Joel and Ellie in “The Last of Us” video game. (Photography by: Hayley Durrant) (Hayley Durrant)
Joel and Ellie in “The Last of Us” video game. (Photography by: Hayley Durrant)

Hayley Durrant

“The Last of Us”: Game VS. TV Show

*Warning: This article contains spoilers.*

May 19, 2023

HBO’s newest TV show “The Last of Us,” based on the 2013 video game is a huge hit. With a 96% rating from Rotten Tomatoes, the show has become one of the best video game adaptations of all time. The story follows two main characters. The first is Joel, who is played by Troy Baker in the game, and Pedro Pascal in the show, and is known for being a stubborn smuggler. The second character, Ellie, is played by Ashley Johnson in the game, and Bella Ramsey in the show. Ellie is a teenage girl who could possibly cure the fungal apocalypse. Her journey includes hardships, hope, and loss.

“The Last of Us” Game on the left and the show on the right (Photography by Hayley Durrant)

For the most part, the TV show shares many similarities to the video game, but there are also a couple of notable differences. The most obvious difference is that in the TV show’s version, Joel and Ellie are not looking in every corner for survival supplies. The two constantly try to escape from the zombies and use X-ray vision to spot these zombies. The TV show focuses on the background story and introduces many different perspectives compared to the video game. 

Episode 1: When You’re Lost in the Darkness 

Opening scene: The TV show opens up with two doctors interviewed about viruses in a 1968 television show. One of the scientists, Dr. Newman mentions fungi that “seek to control” animals such as cordyceps, and are capable of adapting to infect humans ultimately taking control of society.

“The opening scene was not a part of the game,” says Tyler Durrant a senior at Huntington Beach High School (HBHS).

Durrant goes on to add, “but it helps watchers have an idea of what is to come throughout the show and makes one question whether this scenario will happen in real life.” 

Timeline: The storyline in the TV show opens up in 2003, whereas in the video game, the pandemic begins in 2013. In an interview with “Insider,” Craig Mazin, the creator of the show, said, “I just had this thing where if I’m watching a show and it takes place 20 years in the future from my time now, it just seems less real.” 

As such, because the creators wanted the audience to feel more connected with the show, they changed the beginning of the storyline to 2003 to make the rest of the show occur in 2023 after the 20-year time jump. 

Sarah: Joel’s daughter, Sarah, played by Hana Hayes in the video game and actor Nico Parker in the show, are seen a lot more throughout the TV show. Although most of the storyline is the same with even the script being the exact same, the show adds additions to her storyline to make the audience feel more of a connection to the character. 

Episode 2: Infected 

Opening scene: Episode 2 opens up with more background information about how the fungi virus came to be that was not included in the game. The beginning of the episode is set in Jakarta and introduces Professor Ibu Ratna, who is brought in by the government to examine a woman who has been infected by the cordyceps.

Durrant shares an opinion on this version and says, “The new storylines that show how the virus began answers many questions the video game could not.” 

The introduction to the episode also leads to fan theories including the fact that the virus comes from flour production in Jakarta. Joel and Sarah were not infected because they did not eat the flour products. Sarah could not make pancakes for Joel’s birthday because they had no flour, Joel forgot to pick up his birthday cake from work, and they both refused to take cookies from their neighbors who became infected later in the day. 

Spread of Cordyceps:

The TV show also differentiates in the way cordyceps, a type of fungus, spreads. During the video game, the cordyceps are spread through spores. The creators decided to change this important aspect because it would be better if the actors did not have to act with gas masks on. Not only is this difficult for the actors in general, but it is also hard to see facial expressions, which enhances the scenes and connects characters with the audience.

In an interview with “ComicBook,” Mazin said, “If we put spores in the air, it would be pretty clear that they would spread around everywhere and everybody would have to wear a mask all the time and probably everybody would be completely infected by that point.”

Instead, the TV shows cordyceps are spread through tendrils which allow the infected to be more connected.

*Spoiler* This is especially seen during the museum scene when Tess, Annie Wersching in the game, and Anna Torv in the show become infected by one of the zombies. 

Episode 3: Long, Long Time 

Bill and Frank: Episode 3 gives a whole new storyline for Bill and Frank, who were only briefly part of the game. In the game, Joel and Ellie meet up with Bill and head back to Bill’s house where they find Frank dead, Bill’s partner and a friend of Joel before he met Ellie. However, the show gives a much more in-depth storyline towards these two relationships with a bittersweet ending. The show introduces Bill, played by W. Earl Brown in the game, and Nick Offerman in the show, as a survivalist who had prepared for the apocalypse before it even began. Frank, Murray Bartlett in the show, finds his way to Bill’s little abandoned town and asks for help. Bill and Frank become a happy couple in an apocalyptic world showing that emotions such as love can have such a huge impact even through in the toughest times. 

*Spoiler* This storyline has a bittersweet ending when it is revealed that Frank has a terminal illness and decides to end his life. Unlike the video game, Bill also ends his life because he didn’t want to be in an apocalyptic world alone. This is tragic because it reveals that Bill could not handle living alone even though he preferred living alone for many years before meeting Frank. This is unlike the game where Bill is still alive. 

This massive addition to the plot gives the audience a break from the constant fighting and action scenes and explores how although these characters are living in an apocalypse they still maintain having relationships and emotions as the audience. The new plot also enhances the storyline by allowing viewers to find a way to relate to the characters.  

Episode 4: Please hold my hand 

New Character: Episode 4 opens up with new characters such as Kathleen, a leader of bandits, who is looking for a man named Henry, who later helps out Joel and Ellie. Kathleen who is played by Melanie Lynskey, represents those who do not support the FEDRA, a military group that is viewed as an antagonist to Joel and Ellie. Her addition to the storyline allows the show to add more entertaining fight scenes. 

Ellie in the video game on the left and Ellie in the TV show on the right. (Photography by: Hayley Durrant)

Ellie’s First Kill: Ellie’s first kill shown in the TV Show is also different from the video game. Although both were to save Joel, rather than killing an “enemy” attempting to drown Joel, Ellie kills someone trying to strangle him. This shift in the show allows viewers to not dehumanize the “bad guys” because the show includes the enemy pleading for his life. In the video game, Ellie’s first kill is important as it leads Joel to trust Ellie with a weapon. Although it is a slight change, Ellie’s first kill intensifies the storyline and allows viewers to feel more empathetic toward the deaths of characters, even if they were the enemy. 

Episode 5: Endure and Survive

Sam: The portrayal of Sam, Nadji Jeter in the game and Keivonn Woodard in the show, is very different in the show compared to the game. Not only is the character much younger but he is also deaf. The inclusion of a deaf character brings more diversity to the storyline and makes the plot seem more realistic. 

Sam’s infection: After fighting off zombies and escaping Kathleen and her gang it is revealed in a scene with Ellie and Sam, that Sam has been bitten by the infected. In the game Sam does not tell Ellie he is infected rather he hints at the fact by asking her what happens to the infected after being bitten. The show decided that Sam reveals that he is infected to Ellie to show their close relationship. In the show Ellie attempts to cure Sam with her blood, unfortunately, this doesn’t work leading to Ellie, Joel, and viewers questioning whether Ellie’s immunity will help find a cure.     

Episode 6: Kin

Opening Scene: The opening scene in the TV show is also different as it includes a couple who help give directions to Joel and Ellie. Although this is only a small addition it shows how other people in “The Last of Us” are dealing with the pandemic, as this couple seemingly are not impacted by the apocalyptics. 

Joel’s panic attacks: Throughout the episode, it is revealed that Joel has been having panic attacks as he is scared he cannot protect Ellie. Although this was not mentioned in the game, this small addition helps demonstrate the growing closeness in Joel and Ellie’s relationship as it has grown over time. 

Episode 7: Left Behind 

FEDRA School: Throughout episode 7 the show expands on the Left Behind DLC, an extra scene added to the video game to show how Ellie got infected. It shows what life was like for Ellie before she found out that she was immune. The TV show includes scenes of Ellie getting in trouble and fighting other students so viewers can see even before meeting Joel, Ellie is strong and mischievous. 

Fireflies base: In the TV show it is revealed that Riley, Yaani King in the game and Storm Reid in the show, are staying at the mall because it is where she is stationed after joining the Fireflies, a militia group. In the game, the purpose of going to the mall was for Ellie and Riley to spend their last night together before Riley leaves Ellie for the Fireflies. Although, the creators did not necessarily mention why they made this change.

Durrant says, “They probably added this to the storyline to show Riley has already started working for the Fireflies, making it harder for Ellie to convince her to stay.” 

Only One Infected: In the game, both Riley and Ellie are chased by a hoard of infected whereas in the show they were only chased by one. The TV show decided that Riley and Ellie were to be chased by one infected person which made it less dramatic, as using only one infected reiterated how dangerous a single infected is. Other factors such as being chased by one infected are both easier and cheaper to film which is probably why the creators decided to just use one. 

“With the use of more infected, the game was able to make it more dramatic for the players which made the game more enjoyable,” says Durrant.

Episode 8: When We Are Needed  

Fighting Infected: Both Ellie and David, Nolan North in the game, and Scott Shepherd in the show, fight off infected together in the game which allows Ellie to trust David before she finds out about his true identity. While waiting for David’s friend to bring back medication for Joel, a clicker, a type of zombie in the Last Of Us, attempts to attack them. David saves Ellie by shooting the clicker, essentially gaining her trust. The TV show on the other hand took this entire scene out. 

Ellie’s Attack on David: Both the game and show share similarities in this scene regarding the fact that Ellie’s attack on David was very violent. The biggest difference was in the game Joel pulled Ellie off of David whereas in the show Ellie meets Joel after the attack.

Durrant says, “I prefer how the game took on this scene because it shows that Joel is trying to be a father figure for Ellie, it shows the special connection they have accumulated over the journey.” 

Episode 9: Look for the Light

Ellies beginning: The opening scene introduces Ellie’s mom who is not seen at all throughout the game. The mom, Anna, is played by  Ellie Ashley Johnson. The show reveals Anna escaping infected as she is in labor, while giving birth Anna is bitten by the infected which alludes to the fact that this is how Ellie gets her immunity. When Marlene finds Anna infected after giving birth to baby Ellie it reveals that Anna was good friends with Marlene who was the leader of the Fireflies and helped Ellie before they met Joel.

*Spoiler* In the show Marlene refused to kill Anna after Anna didn’t want to become a zombie. In the end, Marlene killed Anna because she knew that would be best for both her and Ellie.   

The picture: Ellie gives Joel a picture of Sarah to symbolize Joel accepting her death. This little addition to the show enhances the character’s relationship showing how strong Ellie and Joel’s connection has been since they first met.

“The Last of Us” is a great show to watch whether you have played the video game or not. The additional storylines answer many questions and allow viewers to connect more with the characters.

If you have not seen it yet go watch it on HBO!

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