In order for HBO’s The Last of Us to work, the casting of series leads Joel and Ellie needed to be perfect. The entire plot of the video game to series adaptation hinges on the relationship between the grizzled and capable Joel and young spitfire Ellie as they journey across a post-apocalyptic America. It’s a difficult challenge, but one that HBO nailed by casting Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey in the starring roles.

Both performers have quite a history with HBO, having seen their careers explode thanks in part to landing roles on Game of Thrones. Pascal is now leading The Mandalorian and showing up in movies like The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent alongside Nicolas Cagewhile Ramsey nabbed the lead role in Amazon and Lena Dunham’s young adult comedy, Catherine Called Birdy. The Last of Us arrives on HBO with Thrones-like expectations, as the beloved franchise is widely considered a landmark in storytelling for the medium. But fans can rest assured the series is masterful in its adaptation due in part to just how superlative Pascal and Ramsey are in bringing the characters to life, finding the perfect middle ground between fulfilling the spirit of the game and putting their own unique spin on it. 

Prior to the launch of the series, Complex sat down with both performers to talk about how the journey of the show reflected how they cultivated their relationship together, the tightness of the scripts, making bad puns, and more. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.