It’s crazy how many movies and TV shows can’t get things right whenever they adapt video games. And it’s not just trying to turn an interactive medium into a non-interactive one. I can understand that. That’s difficult. That doesn’t make me throw up my hands in confusion.

What does are shows like Resident Evil, which is loosely based on the game series in the same way the Starship Troopers movies is based on the book. Meaning not at all.

The cool thing about The Last of Us TV Show is not only how close it sticks to the games, but how it expands on them. These posts aren’t going to be a review of the episodes. They’re going to be appreciation posts, and hopefully a good lesson in how to adapt a video game correctly.

If you don’t know, this show is produced, written and directed (in part) by Neil Druckmann, who wrote the game. And the sequel. And the DLC. So we don’t just get a producer who’s familiar with the world, we get the creator. Which – it would seem – goes a long way.

So let’s break down episode one – When You’re Lost in the Darkness – and compare it to the game. 

Spoilers, obviously – for both the show and the game.

The episode starts with a taste-setter. A little appetizer of what to come. A very composed, but tense scene as a scientist explains the dangers that a deadly, devious fungus could have on humans. Essentially – zombies. Surprise surprise. While this scene doesn’t do any worldbuilding, it starts the message that continues on throughout the rest of the show: if/when this happens, it’s going to be real bleak for humans.

We don’t get any of this in the game. And it’s arguable if we needed it. The game came out in 2013, at the tail end of the zombie craze, so we don’t really need an excuse other than: zombies. But throughout the game, we slowly get bits and pieces of how this infection works:

  • You can get it through bites and spores.
  • You start as a crazed version of yourself, and slowly grow mushrooms.
  • You lose your sight and become a Clicker.
  • Eventually, you lose all senses and die, spreading more mushrooms and more spores.

That’s the basic premise. And while the fungus stuff is hard to miss, it’s never explicitly said why or how this happens. The show explains it to us.

Then we move into a 35-minute segment, set in 2003, about Joel, his daughter Sarah, and their life before the apocalypse. These scenes add a lot of characterization about Joel’s daughter, which I argue wasn’t really necessary. Sarah only serves as a plot point for Joel’s character – to get him to the bitter, empty man he is 20 years later.

I am a sucker for seeing the start of a zombie apocalypse, though. Even though we see it coming a mile away, it’s fun and tense to see Sarah’s neighbors slowly start to turn.

I really think the game did this a lot better. We spend maybe 15 minutes with Joel and Sarah – and that’s if you’re playing slow. We learn just as much about her in that time as the 40 minutes in the show. She’s smart, she’s witty, and she’s caring. There’s clearly a lot of love between her and Joel. 

Again – Joel gets to the same place in the show and the game after her death. So building up her character for 40 minutes…I can understand why it was written, I just don’t think it’s necessary.

Then we get to the good stuff. This segment floored me – because it is nearly shot-for-shot a recreation of the game. And it’s when I knew I could sit back and relax. This wasn’t going to turn into the Wheel of Time TV show. This was going to retell The Last of Us game. And I love it.

Seriously. Shot for shot. I bet I can find a comparison someone already threw up on YouTube. Be right back.

Found it.

Huh. This kinda makes my post irrelevant. Oh well.

Then we cut to 20 years later. I’ve heard some pushback about the start of this segment. Quick synopsis: a boy walks up to the settlement. The guards test him. He’s bitten. They kill and burn him. It’s pretty gruesome, and it’s right after we already saw Sarah die. It’s a bit much, but I don’t mind it, because it services Joel’s character.

And we see the empty man he is. It’s fantastic. This one little scene tells us everything we need to know about Joel, without him saying a word. Most video game movies don’t have this much characterization in their entire runtime. You can tell – the people writing this show know how to write Joel. Because, you know, one of them created Joel.

Unfortunately, this part of both the show and the game drag a little bit. In the show, we get a lot, a whole lot of scenes with the Fireflies, with Tess, with Joel, all before anything really happens. And in the game, we get a lot of walking around with ladders. Which is never fun.

It’s not bad, and there is obviously a lot to set up here. But this part of both the show and the game really lacks the dynamism of –

Yeah, there she is. The other half of the main cast. As soon as Ellie shows up, there is a lot more energy in the show, even though we don’t really know a lot about her – or why she’s chained up. Just like Joel, we get a lot of characterization in the first few seconds. This is a girl who’s had to grow up fast, and doesn’t take shit from anybody.

I could get into why the dynamic between Joel and Ellie is so good, but people have been doing that for 10 years at this point. Meanwhile in the game –

Wait…we’re in a shootout? This isn’t in the show. Oh yeah, it’s a video game, which means shootin’. I’m glad this part was cut out. We don’t need to see Joel kill anyone right now. We know he can do it. 

This part of the game was always kinda awkward. Joel and Tess kill people, they find Robert. They kill Robert. They have to go find a Firefly. They find a Firefly – instantly, who leads them to Ellie. The show strips it all away, and has the Fireflies and Robert’s gang fight and kill each other, making the situation a lot more desperate for Marlene. We see the stakes now. There’s no one else to take Ellie.

Meanwhile, in the game, we don’t really see any other Fireflies in Boston. Just Marlene and Ellie. And that’s cool, I guess. Joel, Tess, and Ellie all head out of Boston, towards the Capitol.

Oh wait – the show’s still going? At this point, I was ready to be done. We were an hour in, we had everything set up, but the show took us all the way outside the walls, into Ellie’s big reveal that she’s immune to the zombies. The game really fumbles this – it’s more like a side conversation while Joel focuses on the body of the dead guard. I mean, this is the crux of the whole quest – it should have a little more screen time.

The game handles this better. Yeah, we kinda ignore the tension of the group getting hunted, but there are bigger priorities. We get a nice long scene where we learn how quickly the infection spreads. It hits a lot harder than in the show. Seriously, the conversation between Tess and Ellie gets turned down as Joel focuses on his bloody knuckles. Not great.

And that’s the end! The show ends with the iconic shot of the broken building. Directly from the game. Nice touch.

Hopefully my rambling makes sense. I really love The Last of Us game, and when I last played it, I thought it would be a perfect TV show. So it’s kinda cool to not only watch that show, but for it to be so accurate.

Also, the show screenshots are kinda weird. HBO Max really doesn’t like me taking screenshots. But we got what we got.

I know Episode 3 just came out, so I’m a bit behind on this, but it took longer than I thought to play through the game. But honestly, while it stumbles once or twice, so far The Last of Us TV Show is the standard that all other video game adaptations should look to. At least for now.

Episode 2’s next!

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