This article contains spoilers for the show The Last of Us.
HBO’s The Last of Us has recently become a massive phenomenon in the mainstream. The game and the show both hold a soft spot in my heart. The game introduced me to trauma and let me explore my own resentment toward my father while being able to hope for a better future, just like the story protagonists, Ellie and Joel. The show lets me stare at Pedro Pascal while once again falling in love with the story of two people becoming a found family. While the story remains true to form, there are many differences between the two. How many differences are there? How many more will there be? Watch out little piano frog, I’m getting in this mysterious pond with you.
This article will delve into topics explored within the first two episodes of the show and beyond as I will be making predictions, so please keep in mind that this will not be spoiler free! I will talk about the major plot points in both The Last of Us and The Last of Us Part II.
A little background, The Last of Us is a post-apocalyptic survival horror game created by Naughty Dog. The game revolves around Joel, a traumatized and shut-off man trying to survive the state of the world, and Ellie, a 14-year-old girl, who is immune to the world-ending infection that caused the apocalypse. The entire game is the story of Joel protecting Ellie in order to produce a cure for the infection that is turning humans into murderous fungus zombies. The player follows Joel and Ellie as they slowly but surely become a found family and heal together.
These plot points are proving to be faithfully preserved in the show. Ellie and Joel don’t like each other at all and are only sticking together because they must. But the show is just that, a show. The viewer isn’t Joel. The viewer isn’t forced to share Joel’s emotions toward Ellie. The game forces players to relate to Joel; he’s the main character, after all. The show, on the other hand, creates a third-person perspective for the viewer. The viewer is in the dark about what’s happening. They are learning as the characters in the show are. This leads to the first difference between the game and the show.
The show creators threw a whole bunch of exposition at us before even getting to the events of the game. The viewer is first treated to a talk show where two doctors discuss different types of infection. For those who have already played (or watched someone play) the games, it’s obvious where this is headed: Fungus. The discussion entails how global warming can change how fungi are able to infect and control human hosts. I wonder what that could mean for the planet.
We cut to years later and are met with Joel and his daughter, Sarah. Major spoilers incoming, so if you don’t want to be spoiled, it was great seeing you, but I’m going to have to ask you to (in the words of NakeyJakey) perform a high-precision backflip away from your device right now. Ok, awesome, moving on. Sarah, in the game, wakes up to a phone call from Uncle Tommy warning her to get Joel and leave. She’s extremely confused and stumbles through the house looking for her father. Lots of things happen that aren’t massive to the plot, and then boom, she’s dying in Joel’s arms. The ending of this section is sadly reflected in the show (with emotional acting from Nico Parker and Pedro Pascal that can make anyone cry). In the show, however, Sarah receives more backstory. The viewer actually gets to meet Sarah and learn about her personality before she’s ripped away.
Most of the other differences in this section are minor and don’t add or detract from the show in a storyline sense. They do add to the amazing world-building and acting that are in the show, though. Shoutout to the actors in this show, they’re killing it. (Haha get it because of zombies).
Spores. One of the massive plot points of The Last of Us series is seemingly missing from the show. The showrunners opted for a freaky tendril-esque design for the fungus that deviates from game design. In the game, the transmission of the infection happens one of two ways; bites from the infected or spores entering the host and infecting. The show keeps the bites. I mean, they’re zombies, c’mon. But, instead of using spores, they’ve introduced the tendrils that infect by contact. These guys are disgusting, and I genuinely do enjoy how my skin crawls when I see them. This comes purely from a production standpoint, in which spores aren’t easily manipulated. It’s impossible to keep them in a specific area while maintaining their realism, or so the producers say.
This also feeds into another difference I have a few notes on the death of Tess. Tess has been with Joel from the beginning. This is true from the game. They work together, they smuggle, they snuggle, all of the things. But, alas, The Last of Us got its name for a reason, so Tess must go. In the game, Tess is killed by the military after she is bitten by an infected. She sacrifices herself to save Joel and Ellie. However, in the show, Tess is killed by exploding the state house and all of the infected inside. Her reasons remain the same, but the infected adds some great tension to the scene. It also adds a very uncomfortable pseudo-make-out session.
All in all, I can see the show slightly shifting the story of the game to better work for TV. Exact game-to-film adaptations rarely work (see Resident Evil & Uncharted.) Of course, the showrunners are going to have to change things. A lot of game mechanics don’t translate well to film. Tommy and Joel have a different relationship between the game and the show, something that I’m personally excited to see explored. With season two of the HBO show already confirmed, I’m excited to see if the ending of season one changes anything from the game. The producers have gone on record stating that spores will make their important appearance in season two. Dina will be finding out that Ellie is immune. But, this raises questions for the viewer: If the first season can deviate from the game as much as it has, will they continue to deviate because they can? Only the producers know, and after the most recent episode (which was not in this article because I wrote most of it before it aired), it seems as though they’re taking creative liberty. Maybe Joel will save Ellie without killing Abby’s father. Maybe Joel can survive the first 5 minutes of season two. Maybe he buys a cool new bike helmet so Abby and her friends can’t smash his head in. Maybe Ellie and Dina get to stay together. Maybe Ellie keeps all of her fingers. But most of all, I hope for one thing and one thing only. I want to see Buckley and I want to see him get pets and pats from Joel for a whole episode. Buckley supremacy!