Editor’s Note: The following are spoilers for The Last of Us Season 1 and spoilers for The Last of Us Part II.
One of the biggest challenges any video game adaptation faces is the difficulty of adapting actual gameplay. While story beats can be translated fairly easily, the best games rely on user input to tell their stories in a way that is difficult to replicate in a more linear environment. Last of us manages to get around this problem by focusing on the story being told in cutscenes that play out between gameplay, largely ignoring the lengthy stretches of combat, looting, and sneaking that take up much of the original game’s run time. It worked for most of the show, but cracks start to appear in the season finale, “In Search of the Light.” By cutting the plot to a minimum, he weakened the impact of the show’s climax and final moments.
Game sequence of the final version of the first season of “The Last of Us”
For those unfamiliar with the source material, the final mission Last of us the game is very similar to Seek the Light. Upon learning that the Fireflies intend to kill Ellie (Ashley Johnson in Game, Bella Ramsey in the TV series) Joel’s Cure Pursuit (Troy Baker in Game, Pedro Pascal in the series) makes a murderous riot in the hospital, kills the Doctor (Darren Dolinsky) is about to operate on Ellie and runs off to the garage to sort things out with Marlene (Merle Dandridge). But the show is cut a bit, a short segment where you play as Joel after he exits the operating room and runs to the elevator. In this section, you cannot fight the Fireflies chasing you, just run until you get to a safe elevator.
Chasing is important to The Last of Us storytelling
In the series, this bit is completely absent. The camera cuts from Joel lifting Ellie off the operating table to him carrying her into the elevator. At first glance, it doesn’t look like you’ve lost anything important, but it causes some problems. There is no urgency in the series for Joel’s escape, no indication that anyone else is alive in the hospital other than the two nurses he did not shoot. This takes some of the tension out of his confrontation with Marlene when we don’t know if he needs to rush before his pursuers catch up to him.
It may also affect the audience’s reaction when the show moves on to adapting the story. The Last of Us Part 2 (those who want to avoid spoilers for later seasons can skip this paragraph). By not showing the other fireflies chasing Joel, it looks like he may have killed them all. Joel’s rampage in the series was presented in an impressionistic way, with an emphasis on his emotional tragedy rather than actual events. So when Abby and her former firefly friends show up in Season 2 and beyond, it may seem like a surprise rather than a natural continuation of the story being told.
But what is most important is the emotional impact of the scene. Throughout the game’s hospital chase, Joel comforts the unconscious Ellie. “Come on baby,” he tells her, “I’ll get you out of here.” The sequence is the last time you play as Joel during the game, and is mechanically identical to the first: he is carrying his daughter Sarah (Hana Hayes in Game, Nico Parker in the show) through the chaos of the flash day. In the series, he is silent when he takes Ellie out, calming her unconscious body in his arms. While the dialogue isn’t always needed to convey emotion, the chaotic escape through the hospital directly aims to take us back to the beginning of the story. It is a strong piece of connective tissue that binds Ellie and Sarah, but not too much on the nose. Without this snippet, the show resorts to rather awkward dialogue in which Joel directly compares the two girls in the final moments of the show. This works, but is less elegant and effective.
Cutting gameplay makes The Last of Us ending less believable
While the lack of a chase is problematic, it’s not the only way gameplay was cut that influenced the final episode. In the game, the player (as Joel) has already shot hundreds of enemies, both infected and human. Joel’s capacity for violence is on full display, which is why when he single-handedly shoots down dozens of fireflies in the hospital, it seems believable. But in the series, much of that violence has disappeared, cut along with the rest of the gameplay sections. While this makes the cases of violence that are kept under wraps shocking and visceral, it has some unforeseen consequences. The show often softens up fights in which it is actually present, making Joel feel less unstoppable than in the game. Thematically it works great. But Joel’s sudden tactical prowess in Quest for the Light seems far more forced after just one raider managed to nearly kill him at the end of episode 6 of Keene.
While Tess (Anna Torv) in the first few episodes it is very clear that Joel can do a lot of damage, the muted violence makes it less obvious. Her comments, as well as those of Tommy (Gabriel Luna) about what she and Joel did in the early days of the outbreak, all about what happened in the past, not on screen. Most of what we see Joel do throughout the show is less impressive. He kills lone FEDRA guards, sneaks up on raiders, or wins a gunfight with a handful of opponents. His hospital rampage goes far beyond that, pitting him against dozens of armed fireflies. The lack of violence so far makes it a lot more powerful, of course, but also makes it a little less easy to believe if you don’t want to suspend your disbelief.
None of this is a major issue for the show. The end has always been one of the hardest moments to adapt and he does a great job of capturing the moments that made Last of us such an impressive game. But as the series prepares to adapt a much longer and more complex story Part II, it is worth keeping a close eye on how the gameplay affects the story. Although most of the gameplay can be cut, not all.
All episodes Last of us currently available on HBO Max.
Find out everything we know about Season 2 Last of usincluding how much it will connect to The Last of Us: Part 2.
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