Content Warning: The following article contains spoilers for the Naughty Dog game and HBO adaptation, The Last of Us.It’s been a decade since Naughty Dog released The Last of Us, a post-apocalyptic survival game that garnered two sequels and a cult following. After two scrapped film adaptations, HBO Max did what no one else could for megafans of the video games: turned it into a series.
Expected to play out similarly to the already-cinematic style of the video games, fans have eagerly awaited the series premiere and all of the nods to the video game that was to be expected. From word-for-word quotes to the memorable score to the significance of Sarah’s shirt, the first episode of The Last of Us was infected with Easter eggs.
It’s a small but important moment in the first game not long before the zombie outbreak when Joel’s daughter Sarah gives him a birthday gift, having gotten his broken watch repaired. The watch’s significance lingers throughout the game when Joel is seen still wearing it decades later despite it being broken.
While the video game only speaks of Sarah getting Joel’s watch repaired, the already-incredible video game adaptation delves into the entire experience, from Sarah sneaking into her father’s room to take the watch and some cash to her popping into the shop to get it repaired when one of the workers decides it’s not safe to keep the shop open as the outbreak begins.
Sarah may have a short-lived role in both the video game and the series, but her character remains crucial for the development of Joel and Ellie. Sarah’s existence kept Joel going in the 90s (or the early 2000s, per the show), and her death destroys him.
While the show changed up some details of Sarah – including her race, hair color and age – it kept one specific detail the same that only fans of the games could notice: her t-shirt. Sarah wears the very same light purple tour t-shirt featuring the fictional band Halican Drops that the character does in the game.
The Video Game-Style Car Ride
The Last of Us has always been known for its impressive cinematic take on a video game, showcasing scenes that looked like they were right out of a movie in between gameplay. But now that it’s officially hit everybody’s screens, it’s time for the series to look like a video game.
The most video game-style scenes happened in the first episode when Tommy is driving out of town in his truck, with Joel in the passenger seat and Sarah in the back. In the game, players drive the truck and must get the characters as far out of town as they can get. In the series, the backseat filming and shaky camerawork as Tommy drives make it look like the viewers are back to playing their favorite game.
20 Years Later
A shocker for first-time players of the game was the initial time jump immediately after Sarah’s death. After Sarah dies in Joel’s arms, the opening credits roll and then the next scene opens 20 years in the future to Joel with some grayer hairs.
Because the game came out in 2013, the outbreak happened that same year and the game skips ahead 20 years to 2033. But in order to make the series take place in its premiere year of 2023 and stay true to the game by jumping ahead 20 years, the show made the outbreak happen 10 years earlier in 2003.
The series has made it no secret that the original voice actors of Ellie and Joel, Ashley Johnson and Troy Baker, would be featured in the show in undisclosed roles. But it was an added surprise when fans learned that another familiar voice would be appearing in the show.
Merle Dandridge plays Marlene, the commander of the Fireflies who appears as Ellie’s friend until she’s found out to be the story’s antagonist. Dandridge is no stranger to the role of Marlene, as she voiced the character in the video games.
Between casting Pedro Pascal as Joel and Bella Ramsey as Ellie, The Last of Us has done a notable job of bringing the video game characters to life, with Pascal and Ramsey both acting, sounding and looking much like the main characters.
Another way life has imitated art in this series is with the wardrobe. The pink-colored hoodie beneath the backpack straps Ramsey wears as Ellie is almost identical to the color t-shirt the video game character wears over a black long-sleeved shirt throughout the game, and is the character’s most identifiable outfit.
Look For The Light
The Last of Us gave players a memorable mantra that was originally used by the Fireflies, stating, “When you’re lost in the darkness, look for the light.” It’s first said in the game during the opening credits when snippets from news broadcasts are being played, talking about the outbreak and later the Fireflies. The last few lines are said by Marlene, who says this mantra before stating, “Believe in the Fireflies.”
The mantra is first seen and not heard in the series premiere when Joel sells drugs to a guard in the alley and looks up at the words spray-painted above him on a building. The mantra typically goes hand-in-hand with the Fireflies’ logo and is seen several times throughout the first episode.
Curtis And Viper 2
The beginning of the show found a way to change things up while also sticking directly to the scenes in the game, introducing viewers to Sarah, Joel and Tommy by talking about Joel’s birthday and following Sarah as she got her father a present.
The show mimicked the game almost word-for-word once Sarah gave Joel his birthday present, then switched things up by using another notable Easter egg from the games. Sarah hands her dad a DVD of a fictional film called Curtis and Viper 2, which Ellie mentions being Joel’s favorite, cheesy, 80s movie in The Last of Us II.
The Last of Us was always known for its eerie guitar strings, a score similar to one of the early seasons of The Walking Dead that uses acoustic guitar sounds to make the listeners feel uneasy as the apocalypse begins or jolt from their seats when a zombie launches into a jumpscare.
The memorable score was written by musician Gustavo Santaolalla, who returned to compose for the series in order to stay true to the game’s origins. Only fans of the games could recognize the specific guitar twangs played throughout the series premiere, adding to the overall ambiance of the adaptation.
It’s typical for series or movie adaptations to not stick to the script of the video games or books they’re based on, but The Last of Us surprised fans of the games by throwing in direct quotes from specific scenes.
Several lines are taken straight from the video game, including Ellie’s, “Your watch is broken,” as she walks by Joel, and Sarah’s, “I sell hardcore drugs,” when Joel wonders where his daughter got the money to pay for his watch. Another notable exchange pulled straight from the game happens when Joel asks Ellie if she’s “a bigwig’s daughter or something,” and Ellie responds with, “Something like that.”