By Jesse Taylor
The Last of Us video game released on June 14, 2013, to widespread attention from both critics and the general public alike. Most recently, HBO Max adapted the game into a TV show, with season one just ending, I thought it would be interesting to compare and contrast the two forms of the story.
Both the game and the show take place in a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by cordyceps, a virus that kills and then takes over the human body, creating hosts that can spread the disease by biting others. The virus, based on a real-world fungus that can control entire ant colonies, serves as the main focal point of both the show and the game. It is extremely infectious and has reduced the population of human beings drastically.
The story features two protagonists, Joel Miller and Ellie Williams and their trek across the country to deliver Ellie to the Fireflies, a group of rebels who oppose FEDRA, the tyrannical governmental organization that has taken over as the major power force in the U.S. At first the two butt heads, with Joel unwilling to form any kind of relationship with Ellie. But as the story progresses the two grow so close that they form a father-daughter relationship.
The show is truly an accurate adaptation of the game that stays extremely loyal to the source material. As with any adaptation, there are a few changes that, for the most part, enhance the story rather than hinder it. For instance, the game has the outbreak of cordyceps beginning in 2013 with the story of Joel and Ellie picking up in 2033, while the show has the outbreak beginning in 2003, picking up with Joel and Ellie in 2023.
By far the biggest change seen in the show is how Nick Offerman’s character, Bill, is depicted. In the show, Bill begins as a hypermasculine, paranoid, doomsday prepper, unwilling to cooperate with anyone and choosing to rely only on himself to survive. However, he comes across a man named Frank who he eventually falls in love with, revealing his homosexual identity for the first time in his life.
Frank eventually grows too sick to cure and they both commit suicide using pills, Romeo and Juliet style. By the time Joel and Ellie reach Bill and Frank’s home, they’re both dead, with Bill leaving a letter to Joel instructing him to take whatever he needs.
Bill and Frank’s story in the game is not nearly as endearing. In fact, when Joel and Ellie come across Bill, he is alive and well. Bill saves Joel and Ellie from certain death and assists them in locating a functioning car battery. While searching for the battery in Bill’s town, they come across Frank who hanged himself from the ceiling of a home many years before.
If the player searches the house where they find Frank they will discover a letter that Frank wrote to Bill. Frank tells Bill that he grew so sick of living with him and would have rather died than spend another second with Bill. Frank hated Bill and was certainly not in love with him.
One of the smaller changes made by the show had to do with the characters Henry and Sam. In the game, Joel and Ellie work with Henry and Sam to escape the city by passing through a checkpoint with Joel and Ellie jumping off a bridge in order to escape. While the show sees the four of them working together to pass through an underground tunnel filled with millions of infected people.
Other than those few changes, the show is as close to a one-to-one adaptation of a videogame as you can get. The screenwriters even pay close attention to small details, such as having Joel kill a specific, important character at the end of season one, which then sets up for the next season, a component originally present in the game. HBO Max’s writers seem as if they used the game as a storyboard to create the show.