HBO's The Last Of Us: The Biggest Changes From The Video Games In Each Episode

 Joel and Ellie in The Last of Us poster
Joel and Ellie in The Last of Us poster

Spoilers below for anyone who hasn’t yet watched The Last of Us up to and through its latest episode (which is just the series premiere at the moment), so be warned!

Based on Naughty Dog’s bestselling and critically adored video game series, HBO’s The Last of Us is one of the most ambitious adaptations of its kind, and is already destined for legend status in that respect. As many years of failed attempts have proven, bringing any kind of video game into the realm of live-action can be wildly challenging, usually due to unfamiliar creative teams. Thankfully, The Last of Us boasts avid fan Craig Mazin and the source material’s co-writer and director Neil Druckmann as its showrunners, making every game-to-TV change that much more important and intentional. And there are definitely some big and bold changes to look out for.

The Last of Us, unlike a lot of forgettable video game adaptations, doesn’t approach fidelity and faithfulness with an all-or-nothing attitude. Instead, the well-reviewed new series wisely brings to life the moments that made gamers lose their damn minds, while expanding upon elements that wouldn’t have been possible in the PlayStation series. Below, we’re taking a look at the biggest and most notable differences between HBO’s The Last of Us and its award-winning predecessor, with the understanding that many of the more minor and expected changes — such as Ellie and Tess being introduced from their own points of view, or the lowered threshold for violence — aren’t necessarily going to be included.

The Last Of Us Episode 1: "When You're Lost In The Darkness"

Sarah in HBO's The Last of Us
Sarah in HBO's The Last of Us

Here are the biggest alterations, additions, and differences from Episode 1, “When You’re Lost in the Darkness.”

The 1968 Flashback

Without title menus and load screens to worry about, HBO’s Last of Us starts off with a big change-up, and one that calls to mind the real-world dangers radiating throughout Craig Mazin’s accolade-laden Chernobyl. The video game didn’t have any foreshadowing Dick Cavett Show-esque segments, but viewers were all the better for it, thanks in large part to John Hannah’s dense and gripping explanation for humanity’s eventual crumbling. Even though we know it’s all going to shit in the TV show’s future, this opener is arguably the most chilling scene in the series premiere, since it’s not that far — [hears clicks in the distance] — from our reality.

Sarah And Joel’s Expanded Introduction

The Last of Us’ second flashback, which introduces lead cast members Pedro Pascal’s Joel and Nico Parker’s Sarah, rather necessarily concludes in the same tragic way as it went in the source material, since the teen’s death so heavily informs the grieving father’s relationship with Bella Ramsey’s co-protagonist Ellie. But Neil Druckmann & Co. were oh-so-thankfully able to stretch out the game’s already effective (if understandably truncated) opening, to build their connection up and eventually amplify the harrowing impact of her execution as shit hit the fan throughout Austin. As well, the HBO series brought in the doomed neighbors the Adlers, and it was a frightful delight to watch them as the series’ first infected characters.

Joel’s Hunt For Tommy

Though the TV show hits the main notes of the game’s “Joel and Tess track down the villainous Robert” arc, the motivation behind it is completely different. Rather than trying to secure a cadre of weapons, as it went in the original story, Joel and Tess were using Robert to access a working car battery, so that Joel could track down his brother Tommy, as portrayed by Gabriel Luna. A brotherly reunion is also a goal within the game, but under differing circumstances that haven’t played out in the TV show yet. Here, Tommy and Joel are apparently in constant contact, as opposed to their more estranged digital counterparts, and a sudden lapse in communication sparks Joel’s need to travel to Cody, Wyoming, though Robert’s double-crossing doesn’t exactly help things.

The First Reference To Riley

Though Storm Reid’s live-action iteration doesn’t appear in person in the series premiere, the character Riley does get name-checked in The Last of Us’ premiere. As not to spoil things for those who aren’t familiar, suffice to say Riley is quite important to Ellie’s story prior to meeting Marlene, as she was first introduced in the limited comic book series The Last of Us: American Dreams before her arrival in the DLC release Left Behind. As such, Ellie’s taken-aback reaction was completely justified after Marlene asked if she considered Riley to be a terrorist, though viewers will have to wait and see exactly why that is.

HBO is obviously no stranger to big-budget adaptations, considering it’s the home of Game of Thrones and House of the Dragon, but Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin have already addressed the fact that, whatever changes may come to the TV series, they won’t go the GoT route of extending storylines out and bypassing the source material. They’re locked into bringing the show to an ending sooner rather than later, but that won’t be happening for a while yet.

Check back each week for updates, as The Last of Us airs new episodes on HBO every Sunday night at 9:00 p.m. ET, and streams at the same time for those with HBO Max subscriptions.