Soap opera The Last of Us (The Last of Us) now airs weekly on HBO – that’s all the difference between the show and the first installment of The Last of Us.
HBO’s The Last of Us is here, and it’s already shaping up to be a pretty faithful adaptation of the first game in the series. However, there are already some notable changes from the source material that should be addressed to fans of the games or just anyone who wants to enjoy both incarnations of The Last of Us.
Below, we’ll be tracking all the differences between the game and The Last of Us TV series, week after week, updating this part every time a new episode is released. Naturally, spoilers for both the game and the show flood this article, so read at your own risk.
The Last of Us – differences between the game and the series
Here’s a breakdown of all the differences between The Last of Us games and the TV show:
Episode 1: When you’re lost in the dark
In TV adaptation scientists have been warning the public about the Cordyceps threat since the 1960s, but have not been taken seriously. In games, the fungal threat comes mostly out of nowhere. This could be interpreted as a reference to climate change, or as nature’s retaliation against humanity.
Bill and Frank – The roles of Bill and Frank have been slightly changed in the series. In games Bill Joel’s old friend whom he meets in Jackson. Bill also informs Joel that Frank died by suicide. In the TV show, Bill and Frank are alive and in radio contact with Joel, informing him of dangers outside his safe zone.
Tommy – The role of Joel’s brother Tommy is also expanded in The Last of Us. In this adaptation Tommy a much more restless soul who needs Joel to get him out of jail after a bar fight. Perhaps it was with an infected person, or Tommy just gets into more scenery in this version. In the first episode, Joel lost touch with Tommy, which is the reason for his trip. However, in the game, Joel knows exactly where Tommy is, but the brothers move away for other reasons – probably the death of Joel’s daughter Sarah.
There are major changes to how the fungus spreads on TV shows.
Tess and Joel’s relationship – In The Last of Us games, romantic relationships between Tess and Joel are only subtly hinted at. However, in the series, their relationship is much more explicit. Although it is still never clearly defined, there is an obvious romantic connection between the two in the HBO version.
Twenty year time jump The opening of the first The Last of Us game takes place in 2013, around the time it came out. After Sarah’s death, the game moves twenty years into the future and after the world has been ravaged by the Clickers. However, the TV show is changing this time around, setting the start of the apocalypse in 2003 instead of 2013. This means that The Last of Us TV show is set in the same year that the show debuted, in 2023.
The role and death of Sarah “Those who played the first The Last of Us game will be all too familiar with the gut punch that is Sarah’s death, which is the whole basis of Joel’s character arc and Ellie’s eventual surrogate father status. However, the TV show teases Sarah’s death for longer, expanding her role and backstory, making her departure even more difficult – something that will be especially harrowing for fans of the games who have experienced it sometime before.
Cordyceps spores – in the game, the fungus spreads from person to person, leaving spores after the infected. This allows the contagion to be semi-elevating, so characters must be careful what they inhale. Although in the TV show, the Clickers take a much more personal approach, infecting others through tendrils that crawl out of their mouths into others. This makes them look a bit more like classic zombies, passing on their deadly infection orally rather than through other means.
Episode 2: Infected
Jakarta — In the same vein as episode 1, the second episode of the HBO adaptation features a unique opening sequence that did not appear in the game. The first minutes of the episode are set in Jakarta in 2003 and follow Ibu Ratnoy – a professor of mycology who is escorted to a government office and asked to examine the dead body of a woman with a bite on her leg and a mustache in her mouth.
After she has finished her exam, Professor Ratna is fully aware of the danger the situation poses and suggests that the best course of action would be to bomb the city to stop the infection from spreading.
Due to the scene being set in 2003, this appears to be the very beginning of the outbreak.
Attack on the Museum — In both the game and the show, Joel, Tess, and Ellie make their way through the Boston Museum, where they first encounter the Clickers. The biggest addition to this sequence in the series is that Ellie bites during the attack – this only further confirms her Cordyceps immunity to Joel and Tess as she shows no signs of infection throughout the episode.
Cordyceps connection – As Joel, Tess, and Ellie made their way through the streets of Boston in Episode 2, we learned more about how the infection spreads in this version of The Last of Us. Unlike airborne spore spread as in the game, Cordyceps is spread via tendrils in the show, and the infected are even more bonded because of this.
Watching a group of infected from afar, Tess explains to Ellie that the cordyceps fungus also grows underground as a long filament that can sometimes spread for miles. If a person steps on a cordyceps patch in one place, a dozen infected people can wake up somewhere else and immediately know where you are. This new twist is certainly worrisome as it means everyone will have to be even more careful not to accidentally step on any fungus.
Death Tess — The biggest hit to the gut in Episode 2 was Tess’s death. She is infected with a clicker during the attack on the museum, but does not reveal her condition to Joel and Ellie until they reach the Capitol building.
Knowing that she has limited time before the infection takes over, Tess tasks Joel with getting Ellie and decides to sacrifice herself so they can escape safely. In the game, the building is rushed by FEDRA soldiers, who have been chasing the group since they left QZ, and Tess is shot dead. In the show, however, a horde of infected enters the building and the clicker “connects” to Tess via the tendrils in its mouth, effectively giving her the “kiss of death”. In her last moments, she is able to set fire to the floor (which she doused with oil), destroying all those infected by the explosion.
Tess’ request — After escaping FEDRA in the game, Joel and Ellie head to Bill’s Town, where Joel’s survivalist friend lives, so they can get a car. In the series, the idea to find Bill comes directly from Tess.
Just before the infected find them, she tells Joel to take Ellie to Bill and Frank and suggests that a couple of them can escort Ellie to the Fireflies themselves so Joel can continue his search for Tommy. In the game, Tommy isn’t missing, so Tess tells Joel to take Ellie in.
Episode 3: A Long, Long Time
Frank and Bill Episode 3 spends a lot of time exploring the relationship between Frank and Bill. In the games, Joel and Ellie run into Bill and the trio return to his home, where Frank has committed suicide. Joel and Ellie eventually hit the road, leaving Bill to mourn the loss of Frank alone.
In the TV show, Bill is a survivalist ready for the apocalypse. After it starts he takes in Frank and the couple becomes a couple, they also become friends with Joel and Tess. Frank soon reveals that he has an incurable disease and that he will die soon. Not wanting to be alone, after Frank kills himself, Bill decides to follow him as both men leave the world together.
When Joel and Ellie visit the couple, they discover some sad news. However, Bill left a note for Joel, as well as a cache of supplies to help his old friend.
Tess and Frank — In the TV show, it is revealed that Tess has been in radio contact with Frank ever since she and Joel spent time with him and Bill. This is never mentioned in the source material.
Ellie and arcade games – In The Last of Us: Left Behind DLC, we learn that Ellie has a penchant for old arcade games and gets sad when she can’t play them in an old abandoned mall. In the series, however, Ellie is a fan of Mortal Kombat 2 and mentions that she played it with a friend. That friend will likely be Riley, Left Behind’s other protagonist and one who has yet to debut on the TV show.
Episode 4 coming soon!
So here it is, all the changes between the Last of Us games and the TV show. For more information on The Last of Us, please visit our special page.