It’s been a phenomenal year for television. Anyone can attest to that. With multiple shows premiering to rave reviews and stellar series ending in satisfying ways, it has been a fantastic season across the board. It’s been so good that there are competitive races between almost every category this Emmy season. Within the Drama categories, especially, the contenders seem to be the final and first seasons of shows. One of these first seasons is HBO’s “The Last of Us,” and while this season seems to be HBO’s to lose (who also has “Barry,” “Succession,” “The White Lotus,” and “House of the Dragon“), “The Last of Us” is interesting, especially when it comes to its actors.
The adaption of the video game of the same name follows Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) through a post-apocalyptic world. The show had a phenomenal first season and is projected to earn several Emmy nominations above and below the line, including Best Drama. Therefore, it would make sense for the TV Academy to recognize the supporting cast in addition to Pascal and Ramsey. In the guest actor category, Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett are projected to be nominated for their work in episode three, “Long, Long Time.” But within the actress category, things get a little complicated.
What’s difficult about predicating Guest Actress with “The Last of Us” is that every actress is a guest actress. The show consists of one female protagonist, Ellie, portrayed by actor Bella Ramsey, who identifies as non-binary but will submit in the Best Actress category. Perhaps in the nature of the show, every guest actress appears in three episodes or less, all being present for under 50% of the season’s length. Therefore, according to the rules of the Television Academy, all are considered guest actresses. This leaves seven actresses potentially fighting for one of the six spots in the Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama category.
But there are other shows besides “The Last of Us” to consider. Most importantly, the drama frontrunner, “Succession,” has plenty of guest actresses within their cast, most notably Hiam Abbass, Hope Davis, Cherry Jones, Harriet Walter, and Zoë Winters. Additionally, Davis and Walter were nominated last season, and Jones was a previous winner of the category. Since “Succession” is in its final season, it’s safe to assume that it will perform exceptionally well and consist of several nominees in this category, maybe even half. At the bare minimum, “Succession” will land two nominations in this category, but three is a real possibility (as is four). That leaves two to three spots left.
When looking at the list of “The Last of Us” actresses, one naturally turns to Melanie Lynskey, who appeared in two episodes. Lynskey, a former nominee and a potential runner-up for the Best Actress in a Drama category for her role in “Yellowjackets,” can secure a nomination here based on name recognition alone. Lynskey plays an original character and has excellent moments as the central antagonist of her episodes. She’s an actress that can easily be a double nominee this season and may even be competitive for the win. This potentially leaves one more spot, which should go to another “The Last of Us” actress: Anna Torv.
As the lead of J.J. Abrams’ cult series, “Fringe,” and an integral part of David Fincher’s “Mindhunter,” Torv is a regular of genre television and has consistently turned in impressive work but has yet to be recognized on an international scale. It is important to note that Torv does have two Logie Awards, the Australian equivalent of the Emmy. Even so, it still seems odd that those are the only major awards on her mantel in her 20-year career.
While Torv is not a former nominee (and therefore does not get that friendly ‘bump’ that Lynskey and the women of “Succession” will get), nor does she have an episode centered around her character (as Storm Reid, Offerman, and Bartlett do), she is still able to provide a captivatingly strong performance before her episode count is up.
Torv, who plays Tess, is featured in the show’s first three episodes as Joel’s smuggling partner who agrees to take Ellie out of the Boston quarantine zone. Tess is a steady and calm mind, always thinking and one step ahead of the plan. She’s ruthless, stable, cold, and unafraid to step over anything or anyone that stands in her way. Joel is ready to fight on her command at a moment’s notice. They’re a violent combination that viewers only get a sneak preview of. Still, Pascal and Torv portray these two halves immensely well, and we immediately know they are probably the most dangerous duo in the Boston QZ.
But along the way, she gets bit by an Infected and sacrifices herself for Joel and Ellie’s safety in episode two. It is the first significant death in the present timeline and the first death that Joel and Ellie experience together. Additionally, she is always at the forefront of the background of Joel and Ellie’s minds, so much so that she’s mentioned directly or indirectly in every episode following her departure. Her loss is fundamental to the beginning of the show and the eventual bonding of the central characters. Tess is, essentially, Joel and Ellie’s first shared ghost.
Pascal and Torv only have two episodes to convey Joel and Tess’s relationship, which is never directly stated through dialogue. Compared to Offerman and Bartlett, Pascal and Torv don’t have the privilege of having an hour dedicated to their characters’ relationship. Everything the audience learns about Joel and Tess is through body language and, largely, in the company of other characters. Therefore, we never really get to fully see Tess and Joel. Despite these conditions, an intense and loyal partnership is instantly felt. Pascal and Torv’s talent and chemistry allow the audience to understand Joel and Tess’s relationship despite the aloofness of their characters’ nature. They’re partners in every way; in business, survival, and life. They’re loyal to each other, fight for each other, and probably, commit acts of violence against each other. They care for each other as much as a deeply traumatized person in the apocalypse can care for someone. As a result, audiences understand how significant the loss of Tess is to Joel.
However, the episode Torv should submit for “Infected” is not about Tess. It’s about the Infected, specifically about how dangerous they are, which is learned through Tess. Watching an infected Tess beg and convince Joel to take Ellie to Bill and Frank is painful to watch for all the right reasons. Her eyes are equally as determined as they are mournful; she knows she’s dying but is still on a mission. The weight of her circumstance is only apparent when Joel and Ellie are gone, and Tess can no longer think one step ahead. She’s at the end and cannot outsmart or outplay her way out of her situation anymore.
Within the episode’s final minutes, the audience quickly watches this once stone-cold, tough, pragmatic, and hardened woman turn into someone who is frozen in fear. In her last moments, you realize everything about Tess’s temperament was a survival tactic. Now, she is alone and terrified. She’s terrified of dying, of turning, of losing control of her body, of the Infected swam, and is completely terrified when she locks eyes with an Infected who can sense the virus in her. It is an immense downfall of a character arc. An arc that is completed within two episodes, through stillness and physicality, and not the central focus of said episodes. Tess showcases how harsh the world of “The Last of Us” is. It doesn’t matter how tough or brave one is; the Infected will cut through anyone instantly. Yet, this two-episode arc and loss are felt for the entire season. That result is not something most actors can achieve, and Torv achieves it in around 30 minutes of screen time. Tess’s exponential downfall makes the audience understand how threatening the Infected are and, therefore, how important Ellie’s immunity is. This is exactly what Torv’s devastatingly breathtaking performance drives home.
At its core, “The Last of Us” is about relationships, and Joel and Tess have a significant one. There’s a decade-plus story with these two characters that centers around the brutality of survival. Joel and Tess kept each other alive but couldn’t save each other. They were too busy ensuring the other’s survival to fully heal them. This makes Tess’s death a bittersweet passing of the baton from her, the person who was keeping him alive, to Ellie, the person who would be able to heal him.
Despite all this, there are other actresses to consider from other shows. For example, Fiona Shaw in “Andor” is a previous nominee that has never won. Or Betsy Brandt of “Better Call Saul” and Emmy-winner Carrie Preston of “The Good Fight,” who are competing in their shows’ final seasons. And one cannot count out Claire Foy whenever she appears in “The Crown,” since she’s a previous winner of the category.
The motto of HBO this year has been that they cast actors for a great time and not a long time. There were no small parts, only big actors that knew how to use their limited screen time to the fullest effect. Anna Torv is one of HBO’s most valuable players this season. Torv delivering a superb performance in a genre series is not a new concept, and the creators of “The Last of Us” know that. In some ways, Torv’s presence is similar to Pascal’s role in “Game of Thrones.” Tess has a big in, a bigger out, and a lasting impact long after she’s gone. Being a strong actor isn’t just about delivering one’s lines effectively; it’s about playing the downbeat of the scene, listening to one’s scene partner, and reacting to one’s environment. It’s not just about what the character says, it’s about how they say it and what they don’t say (and why they’re not saying it), and that is what Torv does exceptionally well during her time as Tess.
There is a world where this category purely consists of HBO actresses from “Succession” and “The Last of Us.” There are only six slots, after all, but Torv deserves to be on the ballot this year. She’s, frankly, overdue and deserves this level of recognition. Plus, there would be something beautifully full circle about Torv, an actress who has somewhat found a home in genre television, to be awarded on this scale for her performance in “The Last of Us.” Especially as genre bias continues to dwindle at an alarming rate, it’s time for Torv to be an Emmy nominee.
Do you think Anna Toro will be nominated at the Emmys? What other nominations do you think “The Last Of Us” will receive at this year’s Emmy Awards? Please let us know in the comments section below or over on our Twitter account.