The Biggest Moments THE LAST OF US Series Adapts From the Games

As The Last of Us was first released on the PlayStation a decade ago, everything from key moments to delicate minutiae have calcified in fans’ minds. This hikes up the temperature considerably in terms of anticipation — the legacy is quite real. One of the big questions going into HBO’s adaptation is how much of the game will carry over into the series, and how much will change? The balance is vital to anchor viewers in the story’s world, while still expanding on it in truthful, authentic measures.

Each week, we will look at the translation of notable events from the game on-screen to appreciate the prodigiousness of this adaptation.

Joel (Pedro Pascal) takes Sarah's (Nico Parker) head in his hands as the zombie outbreak begins in The Last of Us.

Episode 1

Joel’s Birthday Watch

The story’s opening moments are some of the most difficult to experience as a player, and as they should be. The first POV you play in The Last of Us is of Sarah Miller, Joel’s daughter. The game begins on the evening of Outbreak Day, also known as Joel’s birthday, where Sarah gives him a watch. This exchange is so heartfelt, boxed in with the priceless father-daughter humor that is so fleeting between the two of them. This scene is almost identical in the show, with Nico Parker’s Sarah echoing the same, cheeky words from the game to explain how she paid for the watch: “I sell hardcore drugs,” in the same Texan accent.

The similarities are eerie, but deserved; its warmth swells, especially if you come to the show as a fan of the games. However, before this, the show rewinds us back to the beginning of Outbreak Day, to September 26th, 2003, a decade before the events of the game.

Sarah (Nico Parker) runs her hand through a sprinkler before the world ends in The Last of Us.

HBO’s adaptation allows viewers to get even closer to Sarah. We follow her throughout the day — cooking breakfast; tossing out quips about Joel needing diapers soon; heading to school; venturing downtown on a city bus to have Joel’s watch fixed (with his money from his bedroom drawer). This makes her death so much more grueling on viewers, as the scene — downtown in flames, restaurant that Joel carries her through, and standoff with the soldier — is effectively identical to that in the game.

The Beginning of the Journey

Fast forward 20 years, and Joel is not bedridden like he is in the game. Instead, he is tossing the corpse of an infected child into the FEDRA flames of the QZ. Tess, gunslinging and troubled as ever, is instead a captive of Robert. He stole the car battery that she and Joel had planned to use to go find Tommy out West. The familial ties seem to be much stronger in the show. Joel and Tess’s romantic partnership is more or less confirmed, and they have a pre-existing mission to go find Tommy who has been AWOL through their radio communications.

Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Tess (Anna Torv) shine flashlights on a human fungal growth in a dark, abandoned office building in the first episode of The Last of Us.

When Joel and Tess set off to satisfy their vendetta against Robert, he is already dead — it is Marlene who kills him. His stupidity from the game bleeds into the show, as he thought he would get away with selling the defective car battery again to the Fireflies.

The game and the adaptation converge here, with Marlene handing Ellie over to Tess and Joel. The promise of goods is still very much the same, and their agreement to transport Ellie to downtown Boston is still for selfish reasons. Marlene is injured, FEDRA about a block away from the Fireflies hideout, and desperation is the final push — Joel and Tess for their car battery, Marlene for getting Ellie to the Fireflies lab out West.