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HBO’s The Last of Us Diverts Slightly From The Game But Mostly For The Better

We’re already four episodes into the first season of HBO’s The Last Of Us. There are only five episodes left, and the first four episodes already gave us an idea of how faithful this adaptation is to the original game. Showrunners Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann (who’s also the director of the original game) have taken several liberties with the source material, but so far, as a fan of the games myself, I reckon that the changes have all mostly been for the better.

How are these changes better? Well, the changes in HBO’s The Last Of Us are mostly aiming to expand what is already in the games, so the series can be regarded as essentially a director’s cut or expansion of the original game, in a way.

To discuss these changes, I’ll be discussing heavy spoilers, so here’s a warning.

From the very first episode, we can already see how Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann have strengthened and added to the story of the original game by fleshing out the character of Sarah Miller AKA Joel’s daughter. We spend more time with her in the series than we do in the game, as the series shows her going out to repair Joel’s watch. In the game, we only saw her giving the repaired watch to Joel.

In the series, we watch her making an effort to repair Joel’s watch and later visiting her elderly neighbours to check on their wellbeing. As a result of all that, her eventual death in Episode 1 arguably hits even harder than it does in the game.

Another example is in Episode 2, which is an episode directed by Druckmann himself. He added an origin story to the Cordyceps infection, which isn’t from the games. While it hasn’t been corroborated, I reckon that this origin story was previously one that Druckmann wanted to fit into the games, but just couldn’t due to certain restraints and circumstances from game development.

The whole sequence of scenes, with Christine Hakim as Dr. Ratna discovering the Cordyceps infection and later advising the Indonesian military to just “bomb” the whole city to eradicate the infection, is an extremely powerful and disturbing one that will resonate in your mind and leave you thinking hours or days after watching the episode.

In Episode 3, we get arguably the biggest departure of all to date from the original game. This episode almost entirely focuses on Nick Offerman’s Bill and Murray Bartley’s Frank. In the HBO series, we get to see his backstory, as well as that of Frank’s (Murray Bartlett). Frank is Bill’s romantic partner, but he doesn’t technically appear as a character in the game because players will find his body (he commits suicide after discovering that he’s infected).

This whole episode is so heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time. In the HBO series, Bill and Frank both choose to end their lives together on their own terms after getting married and spending one beautiful last day together.

As a fan of the games, I think that Bill and Frank’s story is arguably better in the HBO series than what happens in the game. In the original game, Bill is alive but separated from Frank when Joel and Ellie meet him. Bill later discovers that Frank not only killed himself after being infected but also that Frank hates him (Frank left a suicide letter for Bill).

In my review, I wrote that “the best thing about both the game and HBO’s adaptation is how it shows how human the characters are and how the outbreak brings out the best or worst of any individual. It’s ultimately a story about people, not just about zombies or Clickers.”

This episode (with Bill and Frank) best encapsulates that idea. It’s moving and touching, as well as gives us a beautiful story and optimistic hope in a landscape already filled with so much bleakness and tragedy.

In Episode 4, the biggest difference is the setting (from Pittsburgh to Kansas City) and several original characters, but these don’t really add much to the story of the original game. Still, my ultimate point is that HBO’s The Last Of Us remains a very faithful adaptation of the games, but it adds so much more to the original story by expanding on existing characters or plot threads. While these do result in some changes, they’re not so fundamentally different that they change what the original story is trying to convey.

The changes are for the better, fleshing out more of a story we all already know and love, and that’s great.

More video game adaptations should take inspiration from HBO’s The Last Of Us, which is proof that you can make changes to the source material without sacrificing the meaning and intentions of the original.

In other related content, courtesy of HBO Asia, we were also lucky enough to be the only Malaysian media to participate in interviews with Craig Mazin and Neil DruckmannPedro Pascal and Bella RamseyMerle Dandridge and Gabriel Luna. You can also check out our spoiler-free review of the entire season by heading over here.

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