Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers for The Last of Us Episode 1.With the first episode of HBO’s adaptation of the popular video game franchise The Last of Us finally released, the inevitable comparisons to the source material from both fans and critics alike are no doubt already swirling around on the internet. While some of the changes in the premiere were more overt, there are a handful that many can point to as thoughtful expansions on the already great narrative.

This namely comes in the form of the new additional scenes like the flashback to 1968 where a talk show interview with a pair of epidemiologists sees one of them expressing his opinions on the possibility of a cordyceps infection. Another includes the expanded scenes with Sarah (Nico Parker). However, there’s one particular addition that makes the already excellent opening of the game and its adaptation even more effective than it already was.


The Last of Us Expands Pedro Pascal’s Joel with One of the Most Important Scenes

Nico Parker and Pedro Pascal in The Last of Us
Image via HBO

The scene in question that gets so much attention, and is expanded upon in unexpected ways in the show, is of course Sarah’s death. Co-creators of the series, Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann, stick pretty much exactly to the source material when it comes to this particular scene, as perhaps the old adage of “you don’t mess with perfection” comes into play. Where the adaptation does deviate is instead related to how it connects to the final scene of the premiere. That scene puts the audience in a familiar place that those who have played the game would also immediately recognize, while simultaneously turning it on its head.

During that scene, we see Joel (Pedro Pascal), Tess (Anna Torv), and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) being tested for the cordyceps virus. After Ellie’s result comes up positive, Joel tries to talk down the FEDRA soldier, as he stands between him and Ellie. It’s a truly stark comparison to the heart-wrenching scene when Joel loses his daughter. Most importantly is that this comparison can’t be drawn when talking about the original game, as there’s never really meant to be a line that could be drawn between that moment and Sarah’s death. In the game, while Joel does end up killing a FEDRA soldier, there’s really not much to it in regard to emotional impact. We see him wrestle one of them to the ground for his gun, while Tess shoots the other one.

One of the more important additions is the connection that’s drawn between the FEDRA soldier that points the gun at Ellie and the one that ends up shooting Sarah. The clear visual connection that parallels the opening of the game where we see the soldier get his orders to kill and the soldier finding out Ellie’s infection status is one of the strongest points in the show. Even more impressive is that this entire emotional beat is absent from the game. The fact that it included a quick flash to the earlier event might not have been that necessary, but it gets the point across well enough. However, it still works overall due in large part because of the implication based on the change in Joel’s facial expressions.

The Last of Us Premiere Creates a Faster and Clearer Connection Between Joel and Ellie

Pedro Pascal as Joel Miller, Anna Torv as Tess, and Bella Ramsey as Ellie in Episode 1 of The Last of Us
Image via HBO

In the opening scene before the time jump, we see Mazin and Druckman’s heavy reliance on Parker’s portrayal of Sarah and her importance to Pascal’s Joel. With the inclusion of the quick flash to Sarah dying in Joel’s arms as he instinctively protects Ellie, the line is drawn in regard to the relationship between Joel and Ellie. This is now a relationship that is already somewhat clear for those who haven’t even played the game. This is a much different picture than what was painted in the game. It’s one of the best changes (or additions, if you’d rather) in the entire episode, as it clearly sets up the past life of Joel and where he’ll be heading in the future as to how it relates to Ellie. Not only does it map out the future, but it also makes the already superb opening, which many consider the best ever made in the gaming medium, even more effective.

This clearly gives audiences the immediate reaction that the relationship between Joel and Ellie is probably not going to just be that of a smuggler and his “cargo”, especially for Joel in how it relates to Sarah. This will no doubt be expanded on in later episodes, but it’s fascinating to see Mazin and Druckmann move this up in the series in comparison to the game, which sees it organically unfold over the course of your time playing. This could be because much of the game’s mood and the setting are created through some of the medium’s best environmental storytelling, as well as the in-game dialogue between Ellie and Joel that appears outside of cutscenes.

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The Expansion of Character Roles in The Last of Us Premiere Makes for an Even Tenser Situation

Pedro Pascal in The Last of Us Episode 1
Image via HBO

Another fascinating expansion of the original source material was the alteration of the FEDRA soldier that Joel sells drugs to earlier in the episode. Rather than have two soldiers catch our trio like in the original game, this was instead streamlined into one person. More importantly, the player had no connection to those characters in the game. Instead, the adaptation takes a familiar face that audiences get to know briefly from earlier in the episode, as the show ends up putting him directly in our main trio’s path, creating an even tenser situation than if it was some soldier that we hadn’t even known.

This makes the scene even more intense, as we see Joel try and calm him down and barter with him in hopes of him letting them go. More importantly, it puts a familiar face in a dire situation, as we see that even though it’s clear that Joel knows this man after several encounters, his anger based on the obvious parallels of his daughter’s death means that he might as well be just another faceless soldier. The sheer rage that comes through when he’s beating the man down comes from the fact that he wasn’t able to save his daughter. It’s a heartbreaking scene that makes the already emotional opening sequence even more effective; a tall task that didn’t seem possible when the show was originally announced.

Though a number of the direct consequences of these changes can be seen immediately, it’s Mazin and Druckmann’s alteration of this particular scene that could end up making a significant impact on how the rest of the show plays out. It’s been known, as it has been said in many interviews by primarily Mazin and Druckmann, that the show will expand and alter the story in certain ways, and it’s clear from this scene alone that those changes are also going to be happening early on between Joel and Ellie. It’s a change that, when all is said in done, makes an already tense scene even more so due to the implications for the characters involved and their overall well-being. Rather than it being an overtly sentimental adjustment for the worse, it’s one that significantly bolsters both the original and its recreation.

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