February 26, 2024

Editor’s Note: Contains spoilers for The Last of Us Season 1 and spoilers for The Last of Us Part II.


One of the biggest challenges of any video game adaptation is the difficulty of adapting actual gameplay. While story beats can be translated easily enough, the best games rely on user input to tell their stories in a way that might be difficult to replicate in a more linear medium. The last of us manages to sidestep this issue by focusing on the story told in the cutscenes that play out during gameplay, largely ignoring the long fights, looting, and sneaking that take up most of the original game’s runtime. This worked for most of the show, but in the season finale “Look for the Light,” the cracks are starting to show. By reducing the story to the bare minimum, it weakened the impact of the show’s climax and final moments.

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‘The Last of Us’ Season 1 Finale Cut Gameplay Sequence

Pedro Pascal as Joel in episode 9 of the last of us
Image via HBO

For those unfamiliar with the source material, the final mission The last of us the game is very similar to “Look for the Light”. When he realizes that the fireflies are planning to kill Ellie (Ashley Johnson in the game Bella Ramsey show) looking for a cure, Joel (Troy Baker in the game Peter Pascal show) makes a killer run through the hospital, kills the Doctor (Darren Dolynski) about to have Ellie’s surgery, and runs off to the car garage to fight Marlene (Merle Dandridge). But the show was cut short after a short segment where you play as Joel leaving the operating room and running to the elevator. In this section, you can’t fight the fireflies chasing you, just run until you reach the safety of the elevator.

Chase is important to ‘The Last of Us’ narrative

Joel, played by Pedro Pascal, carrying Ellie, played by Bella Ramsey, in her hospital gown from The Last of Us Episode 9
Image via HBO

In the show, this bit is completely gone. The camera cuts straight from Joel lifting Ellie off the operating table to taking her into the elevator. At first glance, it doesn’t seem like you’re missing anything, but it creates some problems. In the show, there is no urgency for Joel to escape, as no one is still alive in the hospital apart from the two nurses he didn’t shoot. It relieves him of the tension with Marlene, when we don’t know if he should hurry before his pursuers catch him.

It also has the potential to influence audience response when the show is shaping the story The last of us, II (Those who want to avoid spoilers for future seasons will want to skip this paragraph). By not showing the other Fireflies chasing Joel, it appears that he has killed them all. Joel’s carnage was presented impressionistically in the show, focusing on the emotional tragedy rather than the actual events taking place. So when Abby and her former Firefly friends show up in Season 2 and beyond, they may feel more out of place than a natural extension of the story being told.

But the most important thing is the emotional hits of the scene. During the chase through Joel’s hospital, Joel bails on an unconscious Ellie. “Come on girl,” he tells her, “I’ll get you out of here.” The sequence is the last time you play as Joel, and it’s mechanically the same as the first: he’s carrying his daughter Sarah (Hannah Hayes in the game Nico Parker in the show) through the chaos of the day of the apparition. In the show, he is silent as he carries Ellie outside, soothingly soothing the unconscious body cradled in his arms. Although dialogue is not always necessary to convey emotion, the chaotic escape through the hospital is directly intended to return to the beginning of the story. It’s a solid part of the connective tissue that connects Ellie and Sarah without being too on the nose. Without that bit, the show turns to some ham-fisted dialogue where Joel directly compares the two girls in the final moments of the show. It works, but it’s not as elegant and impactful.

Cutting the game makes the ending of ‘The Last of Us’ less believable

Joel, played by Pedro Pascal, stares menacingly at Marlene, played by Merle Dandridge, on the floor in The Last of Us season 1 finale.
Image via HBO

While the lack of chases is problematic, it wasn’t the only way gameplay cuts affected 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, so when he single-handedly shoots dozens of Fireflies in the hospital, he’s believable. But in the show, much of that violence is gone, cut to the rest of the gameplay. While this makes the instances of violence that persist feel shocking and visceral, it has some unintended consequences. The show often undercuts his fights, making Joel feel less unstoppable than in the game. Thematically, it works very well. But Joel’s sudden tactical prowess in “Look for the Light” feels like a lot longer, after a single slayer nearly kills him at the end of episode 6, “Kin.”

While Tess (Anna Torv) makes it very clear in the first episodes that Joel can do a lot of damage, the violent tone makes this less noticeable. His comments, as well as Tommy’s (Gabriel Luna) about what she and Joel did in the early days of the show, it’s about things that happened in the past, not on screen. Most of what we see Joel do throughout the show isn’t all that impressive. PHEDRA kills lone guards, sneaks up on raiders, or wins a shootout against a handful of enemies. His hospital massacre goes beyond that, pitting dozens against armed fireflies. The lack of violence thus far makes it a lot tougher, sure, but also a little less easy to believe if you’re not willing to suspend your disbelief.

None of this is a big problem for the show. The ending was always going to be one of the hardest moments to adjust to, and it does an incredible job capturing the moments that did. The last of us such an impressive game. But as the show prepares to adapt a much longer and much more complex story II. the part, it’s worth following carefully what the gameplay is doing in the story. While it’s okay to cut a lot of gameplay, not all of it should be.

All episodes of The last of us are currently available on HBO Max.

Find out everything we know so far about Season 2 The last of usincluding how much it will connect The last of us: II. the part.

Read more about ‘The Last of Us’

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