Biggest differences between The Last of Us HBO TV Series and games explained

Biggest differences between The Last of Us HBO TV Series and games explained

With the The Last of Us HBO TV Series, the creators tried to stay very true to its source material: the video games. Naughty Dog, the developer of the video games, was closely involved. Neil Druckmann, writer and director of the games, even directed an episode of the show. Still, due to the nature of both media, there are many differences between the HBO Series and the video games. Some are small and subtle, others ar big and significant. In this article, we’ll dig deeper into the world of The Last of Us and explain the most important differences between the TV series and the games.

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This article about the The Last of Us HBO Series versus the games will be updated as the show progresses. It might contain fan-fueled speculation from our side, please don’t hate us for it. Feel free to join us speculating by leaving a comment below! We’d love to hear our thoughts.

General setting

The Last of Us is set in a post-apocalyptic United States, following a fungal outbreak that has decimated the population. The outbreak, caused by a mutated strain of the Cordyceps fungus, has turned the majority of the population into aggressive, zombie-like creatures.

The virus spreads in a different way

In the HBO TV Series, this infection is spread in a slightly different way. In the video games, infected can spread the virus by biting their victims, but the virus is also spread through airborne spores. Because of this, the characters in the video games carry and often wear gasmasks. In the HBO TV series, the virus is spread through tendrils. According to Neil Druckmann, writer and director of the video games, “it became very scary to think that they’re all working against us in this unified way, which was a concept that I really liked, that got developed in the show.”

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The show takes place in a different year

The series also take place in a slightly different time. In the video games, the outbreak of the cordyceps virus takes place in 2013 (the year the game was first released), and then skips twenty years, so most of the game takes place in 2033. In the HBO series, the outbreak takes place in 2003. The show then skips twenty years as well, so most of the tv series takes place in 2023, the same year the show aired.

The Last of Us Differences Games and HBO TV Series 1

Episode 1: When You’re Lost in the Darkness

Joel and Sarah get more backstory

Both Joel and Sarah, Joel’s daughter, get more backstory in the HBO Series. We see how Joel and his brother Tom discuss their work as construction workers, and see how Sarah goes to school. They’re just living ordinary lifes, until the cordyceps virus breaks out. After the time skip, twenty years later, we also see more of Joels then-ordinary life. He takes jobs that are available and smuggles contraband in between shifts.

Joel’s watch isn’t brand new, but a repaired one

In the video games, Joel receives a new watch from Sarah for his birthday. In the series, Sarah brings an older watch to a watchmaker and gives Joel the repaired watch. Nevertheless, the watch is of great sentimental value to Joel, and he keeps wearing it long after the watch broke.

Joel is already trying to track down his brother Tommy

In the first episode of The Last of Us on HBO, it is revealed Joel is already searching for his brother Tommy. They lost contact about three weeks earlier. His concern for his brother is one of the main reasons he is looking for a way to escape the Boston Quarantine Zone. In the video games, Joel only turns to his brother after the drop-off of Ellie goes sideways.

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Details around the deal with Robert are different

The deal with Robert goes down slightly different. In the video games, Robert stole weapons from Joel and Tess and sold them to the Fireflies. He ends up dead by the hands of Tess, and Joel and Tess end up smuggling Ellie in exchange for the weapons. In the HBO series, he stole a car battery, which he tried to sell to the same Fireflies. In this scenario, Robert is already dead before Joel and Tess track him down. Once again, because of this failed deal, the two end up smuggling Ellie in exchange for the lost goods.

Differences between The Last of Us HBO TV Series and games episode 1

Episode 2: Infected

More insights in how the outbreak started

The second episode of The Last of Us provides viewers with additional insights in how the cordyceps virus was spread. The games never bothered much wich exploring the initial outbreak of the virus, it was just there. In the HBO Series, it is revealed how what appears to be the first infected popped up in Jakarta. Attempts were made to contain the virus, but we all know how that turned out.

Infected communicate through tendrils

The creators already hinted infected could communicate and think as one before the show was aired. In the second episode, we see how this works. Infected are connected through tendrils, with hypha spreading underground for miles. This enabled infected to act as one and makes it even harder to avoid being detected, as simply touching fungus can reveal your presence.

Ellie gets bitten twice

Ellie was already bitten once before she met Joel and Tess, proving she is immune to the virus. In the HBO Series however, she’s bitten a second time during the skirmish in the museum. Since Tess is bitten at the same time, the differences between their wounds further emphasize Ellie’s immunity to the virus.

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Tess’ death is even more dramatic

Tess’ death has always been an emotional point in The Last of Us. It’s the first real setback for Joel and Ellie on their journey, and a harsh lesson for Ellie that she’s living in a cruel world. In the video games however, she sacrificed herself to hold back FEDRA forces. In the HBO Series, her infection seems to be more progressed, and infected recognize her as one of their own. She goes out with a bang to hold back the horde of infected, blowing up the iconic Capitol Building in the proces.

This article will be updated as more episodes of The Last of Us air on HBO.


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Lars Cornelis

Lars is a game journalist since 2005. He loves virtual adventures and appreciates a good story, whether told through environmental storytelling or deep lore. He has a large collection of books and comics based on his favorite games, like Halo, Assassin's Creed, and Metal Gear Solid.

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