The Last of Us is one of the best stories that the media has ever seen. This seems to be general consensus among both tv and game fans. All media is built to some extent off of tropes. Certain plot and story points that are common to specific genres that a writer can build their story around. The Last of Us uses some of these tropes very well, and even better the show improves upon tropes we’ve seen for years.
Enemies to lovers is often attributed to characters that fall in love and therefore the trope is pigeon holed and tied to strictly romantic relationships. However the trope really boils down to characters that start off hating or disliking each other and end up close. It's a begrudging relationship. Now as I said there are different kinds of characters this applies to. However it's not super common to see this as kind of a father - daughter relationship like we see with Joel and Ellie. Watching their relationship grow was one of the most emotionally satisfying things to watch. They went from guardian and charge, to buddies to a very clear father, daughter relationship. And as Ellie never really had a dad and Joel lost his daughter, their relationship filled gaps in their lives that they desperately needed.
Not sure what to call this one but the internet made this joke about Pedro Pascal…an older person sets out on a journey to get a magical child to a place. Now this is a classic hero's journey thing. Gandalf and Frodo (Gandalf and Bilbo), Kratos and Atraeus, Logan and X-23…the point is that these characters go on a journey together it really doesn’t matter what the purpose of that journey is. Now what I loved about how The Last of Us did this was that at a certain point Joel tries to ditch this responsibility, not because he doesn’t love Ellie but because he does. He so badly wants to protect her that he thinks that her being under Tommy’s care would be better for her. Also the drive behind their journey changes, whereas the rest pretty much end where they started as far as why they left. At first Joel is kind of bribed and blackmailed into taking Ellie. But really after that the two of them bonded so closely it feels like Joel was just trying to fulfill a purpose and Ellie was trying to do what she was supposed to do.
The final trope I would like to talk about is the zombie story as a whole. The basic way to lend a twist to the traditional zombie story is to make the source a disease, or sickness. Therefore making a pandemic spread leading to zombie like behavior. Now the way that The Last of Us twists that even further can be argued in two different ways, 1) The story focuses more on the characters and the consequences of the apocalypse then the apocalypse itself. It also does its worldbuilding in a very passive way. The opening scene of the whole show gives us a basic background, and other exposition is slipped in casually without overshadowing the character development. And 2) The way the sickness affects people is different then what we typically see from a pandemic driven zombie story. Though it still spreads from a bite, the change happens over a specific amount of time. And it never stops growing. There really isn’t a completion point for cordyceps growth. It starts spreading and then the clickers start developing growths, and those growths don’t stop.
I really love how The Last of Us takes normal and very common tropes and improves upon them without making them feel tired.