The Last of Us TV show changes: how episode 3 changes the video game - HBO show differences explained

HBO series has made a huge change to the way the zombie infection works

HBO’s The Last of Us has proved to be the early runaway success of 2023.

The premiere episode has been watched by more than 22 milion people in the US alone. It was the second biggest debut on the channel in 13 years behind only Game of Thrones spin-off House of the Dragon.

Hollywood had attempted to turn the best-selling and critically acclaimed video game into a movie since its debut in 2013. However the film versions never materialised, with series creator Neil Druckmann describing how executives wanted to make it “sexier” and more like the Brad Pitt film World War Z.

HBO’s anticipated TV adaptation looks set to be far more faithful to the source material, with Druckmann being brought in as co-showrunner, actors from the games returning and even bringing in the same composer to work on the score for the series. But just like any adaptation there will be a number of changes for eagle-eyed fans to spot.

Here is all you need to know about the major changes to The Last of Us for the TV show:

How Episode 3 differs from the game

The third episode of HBO’s The Last of Us is called ‘Long, Long Time’. It adapts the Bill’s Town section of the game.

Druckmann has mentioned that the episode makes changes to this section and it may upset a few fans. It is set to be the biggest departure from the source material so far.

In the PlayStation game, Bill is a character that Joel and Ellie visit - looking to get their hands on a car to help them on their journey out west. He lives alone in a town full of traps, which Joel triggers and draws his attention.

Players can find notes and letters around the level from a character called Frank, which hints at the pair’s relationship as being more than just ‘partners’. Before finishing the section, players discover Frank’s body, revealing he had committed suicide.

In the game, it is also revealed that Tess mainly dealt with Bill and Joel didn’t have much of a relationship previously. But in the HBO series, Murray Bartlett has been cast as Frank and the clips released so far reveal that he will play a much larger role in the episode than he did in the source material.

The promo images also appear to suggest that Joel and Tess will feature in flashbacks - the game never dived into the period of time between Sarah’s death and the start of the story.

Naughty Dog’s game also introduced Bloaters in the Bill’s Town section.

Nick Offerman as Bill and Murray Bartlett as Frank in The Last of Us, reading sheet music at a piano (Credit: HBO)

How Tess died

The HBO series made a change to the way Tess died. The adaption follows the same beats up until the point when Joel, Tess and Ellie reach the Boston state house.

However in the game, the group are surprised by the arrival of FEDRA. Tess is gunned down while trying to distract the troops as Joel and Ellie make their escape.

In the TV series, Tess reveals she was bit but instead of being killed by FEDRA, she sacrifices herself in an explosion while trying to prevent a hoard of infected from catching Joel and Ellie.

No spores in the show

Craig Mazin, the creator of the Chernobyl show and co-showrunner on The Last of Us, confirmed in a recent round of interviews that the show would not feature spore scenes. In the video game series, the fungal infection can be spread by spores, meaning when entering areas heavy with infected, characters have to put gas masks on to prevent infection.

But for the show this has been removed, instead replaced by tendrils that act like a hive mind for the infected if disrupted, Eurogamer reported. Craig explained: “In the world that we’re creating [with the show], if we put spores in the air, it would be pretty clear that they would spread around everywhere and everybody would have to wear a mask all the time and probably everybody would be completely infected by that point.

“So, we challenged ourselves to come up with an interesting new way for the fungus to spread but mostly I think we just connected with the soul and spirit of the game.”

Pedro Pascal as Joel and Anna Torv as Tess in The Last of Us (Credit: HBO)

Time the show is set

In the Last of Us game, Outbreak Day (as it is refered to) happened in 2013 and the majority of the story took place 20 years later in 2033. However for the HBO series, it was changed to the pandemic starting in 2003 and then jumps to 2023.

Expanded prologue

The Last of Us game begins with players taking control of Sarah, Joel’s daughter, on the night that the outbreak happens in earnest. For the show, this sequence has been slightly extended and lasts for around 30 minutes in the premiere, with more time spent with the characters before the world falls apart.

Show scales back the violence

The Last of Us game is known for its tense gameplay, involving stealth and bursts of all out action. Players have to manage resources to make sure they can succesfully navigate the action when it inveitably hit the fan.

However, in the process of adapting the series for TV Neil Druckmann said that they have scaled back the violence leaving only the “essential”. It is a change that makes sense, video games are an interactive medium and need to keep players engaged with the moment to moment gameplay loop.

In an interview with Games Rader, Neil explained: “We need a certain amount of action, or violence (in the game), that we could use for mechanics so you could connect with Joel and get into a flow state. Then you would really feel like you’re connected with this on-screen avatar and you’re seeing the world through his eyes.

“But that doesn’t exist in a passive medium. One of the things that I loved hearing from [co-creator Craig Mazin] and HBO very early on was, ‘Let’s take out all the violence except for the very essential.’ That allowed the violence to have even more impact than in the game, because when you hold on showing the threat and you’re seeing people’s reaction to a threat, that makes it scarier.

“And when we do reveal the infected and the Clickers, you get to see what brought down humanity and why everyone is so scared.”

Expanded scenes for side characters

The Last of Us games, both the original and Part II, keep a close focus on the main playable characters. In adapting the series for the small screen it has given

For example, the third episode focuses on Bill, played by Nick Offerman, and his partner Frank, Murray Bartlett - in the game the latter appears as just a corpse with the wider story between the two only hinted at in collectable notes found around the Bill’s Town level.

New characters and settings

The series has introduced new characters not featured in the original game, as well as shifting the location of one setting to Kansas City instead of Pittsburgh. Melanie Lynskey plays Kathleen, a character invented for the show, who is the leader of the Hunters, who were the human foes Joel and Ellie tangled with in Pittsburgh in the game.

Troy Baker, who voice Joel in The Last of Us and The Last of Us: Part II, will be playing a new original character in the show,

Ellie’s mum features in the show

Ashley Johnson, who voiced and provided the motion capture for Ellie in the video games, will play the role of Anna, Ellie’s mother. She is a character only referenced and hinted at in the games, it will be the first time fans will actually meet Anna.