Let’s Grade All of the Differences Between HBO’s The Last of Us and the Game

Rest assured, The Last of Us fans: An adaptation of even probably the most beloved source material needn’t be faithful to be extraordinary. Still, when that source material is The Last of Us, some of the applauded, expertly executed stories in the whole lot of video game canon? It gets real tough to justify any deviations from the unique masterwork.

There’s undeniably an art to lifting the essence of a story, scrapping what’s unnecessary, elevating what’s, and fusing recent material to the old, all without disappointing the impossibly high standards of fans. But in the event you need a blueprint, it’d as well be what Chernobyl creator Craig Mazin and game co-developer Neil Druckmann are doing with The Last of Us live-action series on HBO. Rarely has a show toed the road between creative invention and fan appreciation with such grace, retaining what made the 2013 PlayStation game so irresistible while understanding what the daring recent landscape of recent television requires. Even when the series deviates from the sport’s foundation, Mazin, Druckmann, and a pitch-perfect solid achieve this with such skill and confidence that it’s rarely compelling to doubt them.

Still—as any good game loyalist will let you know, myself included—The Last of Us à la HBO just isn’t perfect. As each episode rolls out on Sunday nights, I’ll walk us through each significant change the show makes from the sport, and slap it with a grade: F for an entire and abject misinterpretation of the source material; C for a misguided one; B for a well-executed but flawed shot at originality; and A for top-tier story-working, the sort that may even be higher than the sport. (I’ll throw in some A+s and B-s for nuance, but you get the gist.)


There are spoilers ahead, so proceed with caution. Below, the most important differences between The Last of Us game and show—and whether Mazin and Druckmann pulled them off.

Game vs. Show Difference #1: A Latest Timeline

Within the PlayStation game, the fungal pandemic answerable for the trendy apocalypse begins within the “present day,” a.k.a the sport’s release yr: 2013. The majority of the plot—wherein traumatized survivor Joel and his surrogate daughter Ellie criss-cross the country— then plays out 20 years in the longer term, in 2033.

The show takes a decidedly different approach, first opening in 2003, with many of the story happening in our present day: 2023. The result’s to ground the show in immediacy, making it feel as urgent—and as terrifying—because the real-life pandemic we’re still enduring now. As an alternative of playing out like science fiction, HBO’s The Last of Us tracks more like an alternate timeline to our own, a sensible final result had our pandemic only begun with infected crops in Indonesia reasonably than an outbreak in China.

Mazin told Insider the timeline change was one he suggested for that exact reason: The immediacy makes it feel possible. “I just had this thing where if I’m watching a show and it takes place 20 years in the longer term from my time now, it just seems less real,” he said. Not to say that the rise of a fascist police state in post-9/11 America isn’t exactly a stretch: In each the sport and the show, FEDRA—the Federal Disaster Response Agency—becomes an authoritarian military regime following the infection’s spread. If the outbreak began a mere two years after the attack on the World Trade Center, it’s easy to see how quickly such an establishment might rise.

If we wish to get nit-picky, though, there’s no less than one teeny tiny potential issue with the timeline switcheroo: The song “Future Days” by Pearl Jam plays a very important role in Joel and Ellie’s relationship, serving as almost a psuedo-theme song in the sport series. Fans can be expecting the song to pop up at one point or one other within the HBO series. The one problem? It got here out in 2013, meaning within the HBO timeline, it was never recorded. Might Mazin and Druckmann have some form of retcon up their sleeves?

Grade: A-

the last of us


Game vs. Show Difference #2: Spores Versus Tendrils

When it was first announced that the HBO characters wouldn’t be toting gas masks to ward off clouds of fungal spores, fans weren’t exactly pleased. The spores are a compelling feature of the sport, they usually’re realistic, too: Real-world fungi depend on spores to spread across large distances. But Mazin, Druckmann, and their crew didn’t want the solid acting behind gas masks for entire scenes, in order that they opted for something different: long, curling tendrils that pass from zombie to zombie. Together, these wires of fungus create a form of hive-mind amongst the languishing creatures. If one tendril is touched, others within the vicinity will feel it and react, they usually can spread the tendrils from body to body (even via kiss of death).

The logic of this alternative goes beyond mere set logistics. The mechanics of spores within the PlayStation game were all the time slightly suspect: Why, for example, were the spores so easily contained to certain areas? Forget gas masks; wouldn’t they’ve glued themselves to clothing and skin regardless? Even when we imagine that the concentration of spores out in open air wouldn’t be high enough to breathe in and “turn” an unsuspecting victim, definitely Joel and Ellie would no less than encounter spores more often?

Still, Mazin isn’t ruling out spores altogether. “Chances are you’ll see spores yet,” he told The Washington Post in January. “It’s not a lot that they’ll’t exist on this world.” In that case, I’ll save my final grade for when the spores and tendrils duke it out on-screen.

Grade: TBD

nico parker as sarah in the last of us


Game vs. Show Difference #3: Sarah’s Introduction

The sport sends us hurtling into the motion. Once we first meet Joel’s preteen daughter, Sarah, it’s the evening of the outbreak. The difficulty has already begun, and so we witness the depth of feeling between father and daughter in just a handful of scenes before Sarah’s gut-wrenching death.

The show gives us for much longer to know their dynamic. We see Sarah and Joel on the breakfast table, mercifully avoiding pancakes; we watch Sarah scribbling notes in school, almost distracted by her classmate’s twitching; we witness her picking up her dad’s birthday gift: the watch he’ll wear for the subsequent 20 years, well after its face is shattered. Finally, we see a confrontation between Sarah and her infected neighbor in considered one of the show’s most unsettling, grotesque early battles. In culmination, these added scenes add oomph to the sequence that follows, re-created almost frame by frame from the PlayStation game. Mazin and Druckmann didn’t should change much from Sarah’s origin story, nor did they modify probably the most essential bit: the swiftness and brutal manner of her death. But they added simply enough to make the hurt that far more visceral.

Grade: A

Game vs. Show Difference #4: How Tess Dies

In case you’ve yet to catch on, Sarah’s death is simply the tip of the iceberg in a protracted list of deaths to come back on The Last of Us. Next in line is Tess, who—in the sport—suffers a fatal gunshot wound by the hands of FEDRA agents after she’s caught sneaking into the Boston capitol constructing with Joel and Ellie in tow. She succumbs to her injuries not by accident; she puts herself in the road of fireside as a distraction, to permit her would-be lover and the would-be cure for mankind to slide out undetected. This incident takes place mere moments after she reveals to Joel and Ellie the zombie bite on her collarbone. It’s already over for her, she insists, but she refuses to let the fungus control her. She’ll die on her own terms, a sacrifice for the sake of a possible cure.

Within the show, Anna Torv’s Tess receives the identical chomp on the neck, but her death is barely more nuanced—and, depending in your interpretation, roughly powerful. The infected, not FEDRA agents, storm the capitol after Joel inadvertently alerts them of their position, and so Tess guarantees to ward them off. As Joel and Ellie make their escape, Tess dumps oil barrels and hand grenades onto the bottom, able to strike a lighter and set the place ablaze. But little can she ignite the flame before a stalker waltzes in, creeps right as much as her, and presses its lips to hers in a disgusting make-out session. The mycelium tendrils in his throat slip down hers; only then does her shaking hand release the lighter. The capitol goes boom as Joel and Ellie watch from afar.

There are two ways to take a look at this scene. The generous read is that this: Tess, already within the sway of the fungus, destroys her controllers in a single last noble act of autonomy. The less generous take is that this: Tess is unnecessarily violated for the sake of on-screen spectacle. Either way, the scene accomplishes a heart-pounding payoff, even when it doesn’t pack quite the emotional wallop of Tess’s in-game loss.

Grade: B

Game vs. Show Difference #5: Bill and Frank

Don’t expect fans to shut up about episode 3 of The Last of Us any time soon. It’s considered one of the higher examples of adaptation that television has seen in quite a while, even when it deviates significantly from the source material. The result’s considered one of the few examples where the show’s story is a lot better than the sport’s.

In the unique scenes involving survivalist Bill, Joel and Ellie track him down outside Boston because they’re in need of a automobile. He reluctantly agrees to assist them out, and after mowing down hordes of infected, they eventually take temporary shelter in an abandoned house. There, they discover a rotting corpse hanging from the ceiling, which Bill soon recognizes: The body belongs to Frank, his ex-lover. Their relationship ended on poor, even vitriolic terms, however the anguish on Bill’s face is visible whilst he spits, “Well, fuck him.”

The scene is unhappy, however it’s disappointingly forgettable as compared to so many other gut-wrenching moments throughout the sport. And so the show made a change, a essential one, to make Bill and Frank greater than only a footnote in The Last of Us canon. Within the HBO series, a whole episode is dedicated to their unexpected romance; their jokes and love-making and arguments; how they run the self-sustaining farm that supplies goods to Tess, Joel, and others in Boston. We watch them grow together over not only hours but years, after which we watch them die together in some of the profound moments of devotion all the season has to supply.

True, we miss out on a few of the delicious banter shared between Ellie and Bill in the sport. But, as an alternative of a fleeting sign of despair and futility, we get a powerful message of fortitude. Bill tells Joel, via letter, “I used to hate the world, and I used to be joyful when everyone died. But I used to be incorrect, because there was one person value saving…That’s why men such as you and me are here. We’ve a job to do, and God help any motherfuckers who stand in our way.”

We will ensure it’s a message Joel will remember.

Grade: A+

Game vs. Show Difference #6: Kathleen and Kansas City

In episode 4, Joel and Ellie make it out of the Northeast and into the Midwest via Hank Williams-fueled truck. They try and drive through a traffic-clogged Kansas City, only to have the locals attack them as they seek the closest off-ramp. Together, Joel and Ellie pick off several of those hunters, igniting the fashion of their leader, Melanie Lynskey’s Kathleen.

By the top of the episode, they’ve inadvertently run into Henry and Sam, the fan-favorite brother duo from the sport. In the unique story, Henry and Sam are on the run in Pittsburgh, not Kansas City, nor are they pursued by any character named Kathleen. (Actually, in the sport, we never get any real window into the movement that inspired the so-called “hunters,” other than notes and clues littered throughout the setting.)

Lynskey’s character is an invention entirely recent to the story as well, though her perspective adds an intriguing element to the dynamic between Joel, Ellie and their recent allies. After the death of her apparently charismatic, good-hearted brother, she took over leadership of the populist movement in Kansas City, leading the rebels to overthrow the local subgroup of the fascist Federal Disaster Response Agency (FEDRA). Through her unexpectedly soft demeanor but menacing—even self-destructive—actions, we’re given a more in-depth take a look at just how easily Joel, Ellie, Henry, or Sam might need ended up in her same position, had they endured such a loss under similar circumstances. Henry’s revealed to be an informant for FEDRA, though he, too, made such an ethical compromise under a dire situation: With the intention to get Sam’s leukemia medication, he needed to be willing to part with intel that may result in Kathleen’s brother’s death.

By the top of episode 5, a baby clicker kills Kathleen before she will be able to pull the trigger and enact her revenge on Henry. But, sadly, she gets all of it the identical: As in the sport, Sam is bit by an infected and turns the subsequent morning, leading Henry to kill his brother after which himself.

Still, one additional key difference stands out in these scenes. In the sport, Sam never reveals to Ellie the bite-sized chunk of flesh missing from his leg. (She’s due to this fact completely surprised when he turns.) Within the show, he does reveal his injury, and Ellie—in her desperation to “save who you may save,” as Tess once instructed Joel—guarantees him her blood “is medicine.” She then attempts to combine her blood along with his, seeming to completely expect that Sam would wake the subsequent morning cured. As an alternative, she discovers a monster in her recent friend’s place. His death rattles her probably the most of all of the season’s losses to date. “I’m sorry,” she writes on the Magic Slate that she places at his gravesite, her face already hardened into Joel’s signature scowl.

Grade: A

This story can be updated.

Headshot of Lauren Puckett-Pope

Culture Author

Lauren Puckett-Pope is a staff culture author at ELLE, where she primarily covers film, television and books. She was previously an associate editor at ELLE. 

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