HBO’s The Last of Us is a way to revisit the iconic and beloved video game of the same name — to revel in the ways it’s both unchanged and entirely different. For dedicated fans of the game, the appeal of The Last of Us is not necessarily in being surprised by twists and turns of the story; rather, it’s to see the franchise in a new light, picking out the little details that point back to the original media.
There’s plenty to see in that regard. Video games are known for their Easter eggs, the small and obscure references hidden as little surprises in the game. And so it makes sense that HBO’s The Last of Us would do the same, to make subtle (and not-so-subtle) nods to all the The Last of Us-heads out there. The Last of Us Part 1 felt like it so badly wanted to be a movie or show, and now the TV show is switching that up — at least in one way.
Ellie’s mom (and Ellie’s voice actor)
Players never see Ellie’s mom in The Last of Us, but the HBO version starts its ninth episode with her giving birth to Ellie. Anna is first seen running through the woods and into an abandoned house, where she’s attacked by an infected person before giving birth to Ellie. Anna in HBO’s The Last of Us is played by the original voice actor for Ellie, Ashley Johnson.
Learning to play guitar
Ellie and her guitar are significant to The Last of Us Part 2; in the game, Joel teaches her to play between the events of Part 1 and Part 2. HBO’s The Last of Us teases that while Joel and Ellie are walking on the highway before getting to Seattle: Joel wants to teach Ellie how to play guitar (and flex those pipes of his).
Cut through the building
Ellie makes a joke in episode 9 that’s a callback to the video game — talking to Joel about how they’re to go through the city. Anyone who has played the game will absolutely know: Cut through a building, find a skyscraper, and search out the city from there. It happens over and over and over in The Last of Us. Joel’s always boosting Ellie up for her to drop a ladder or crawl through a small window or crack in the wall to unlock a door. The ladder drop gets a nod in episode 9, too, in a moment that plays out exactly as it did in the game.
The infamous giraffe scene
The giraffe scene. It’s a famous part of The Last of Us, and it’s been memed for years. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that this scene, where Ellie and Joel encounter a wild herd of giraffes in Salt Lake City, would make it into the show. We move through it pretty quickly in the adaptation, but it was exceptionally meaningful in the game — it comes as a reprieve from violent fighting, lingering on a moment where Ellie can just be happy. It’s painful to make the decision to move on from the scene while playing the game, pushing the two back into the violent world.
Joel’s murder spree and lies
HBO’s The Last of Us skips through a huge playable section in the video game but gets right back on track with Joel getting knocked out and Ellie pulled into surgery. It all happens so fast, and before you know it, Joel’s woken up in the hospital — and we all know what happens there.
Joel’s murder spree is shown in the show very similarly to how it plays out in the video game, with Joel creeping through corridors to make his way up to the surgery room. He quickly shoots the doctor before moving on. This happens in the video game as well: Joel kills the doctor (and the player can choose to kill the nurses, too — a grim choice). Next, Ellie wakes up in a car, and the dialogue is near identical to that of the game, in which Joel makes his big lie to Ellie: that there’s no hope for a cure.
Ultimately, the game ends right where season 1 does: Ellie makes Joel swear that he’s telling the truth about the Fireflies, which he does. We get a close-up of her conflicted face before she simply says: “OK.”
Meeting the cannibals
Ellie meets David (Scott Shepherd) and James (Troy Baker) in nearly the same way she does in the games: They’ve found the deer she’s hunted, they ask if they can share the meat since they have a lot of people to feed, and David sends James off to get some antibiotics for a trade. They sit around the fire after dragging the deer in, and he gets creepy talking about how “everything happens for a reason” during this “especially cruel” winter.
As far as Last of Us adaptations go, episode 8 is one of the more consistent ones. Ellie gets captured and breaks David’s finger when he tries to come on to her. David and James try to kill her only for her to pretend to infect them and then kill James. She runs into Todds Steakhouse (though in the game it’s “Todd’s”) trying to get away, where David finds her and they ultimately fight while the place burns. Much of David and Ellie’s dialogue is used verbatim. Even David’s banner has been faithfully re-created for the show.
There’s a few differences: It’s unclear if David actually does have a group of women and children in the game like he purports. And it being a video game, Ellie and David fight off some infected together, including a clicker.
Oh hey, it’s Joel from the games
Episode 8 features another star-studded cameo from game: Troy Baker, who plays cult disciple James in the show and voices Joel in the games.
“Mark it on the map”
When Joel does come to, he goes on a rampage, killing members of David’s flock and torturing them for information on Ellie’s whereabouts. He tells one of the cult members to mark the resort’s location on the map, and tells him it better be the same as his friend’s. It’s a tool The Last of Us utilized in episode 6 with the incredible grumpy couple they meet in the opening. But the game used it first in the cannibal chapter.
The torture scene is more or less one to one between the game and the show: When Joel goes to the other guy, he delivers the killer line: “It’s OK. I believe him.”
An emotional reunion
Ellie and Joel reunite at the end of the cannibal chapter in both the game and the show. Both scenes have Ellie violently stabbing David and splattering blood everywhere, and Ellie at first shrugging Joel off, saying “Don’t you fucking touch me!” when she’s not sure who came up behind her.
In the show, however, Joel shows up in the aftermath. His game counterpart is actually the one who pulls Ellie off of David while she’s still traumatized and hacking. The result is the same — Joel comforts Ellie like she’s his daughter and calls her “baby girl” — but the small change feels telling. In the video game, so much of Joel and Ellie’s bond comes from the actually playing the game, with Ellie being just as violent as Joel out of necessity. Here, Joel only sees how much trauma she’s gone through, positioning him (just before the final episode of the season) as much more clearly the father figure she needs to protect her in this world.
Episode 7 is pulled right from The Last of Us Part 1’s Left Behind downloadable content and it plays out just like the extra content does — the HBO episode is even named after the DLC. The episode is just as heartwarming and heartbreaking as the extra content, the majority of it playing out inside a Boston-area mall with both Ellie and Riley. But just like the DLC, “Left Behind” is punctuated with Ellie attempting to take care of Joel after he suffers a pretty bad wound at the university.
Ellie’s got a few cassette tapes hanging around, and the HBO camera lingers on one for a bit: It’s from A-ha, the 1980s synth-pop band. What’s the relation to The Last of Us? There’s a sweet moment in The Last of Us Part 2 where Ellie sings A-ha’s “Take on Me” for Dina, her girlfriend. It’s also used in a trailer for the show.
Ellie and Riley visit a Halloween store in The Last of Us Part 1’s DLC. As Ellie, you can walk around and explore — and if you choose, put on the wolf mask. There’s a whole bunch of cute, silly dialogue that’s unlocked when picking up and trying on different masks in the store.
There’s a nod to the DLC in the show when Riley mentions she’s got a gift for Ellie; Ellie asks, “Is it a water pistol?” Riley says that it’s something better, but in the game, Riley actually does have a water pistol for Ellie, and they end up having a water-gun fight. The water-gun sequence isn’t in the show, but it’s an important moment in the game: It’s the event that leads directly into their kiss, which otherwise plays out the same way it does in the series.
Mortal Kombat 2
Ellie and Riley don’t actually play Mortal Kombat 2 or any video game in the DLC — the arcade cabinet for the fake Mortal Kombat-like game doesn’t actually work. Instead, Riley has Ellie close her eyes imagine how a fight in the game would go based on her descriptions. You press the appropriate buttons through the imagined fight in Left Behind, but those actions don’t translate as well to TV.
Is that Twilight?
The Last of Us’ Boston area mall has a movie theater and marquee inside it, and it’s showing a Twilight-esque ripoff called Dawn of the Wolf Part 2. Because, after all, Twilight isn’t a movie that was out in 2003; Twilight wasn’t released until 2008. There are movie posters and billboards all over the first game, and Joel mentions is being a cheesy teen drama. But after playing The Last of Us Part 2, some people started to think that it was a reference to the second game — it’s Part 2, naturally, but also brings in a group called the Washington Liberation Front, or the Wolves.
Ellie’s pun book
Episode 7 has a vital origin story for the series: It’s where Ellie gets her precious copy of No Pun Intended: Volume Too. As in the DLC, the book is a gift from Riley, and Ellie reads some puns aloud to both of them, including some quoted in this episode. (The game allows you to continue reading and has a truly impressive amount of puns, which delight Riley and Ellie whenever they understand enough of the old world to appreciate them.)
Losing our minds together
Ellie and Riley’s moment together after they were bitten plays out in HBO’s The Last of Us as it does in the video game. It’s a tender and heartbreaking moment where Ellie and Riley try to come to grips with their fate — that they’re infected and will eventually turn. Of course, we know that Ellie is immune and won’t turn after all.
Ellie spends a lot of time in episode 6 thinking about her future. As a kid growing up in Boston’s quarantine zone, she said, she was forced to look at the jail-like walls or the ocean. Shunning those, she decided to look upward, into space. Ellie tells Joel she wants to be an astronaut, like “Sally fuckin’ Ride.” This comes up in The Last of Us game, but is really fleshed out in The Last of Us Part 2, which has a touching moment between Joel and Ellie inside a run-down science and history museum.
Is that Dina?
Once inside the Jackson, Wyoming, compound, Ellie and Joel sit down for some food — their first proper meal in a while. While they’re eating, a young girl peeks from behind a bannister to catch a glimpse of Ellie and Joel. Ellie scares her off with a look, but we can’t help but wonder: Is that Dina? The Last of Us Part 2 fans will know who Dina is, since she’s a huge part of the second game — she and Ellie share a kiss that then develops into a real relationship.
Regardless of whether it’s Dina, there’s one The Last of Us Part 2 cameo that’s for certain in the show: Shimmer. During the tour of the commune, Ellie’s introduced to a newborn horse, who Maria tells her is named Shimmer. Shimmer is Ellie’s horse in The Last of Us Part 2.
With a powerful sniper rifle from Tommy, Joel and Ellie head out of Jackson in search of Fireflies. In The Last of Us Part 2, in a flashback, Joel’s brother Tommy teaches an older Ellie to shoot with a sniper rifle. First, she starts shooting at targets, like some wooden signs. Then she upgrades to infected. There is also a moment in The Last of Us game where Joel teaches Ellie how to shoot a rifle, something she says she’s only shot at rats... with BBs. Of course, the game scene is much less heartwarming — it’s a do-or-die situation.
Not my daughter
HBO’s been playing up Joel and Ellie’s father/daughter-like relationship for the whole show, a mirror to his relationship with his biological daughter, Sarah. And it all comes to a head during an argument between Joel and Ellie in Jackson.
The scene between the two plays out almost identically to the game, in a pink room that’s reminiscent of Sarah’s. (The actual location of the room is different in the game and show, however: Ellie runs off to a random, far-off house in the game, but in the show she’s in the house assigned to her and Joel in Jackson.) Joel wants to leave Ellie with Tommy; he thinks she’s better off getting to the Fireflies with him, that he himself can’t keep Ellie safe. That tension, of course, is because he feels like he failed Sarah, so when Ellie brings it up, he snaps: “You’re right, you’re not my daughter. And I sure as hell ain’t your dad.”
Ellie and Joel skip right over the dam, which is a significant mission with lots of fighting in the game. But they do stop to take a look at it, and Ellie makes a pun — but she’s no Will Livingston, a reference to her pun book, according to Joel.
Joel’s singing aspirations
Can you believe it? Joel wants to be a singer. The lines here are pulled straight from the video game. But does Joel ever end up singing for Ellie? Perhaps you’ll have to play The Last of Us Part 2 for that.
Ellie and Joel explore the medical lab at the University of Eastern Colorado, and that’s where they see a bunch of escaped lab monkeys. They find ’em in the game, too, in the same scenarios. But the game explores that context a bit more through a voice recorder left by a Firefly. The guy in the recording reveals that the Firefly scientists were conducting testing on monkeys, and that a “batch” of them were “tainted” and needed to die. Instead, he lets them go, but one bites him and presumably infects him with the Cordyceps disease.
You don’t encounter any infected monkeys during The Last of Us, but the fear is always there. That’s terrifying.
Kids being kids
When Ellie meets Sam, it’s the first person close-ish to her age that she’s encountered in quite some time. Ellie and Sam’s relationship plays out similarly in the show and the video game, allowing the two kids to bond over actual kid stuff — puns, toys, comic books, and just playing together. A few moments stand out, but one that’s really touching is when Ellie and Sam start kicking around a soccer ball in the hideout they find. It’s a moment, in the show and the game, where they can forget about the reality of the world for a bit — something both Joel and Henry notice.
Soccer is also important because of its relationship to Joel’s daughter, Sarah. In her room, she had loads of soccer memorabilia; we know the game was important to her, and a reminder of her for Joel.
Ish, Danny, and the castle hideout
Inside the show’s hideout — the one with the soccer setup — there’s a drawing on the wall of two people, Ish and Danny, the protectors. The camera doesn’t linger on it for too long, and HBO’s The Last of Us doesn’t explain more than that brief look; it’s just a relic of the past group that lived here. But the game fleshes out that story through found items and notes around Pittsburgh. Joel finds letters from Ish on a washed-up boat in Pittsburgh before Ish met a family with kids. They traded supplies for a while before Ish moved into the sewers with them, setting up the safehouse seen in the show. The group is forced to leave when a door is accidentally left ajar and infected get in. Some escape, including Ish, but his fate is unknown.
All of this is told through the found items, down to the drawing of Ish and Danny, who kids saw as the protectors of the group.
Savage Starlight comic book and “endure and survive”
In The Last of Us game, Ellie collects comics. They’re hidden around the game as a collectible item, but they’re not there to read. The fifth episode of HBO’s The Last of Us is the first mention of them in the show, when Sam finds one in the safehouse, another thing for Ellie and Sam to bond over. The comic book is also where the phrase “endure and survive” comes from — a tenet Ellie seems to live by.
A minor detail, but episode 5 is the first in which we’ve noticed a backpack flashlight. It’s Henry’s, and very handy — no need to hold one! In the game, everyone’s got one of there, so they have their hands free to carry guns.
Henry and Joel parallels
Henry’s tragic story about becoming a FEDRA informer to save Sam, who has leukemia, mirrors Joel’s throughout the game — doing something bad to save the life of the person most important to him. Henry tells Joel in this episode that he became a FEDRA informer because he needed access to medicine to save Sam’s life, that there was no other way to get it. He made the sacrifice, giving up lots of innocent people, to save Sam. People familiar with the game will understand how this parallels Joel’s story, but I’ll keep it vague for those who don’t.
After the group escapes Kansas City, they end up trapped by sniper fire — a scene that plays out exactly in the show as it does in the game. In the game, you play as Joel as he sneaks up behind the sniper and takes over the gun; you use the sniper to protect Sam, Henry, and Ellie from incoming danger — including that massive “RUN” plow introduced last episode.
HBO’s The Last of Us shows its first bloater — the big infected guy — in the fifth episode. He’s gross and very strong, pulling himself up from the sinkhole of infected that just opened up under a fiery house. Once he gets his hands on a person, the end result is gruesome: He pulls apart Kathleen’s henchman Perry by the face, ripping open his jaw and skull.
The Last of Us players know this animation all too well. Each time you’re caught by a bloater, it plays this brutal death animation.
“Are you scared?”
After Sam is bitten, he and Ellie share a tender moment by themselves. Sam asks Ellie if she’s ever scared, and says that she never seems it. But she reveals that she’s always scared, all the time. (She jokes she’s scared of scorpions, too, just like in the game.) The only big difference here is how Ellie and Sam communicate. In the show, Sam is deaf (and played by deaf actor Keivonn Woodard), so they communicate via a write-and-erase toy that Sam keeps around.
The porn magazine
On the road, Ellie finds an old magazine in the back seat of Bill’s truck — and the scene plays out in HBO’s The Last of Us almost exactly like it does in the game. She’s looking through it and realizes it’s a porn magazine with a bunch of naked men. There are so many funny lines: “How does he even walk around with that thing?” “Why are these pages stuck together?” It’s especially fun to see Joel squirm at the questions, in both the show and the game, before Ellie reveals she’s just messing with him and tosses the magazine out the window.
Someone made an awesome side-by-side of the iconic car scene! pic.twitter.com/jRwQ2J1MJZ— Kalhan (@KalhanR) February 6, 2023
The only big difference is that when Ellie picks up the magazine in the game, she remarks that Bill will probably be missing the magazine that night. That doesn’t happen in the show, of course, because Bill died alongside Frank.
Hank Williams’ “Alone and Forsaken” was used in an early trailer for the show, but it’s also in the game, too, with another Williams song, “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive.” Ominous and foreboding names, am I right? “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive” is the first song on the cassette tape Ellie steals from Bill’s, and it starts just before Ellie pulls out the magazine; “Alone and Forsaken” comes on when they drive into Pittsburgh. The show removes “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive” in favor of going straight into “Alone and Forsaken,” which is also the name of the particular chapter in the game.
No Pun Intended: Volume Too
When Joel and Ellie are parked at the gas station siphoning gasoline from old cars, Ellie pulls out a pun book, No Pun Intended: Volume Too, by Will Livingston and starts reading some truly awful — and still good — jokes: “It doesn’t matter how much you push the envelope. It’ll still be stationary.” She brings it out a few times during the episode in some scenes that are clearly bonding moments for the two. It shows up a ton in the Pittsburgh chapter of the game, too, as Ellie will take the book out and read jokes at specific locations — almost like a collectible.
We know she got the book from her friend Riley in the Left Behind DLC, so it’s clearly a sentimental item. The books show up on a shelf in The Last of Us Part 2, too.
Pittsburgh or Kansas City?
Speaking of Pittsburgh, you’ve probably noticed that Joel and Ellie skipped right over the Pennsylvania city in the show. Instead, HBO’s The Last of Us takes the duo much farther west, into Kansas City, Missouri — a location not in the game. It’s probably to speed up the timeline, because Joel and Ellie have to get across the United States in just a few episodes. The show veers off course from the game a bit to explore the Hunters and their leader, Kathleen; in the game, they’re more of a generic bad guy group giving the player something to shoot at.
It’s also where Joel and Ellie meet Sam and Henry, two fan-favorite characters from the game, right before the episode ends.
Jeffrey Pierce, who voiced Joel’s brother Tommy in The Last of Us and The Last of Us Part 2, shows up for the first time in this episode, playing a rebel in Kathleen’s hunter group. The actor won a BAFTA for the video game role, and is lending his talents once again to the show as an original character that rolls alongside Melanie Lynskey’s Kathleen.
The forsaken “run” plow, attached to a military-style Humvee, has made it into the show, and all The Last of Us players are shuddering. It’s a notorious part of the Pittsburgh chapter, chasing the group around the city — truly hunting.
Is that a bloater?
When the Hunters are exploring some buildings looking for Sam and Henry (they don’t know Joel and Ellie are around yet), Kathleen and another Hunter stop to look at an apparent sinkhole that’s quivering, covered by a layer of concrete. It’s not clear what it is, but my best guess is something truly terrifying: a bloater. We see one crawling out of a fiery pit in one The Last of Us trailer... maybe it’s coming in episode 5.
Joel’s losing it
This one’s more of a reference to another part in the show, but I think it’s worth noting. At the end of the fourth episode, Joel and Ellie are joking around — again, with puns. Laughing hysterically, Joel makes a comment that he’s “losing it.”
It’s a reference back to the first episode with Tommy and Sarah. Around the breakfast table, the three are tossing quips around, and Tommy makes a jab at Joel, saying that he’s “losing it.” These both happen in moments of softness for Joel, and seem to point to how his relationship with Ellie mirrors his relationship with Sarah.
Ellie and Joel stop at a Cumberland Farms gas station after leaving Boston. This isn’t a reference to the video games, but as a New England gal, I need to appreciate a nod to “Cumby’s,” as we like to call it. This chain of gas stations is located mostly in New England — making it a staple in Massachusetts, where this episode is set.
Mortal Kombat 2
Mortal Kombat 2 is a classic arcade game from 1993, which means it came out around 10 years before the outbreak started in The Last of Us show. Ellie and Joel stumbled upon a Mortal Kombat 2 arcade game that’s, of course, not working. She explains to Joel that she’s got a friend who knows everything about the classic fighting game — probably a reference to Riley, who’s mentioned earlier in the show and stars in The Last of Us prequel Left Behind. Left Behind itself is largely set in a classic arcade inside an empty mall. And while the expansion didn’t. include a Mortal Kombat 2 reference, when it was included in The Last of Us Part 1, a poster for the game was added on one of the walls.
On their way to Bill’s, Ellie asks Joel how the infection started — it’s not something they taught kids at FEDRA school, where Ellie went as an orphan. It’s revealed in episode 2 that the Cordyceps outbreak began in Jakarta, Indonesia, likely in a flour and grain factory. This is the answer that Joel gives Ellie, that the virus got into the grain supply, noting that these factories provided flour for major companies that shipped worldwide — everyday stuff, down to pancake mix.
That ties back to the first episode of The Last of Us, when Sarah’s making breakfast for Joel on his birthday. Everyone thought Sarah was going to make pancakes, but she made eggs instead, likely sparing them from ingesting infected flour.
OK, Bill’s traps. We see them in action around Bill’s suburban compound, which makes up a few blocks of his neighborhood, shops and all. They’re intense, but work: We see them successfully holding off intruders, both people and infected. The traps are just as innovative in the game, but spread throughout a larger area and super deadly for players. The amount of times I stumbled through a trap I didn’t see... it’s a lot. Quickly, though, you learn that bricks and bottles are important in getting through the level, thrown at the tripwires to set them off and breeze right through.
“Long, Long Time”
Linda Ronstadt’s “Long, Long Time,” from the 1970s, is a key part of The Last of Us’ most beautiful show moments. It’s not a reference to the video game, but I’m calling it out because the song holds so much meaning to the episode as a whole — it’s also the name of the episode.
Ellie’s red shirt
When we first meet Ellie’s she’s wearing a baseball-style T-shirt with a jacket and a hoodie. But at Bill’s, she gets a shower and a change of clothes — the iconic red shirt. It’s a shirt that she wears through the majority of The Last of Us Part 1, with a worn out, faded palm tree motif on the front.
There’s a dirty, run-down giraffe stuffed animal under a car’s tire as Ellie, Joel, and Tess escape through Boston. Anyone who has played the game will know immediately what this references: an iconic, touching moment that comes late in the first game, likely one of the most talked-about scenes in the game.
Ellie can’t swim
When Ellie, Tess, and Joel enter the hotel in Boston, they’ve got to trudge through some cloudy water. It’s where show viewers learn that Ellie can’t swim — maybe not a huge deal in the show, but that fact is essential in making the games’ environmental puzzles work. Ellie can’t swim in the first game, either — so to cross water, the player has to solve environmental puzzles to get her through, usually by finding a hidden floating pallet.
Like the floating pallets, locked doors in the video game serve to set players up for environmental puzzles. You can’t go straight through the door, and instead have to find a new way around. It’s in the game so much that the show’s re-creation likely elicited a groan from those who’ve played it. I cannot overstate how many times I’ve seen the animation for Joel lifting Ellie over a wall or into a window to go unlock a door.
The Boston museum
The Last of Us Part 1’s Boston escape takes players through the Freedom Museum of Boston, and the show has a pretty dang good re-creation of it. It’s likely drawing inspiration from the real-life Bostonian Society Museum. The museum itself is inside a colonial or colonial-style home, and the quarters are quaint. There’s lots of busts of old men to knock over, and in the dark, it’s a creepy venue to lurk around — is that shadowed head a clicker or a statue? (Probably a statue, unless it’s clicking.)
Less a Last of Us Easter Egg, more a Naughty Dog one: Tess’ lighter in the second episode is a shoutout to Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.
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Characters in a TV show don’t need to heal themselves, but players of the game will be extremely familiar with the act of putting together health kits with found alcohol and rags. But there are nods to this in the show — Joel gives Ellie a rag to cover her bite wound, and he tapes up Tess’ hurt foot using duct tape, another essential resource in the game.
Tess doesn’t last long in The Last of Us Part 1, and that’s the same for the show — she lasts two episodes. But the way she goes is different from the game. In both instances, she’s been bitten and gets left behind to hold off an oncoming horde. In the game, she’s holding off humans that are coming after the group, keeping them busy enough to give Joel and Ellie a head start for escape. But in the show, it’s a group of infected that are coming their way; she stops them from going after Ellie and Joel by blowing the whole place up after getting kissed (???) by a zombie.
Episode 1 Easter eggs
Halican Drops is the name of the band on the T-shirt that Joel’s daughter Sarah (played by Nico Parker) is wearing at the beginning of the show — and the game. There’s no real significance for the band in the game, other than a few posters, but the back of the T-shirt does foreshadow how the game plays out: Each tour stop is another location that Ellie and Joel will visit throughout their journey.
Aside from Sarah’s T-shirt, there are Halican Drops stickers in windows, too — at least according to set pictures.
When Joel, Tommy, and Sarah are trying to escape Austin, Texas, during the chaos of the initial outbreak, the show’s directors make clever use of camera angles to make The Last of Us feel like the video game. It’s all in the third-person view, with the camera in the back seat. This is exactly how the game is shot from the truck — you’re still playing as Sarah at that point, and she’s in the back seat. Several of us noted instantly that it just feels like a video game during these shots, a trick that’s of much better use here than in other TV adaptations of games, like Halo, which tried the first-person view — including player UI.
Sarah waking up
Sarah wakes up in her bedroom in the middle of the night in both the game and the TV show, stumbling around sleepily in the dark to see what’s going on. Both scenes provide a little more context, but in different ways. In the video game, you control Sarah, and she’s looking through her house in the dark. You’re not on a set path, and you can pick up things in the house, which provide some clues — one item is a newspaper saying that admittance to local hospitals is up by more than 300%. In the video game, an infected person comes busting through the glass door, but Joel shoots him, before they run outside and Tommy shows up, right on time.
The Last of Us TV show has Sarah waking up, alone, because Joel went to bail Tommy out of jail. She ends up back at the neighbor’s house, bringing their scared dog home. That’s when she gets a very clear glimpse of what’s going on: The infected old lady is munching on her housemates. This scene sets up the horrors of the infected in a different way, giving some more context to show viewers what’s going on.
crying, screaming, throwing up pic.twitter.com/5layOU7F1A— Alexandria Neonakis (@Beavs) January 16, 2023
But there’s also a small, touching reference to the game’s waking up scene, featuring the birthday card Sarah got for Joel — it’s one of the things you can pick up and inspect during this scene from the game. The card itself is on Sarah’s desk in a shot from the show, spotted by former Naughty Dog developer Alexandria Neonakis, the person who designed the card in the game.
Tommy and Joel pull up to their neighbor’s house just as Sarah is getting attacked by the infected old lady, but thankfully Joel has a formidable weapon: a wrench. The heavy wrench looks to be of forearm’s length and probably quite handy while they’re escaping the city, but Joel drops it right away.
Why not save it for later use? Toss it into the back of the pickup truck and you don’t even have to hold it. Our best guess is that this is a nod to the video game — in The Last of Us Part 1 and The Last of Us Part 2, you get max three hits on your everyday melee weapons. They break all the time, and that’s by design. The Last of Us is a game about survival, and you have to scavenge for everything, including bullets and, yes, wrenches for hitting infected things.
Does Marlene in The Last of Us TV show sound familiar? That’s because the same actor plays both roles. Merle Dandridge plays Marlene in The Last of Us Part 1 and The Last of Us Part 2, taking the role on a third time for the HBO adaptation.
When you’re lost in the darkness
The full phrase, When you’re lost in the darkness, look to the light, appears several times in the show, and it’s plastered all over the games. The phrase is graffiti on walls throughout Boston (and likely elsewhere), a symbol and motto for the revolutionary group the Fireflies — the people who are fighting the oppressive military in the country’s quarantine zones. Marlene’s one of them, and an important one at that: She’s the leader of the Boston faction, and the person who puts Ellie in Joel and Tess’ care.
Curtis and the Viper 2
Curtis and the Viper 2 is the movie that Sarah picks up from the neighbor’s house in The Last of Us, pulled from a shelf alongside the likes of Pink Panther and Murderball. Unlike those two, Curtis and the Viper 2 isn’t a real movie, but it’s still an important one. People who have played The Last of Us Part 2 will remember it tearfully — it’s brought up in the second game as a cheesy ’80s movie, but one that was going to mean a lot to the two people watching it.
“The Long and Winding Road”
When Ellie and Joel are waiting for Tess to scout for the escape from the Boston quarantine zone, Ellie picks up the book of No. 1 music hits and flips through it. There’s one page marked off with a piece of paper — the radio code for Joel and Tess’ smuggling operation. The page it opens to is easy to miss, but may be a nod to the franchise — The Beatles’ “The Long and Winding Road.” This could be reference to the long, winding road that will take Ellie and Joel across the United States, or maybe the long and winding road it’s been since a The Last of Us movie adaptation was announced in 2014.
In the same scene where Joel and Ellie are discussing the radio code, Joel starts to question Ellie on her own life — why Marlene and the Fireflies are going through so much trouble to smuggle her out of Boston. No one knows yet of Ellie’s true condition — that she’s immune — and she’s sworn to keep it a secret. Joel asks if Ellie is a “bigwig’s daughter” or something, and Ellie responds that it’s “something like that.” These few lines are pulled straight from the game, but in those scenes it’s Tess talking to Ellie when they’re escaping the zone.
There are also other instances of dialogue straight from the show, like when Sarah tells Joel she got the money for his birthday present — the fixed watch — by selling “hardcore drugs.”
Escaping the quarantine zone
Ellie, Joel, and Tess’ escape from the Boston quarantine zone has a few shots that are heavy references to the game — the overgrown world is dark and gnarled up with cars and buses to crawl under and through. But there’s one scene in particular that stood out for its similarities to an iconic level in The Last of Us Part 1: Chapter 3, “The Outskirts.” Crawling through tunnels and debris, the trio has to dodge spotlights and flashlights from the military guarding the quarantine zone wall — spots in the game where it’s essential to play the game as stealthily as possible. Visually, the show does a clever job of mimicking that feeling.