First released in 2013, The Last of Us earned high marks for a strong narrative and good character development. The game tells the story of a post-apocalyptic United States in which two main characters, Joel Miller and Ellie Williams, survive a deadly outbreak of a mutated Cordyceps fungal strain, which turns infected humans into cannibalistic zombies.
Film and TV adaptations of video games have had mixed results, but with its strong focus on story, The Last of Us seems like a possible exception. For this reason, reports of an HBO Max series based on the game were met with excitement.
Wondering if you need to play The Last of Us before watching the show, or how much the showrunners changed to bring the game franchise to the screen? We have you covered.
The Last of Us TV Series
- The Last of Us premieres Sunday, January 15, 2022 on HBO Max
- Estimated series length: 10 episodes premiering on Sunday each week
- The last episode airs Sunday, March 12th
- Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey star as Joel Miller and Ellie Williams
- The series is rated TV-MA
What’s Staying the Same
Whenever anything gets adapted for the screen, changes are inevitable. The good news for The Last of Us is that Neil Druckmann, the game’s creative director, developed the show alongside co-creator Craig Mazin. The same music composer also worked on both the game and TV score.
Many geographical elements also remain consistent. Action in the game is driven by Joel and Ellie as they travel and struggle to survive across an outbreak-stricken United States. That’s not going to change for the series.
Show creators have warned audiences some episodes of the series will be unfamiliar for fans of the game, but there seems nothing in particular about the show that would mean someone would need to play the game before watching.
Speaking at #CCXP22 a Brazilian comic-con-style event (posted on YouTube), Mazin said everything fans like about the game is still there in the show. “I promise you there are things that you don’t know that are coming that will blow your mind,” he said. Some things added to the series were original ideas for the game that never made it in, Druckmann added.
Any apparent changes seem to be relatively minor in the long run. As mentioned, The Last of Us is acclaimed for its storytelling. Without gameplay to help the story along, the show will reportedly focus more on its narrative. The show also promises less outright violence, though that’s not unexpected.
Both the game and the show begin after the fungal outbreak, but the series is set in 2023 instead of the near future. This places the original outbreak in 2003, which is reflected in the prologue and potentially some yet-to-come flashbacks. How the fungus spreads also looks different. Instead of spores, it infects victims through tendrils.
The first season of the show will be ten episodes long, and those changes were likely brought about to flesh out story points and develop dramatic tension.
Aside from Joel and Ellie, several characters familiar to The Last of Us players make a jump to the screen. This includes Tommy (Gabriel Luna), Tess (Anna Torv), Marlene (Merle Dandridge, who voiced her in the game!), and Bill (Nick Offerman). Reportedly, each of these characters will get more screen time during the series. We’ll also learn more about Joel and Ellie’s backstories.
On that note, the series will also introduce several new characters. We’ll meet Frank (Murray Bartlett), Jerry (Jeffrey Pierce), and Josiah (Nelson Leis), likely among others. Some of those characters have small parts in the game — Frank, for example, is referenced in gameplay but never makes an appearance. We can’t wait to see where the HBO Max adaptation takes him.
Join the High Ground
That’s it for our breakdown of the differences between The Last of Us TV show and the game! What are you most looking forward to about the series? Let us know in the comments, and subscribe to our newsletter to stay up-to-date on all things about this promising adaptation.