The Last of Us Creators Explain Adapting Clickers for TV

The Last of Us‘ second episode finally introduced the Clickers, one of the game’s deadliest enemies. And while they share a lot of similarities to their in-game counterparts, some of the creators of the HBO Max series explained how portraying these beasts in the show differed slightly from the interactive medium.

Neil Druckmann, writer of the game and TV series, set the scene by talking about how Naughty Dog wanted to put the action on the controller for the game. So when players encounter Clickers, they have to overcome the challenge by themselves, which fits with the interactivity of the medium.

“For an action sequence, we would almost never put that in a cutscene in the game because it would be, like, ‘Oh, I want to play that,'” said Druckmann. “Those are the parts that we want to give the control to the player and say, ‘Deal with this situation.'”

This approach doesn’t work in the realm of television, so Druckmann talked about how they chose to hold back and hardly show the creatures in order to build tension, a lesson undoubtedly learned from other horror classics like Alien and Jaws.

“With the show, it was a lot about restraint,” he continued. “Often when something is horrific like this, it is scarier when you don’t see it. So let’s hold off and not show it for as long as possible, and then when we do show it, let’s make sure it’s in a setting where the characters don’t get a clear eyeline to it.

“And when we see it, it is very fast, very quick. We’re gonna see a glimpse of them or you’re going to see them in a reflection in the glass. And it’s scarier, especially in that medium, to see the fear in the character’s eyes. So a lot of the direction, as far as where you put the camera, is, ‘Let’s show the character’s fear as much as possible, even more so than the thing that’s chasing them.'”

However, the game naturally has multiple Clicker encounters, which wouldn’t work for a show. Executive Producer Craig Mazin said that this distinction meant that the action in the series had to have more impact and be more unique.

“When you have an action sequence, it should be singular,” said Mazin. “So, one of the things we talked about was the role of action in the show and our belief that we would appreciate the action moments more if they were each unique, separate and apart from each other, each one of them impacting the story directly in a very clear way and either being very small or very big.”

The first Clicker scene in the game (which is at the school) is meant to act as a tutorial, but the medium change also meant Clickers couldn’t be introduced in the same way in the series. The team knew this scene would have to have a greater impact on the story, so, as Druckmann stated, it needed to force Joel into a situation where he needed to protect Ellie, someone he isn’t too fond of at this point in the story.

“In the game, you need to have enough action for mastery of mechanics so you can connect with the characters, you get into a flow state,” he said. “With the show, every action sequence, our approach was, ‘How do we make it character driven?’ Something needs to happen with the characters. They can’t be purely about spectacle. And in this [Clicker] sequence, up until that point, Ellie is really connected to Tess. Only when she’s forced to does she talk to Joel, and it feels like it’s an effort for her to ask him questions. They don’t like each other, but this sequence forces them together and forces Joel to protect her in a way that he didn’t want to, but he can’t help himself.”

The rest of the video and corresponding post go into some of the details regarding the origins of the Clicker as well as their audio design, some of which has been covered in the documentary about the first game.

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