What Does HBO Series Do Differently Than The Video-Game In ‘The Last Of Us’ Episode 1?

Sony Computer Entertainment’s 2013 masterpiece, “The Last of Us,” may be one of the best video games ever created, according to critics. Everything from the phenomenal gameplay to the one-of-a-kind story was so amazing that people are still waiting for Sony to release the PC port for it. While that wait may have to continue for a while longer, HBO has adapted the game into a television series, and if its first episode is anything to go by, the series might be among the best TV shows of 2023. However, a video game and a TV show will always have some inherent differences that set the two media apart, but each manages to tell the story in its own unique way. While the TV series adaptation depends immensely on the video game as the source material, there are several things that the show did differently than it was in the game. Here are the major differences that we noticed between the video game by Naughty Dogs and the TV show by Craig Mazin.


Spoilers Ahead

Before The Jump 

“The Last of Us” begins with a 1968 interview of two epidemiologists, and one of them, Dr. Newman, provides a theory that if the earth’s temperature were to rise, it’d be possible for a fungus to adapt to the circumstances and target humans. This foreboding warning, that’s based in the current global warming, is newly added for the show to provide context for the outbreak, unlike the game where the disease appears suddenly. 


HBO dedicates an extended scene to show the morning routine of Sarah (Nico Parker) and her dad Joel Miller (Pedro Pascal), which includes waking up, making breakfast for themselves, pouring her dad orange juice, and even enjoying breakfast with Uncle Tommy. While the entire story in the game begins at night, “The Last of Us” series takes the entire day to slowly build the tension while showing bits and pieces of Sarah’s life.

Apart from adding new scenes, some minor details were changed as well. While Sarah in the show takes money from her dad’s drawer to fix his old watch, the game suggests that she buys him a new one. The show creates the Adlers, Sarah and Joel’s neighbors, to make the audience connect with the elderly couple and the disabled grandmother they call Nana. It’s the Adlers’ house that Sarah goes to in the show to be an eyewitness to the horrors of this infection. However, the game goes through the initial events very quickly, and a random person, later described as their neighbor, breaks into the Miller residence before being shot to death by Joel. While Joel had gone to pick up his brother Tommy from the jail in the show, Tommy just arrives at the Miller residence in the game. 


While escaping in the truck, the scenario and the situations, even the family with a kid that requests a lift is the same. They manage to include a few dialogues from the game, verbatim, into the show. However, the plane crash on the main road is added for the show, and this is where the show departs from the source material. While Tommy protected the father and daughter throughout most of their escape on foot, the show immediately cuts him off after the plane crash, only to be reunited at the scene where Joel and Sarah are shot.

The Time Skip 

A lot of effort is spent building the world that the protagonist Joel and the survivors are being forced to live in. After the time jump, we are introduced to a post-apocalyptic world where Boston is a warzone. A child walks towards the city in tattered clothes and collapses near the city’s entrance. He is then killed by lethal injection when a test shows that he’s infected. Capital punishments like hanging, ration cards being distributed for grunt work, the Fireflies shooting at the armed forces, and even a soldier bartering drugs from Joel are all created exclusively for the show. To establish the nightmarish living conditions that humanity has been pushed to because of this fungus is shown with massive details. The show presents the whole world, and the characters play a part in it. The game, on the other hand, by virtue of the format, focuses on the character that you play as – Joel. Thus, the game skips a lot of the world building and opens with Joel waking up in bed. 


We meet Tess way into the first episode, and she’s being held captive by Robert and his men. Robert is a lot more amicable towards Tess and Joel in the show, and even begs her not to set Joel on him. She makes her way out of the holding, gets arrested by FEDRA, somehow reaches Joel’s apartment at night, and falls asleep beside him. In the morning, Joel finds out about Robert’s involvement and that he has double-crossed the two and sold a battery that was meant for Joel. The game says that Tess has already been jumped by Robert’s men, and they need to go back to retrieve their weapons from Robert. Instead of a long cinematic shot to present the world, the game chooses exposition dialogue to exhibit the atrocities of the FEDRA and to establish that the Fireflies are a rebel group. 

By the time Joel and Tess reach the hideout where Robert had taken the battery in the show, a firefight with the Fireflies has taken place, and Robert and his men are all dead. They walk up to find Marlene, the leader of the Fireflies in the Boston district, wounded, and Ellie tries attacking Joel. Previous scenes have already established the Fireflies as the rebel group and Ellie as a street-smart kid who’s not afraid to speak her mind. However, the road to find Marlene in the game forms the first main mission in the story, as Joel has to fight through a large number of Robert’s men and beat the truth out of him before Tess puts a bullet in his head. Marlene then appears and takes the two through a FEDRA-infested warehouse to Ellie’s location.


Lastly, the first episode of “The Last of Us” shows that after sneaking out to the outside, the group of Joel, Tess, and Ellie gets caught by the same soldier Joel traded with, who starts testing them. While Ellie stabbing a soldier in the leg has been kept accurate, the rest has been molded differently from the game. Mazin’s vision wanted to show that Joel has had character development, which is why, when faced with a gun in a situation that paralleled the 20 years ago, he attacks the soldier and beats him to death. In the game version, two soldiers capture the group and start the test procedure, when Ellie stabs one in the leg, Tess shoots the other in the head, while Joel has a scuffle with the other and kills him with his own gun. 

The Necessary Similarities 

However, the game made sure to keep some of the most important lines and scenes almost intact. The scene where Sarah gets shot has been represented with exactly the same intensity, importance, and almost similar dialogues. The lines shared between Ellie and Joel at the apartment before moving out, including the way he slumps down on the couch and a close-up on his broken watch, have been kept. Ellie’s excitement about going outside the QZ for the first time in her life and the short-lived ecstasy of actually being outside have been recreated with immense care. Lastly, Pedro Pascal nails the look of the older Joel, almost making the two characters seem like they were played by the same person in certain shots. 


See more: ‘The Last Of Us’ Episode 1: Fireflies, Explained: Who Is Marlene? What Is Her Role In The Fireflies Group?

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Indrayudh Talukdar
Indrayudh Talukdar
Indrayudh has a master's degree in English literature from Calcutta University and a passion for all things in cinema. He loves writing about the finer aspects of cinema, although he is also an equally big fan of webseries and anime. In his free time, Indrayudh loves playing video games and reading classic novels.

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