major differences between The Last of Us HBO and the game

Every Major Difference Between The Last of Us Show & Game

Same same, but different.

HBO’s The Last of Us series has enjoyed acclaim from critics and fans alike for its faithful adaptation of the beloved 2013 game. Unlike so many video game adaptations that have come before it, the narrative arcs, character dialogs, and cinematography that binds everything together are very similar to the source material. But not everything is the same. HBO’s showrunners have so far done a great job both changing up some original scenes in compelling ways and adding exciting new ones. Here, we’re going to wrap up some of the major differences between The Last of Us 2013 game and the 2023 show now that season one has concluded.

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Episode 1: When You’re Lost in the Darkness

Major differences between episode 1 of HBO's TLOU adaptation and the game
Image source: HBO

Cordyceps: Origin, Contagion, Clickers – In the show, the origin of the Cordyceps infection is seen to have been speculated and doom mongered by 1960s doctors, whereas in the games it appears out of nowhere. Later in the episode, we come to understand that the infection is spread via tendrils and bites from both Clickers and Runners, but in the games, the infection is spread by spores that hang in the air.

Bill and Frank – In Episode 1, we learn that Bill and Frank are in radio contact with Joel and Tess, whereas in the games we only run into Bill whilst exploring Lincoln. Of course, Frank has already died after having left Bill due to their relationship souring.

The twenty-year time jump – A major difference between The Last of Us game and the HBO adaptation is the different years in which the two are set. While the game takes place in 2013, the show’s current timeline is actually 2023. There is a whopping 20-year time hop from the early events of Episode 1 with Joel and Sarah to those in the QZ when we meet Tess.

Episode 2: Infected

These are the differences between TLOU episode 2 and the game
Image source: HBO

Indonesian Doctor Scene – The prequel scene we see in Episode 2 of The Last of Us isn’t in the games. There is no reference to an Indonesian Doctor who advises the authorities to firebomb the cities as a last resort to stop the spread of infection; this is entirely made up.

Ellie Gets Bit in Boston  In both the game and show, Joel, Tess, and Ellie make their way through the Bostonian Museum, where they encounter Clickers for the first time. The biggest addition to this sequence in the show is that Ellie gets bit during the attack – this only further confirms her Cordyceps immunity to Joel and Tess as she shows no signs of infection throughout the episode.

Tess Suicide & Dying Request – Tess dies after sacrificing herself to slow down a horde of running infected, which follows her revealing that she had been bitten earlier by the clicker the trio had encountered. This is very different from the game in which Tess actually dies after being shot by FEDRA. Furthermore, in the show, Tess makes a dying request to Joel that he protects Ellie and then suggests he delivers her to Bill and Frank so he can continue his search for Tommy. Of course, in the games, Tommy isn’t even missing and so it is suggested that Tommy helps Joel instead.

Episode 3: Long Long Time

Episode 3 of HBO's The Last of Us is very different from the game
Image source: HBO

While Bill does appear in The Last of Us game, and Frank is referred to via a readable letter, their role in the narrative and their respective backstories have been changed for HBO’s adaptation. As a result, every single scene in Episode 3 is completely different from anything we see when playing the game.

ln the games, Joel and Ellie come across Bill and his safehouse when navigating their way through the town of Lincoln. It is there where players learn that Frank has left after a disagreement with Bill and ultimately either killed himself or run into trouble soon after. Joel and Ellie eventually leave Bill, who survives to grieve the loss of his friend/partner (the nature of their relationship is not explicitly confirmed but alluded to as romantic).

In HBO’s adaptation, however, Bill and Frank obviously meet after Bill has been surviving solo for many years. They quickly develop a romantic relationship and live for many years together, during which time they meet Joel and Tessa and become friends and trading partners. Frank and Bill ultimately end up committing suicide together after Frank falls terminally ill, something discovered by Joel and Ellie after they visit in the hopes of securing safe passage to the Fireflies.

Episode 4: Please Hold My Hand

Kathleen is a new character in HBO's TLOU adaptation not featured in the game
Image source: HBO

Episode 4 of HBO’s adaptation is also quite different from the original source material. While Joel and Ellie do encounter a large city in the games, it’s not actually Kansas and their time there is nowhere near as eventful. As a result, there are one or two new characters introduced in the show that aren’t in the games.

Kansas, not Pittsburgh – Ellie and Joel shortcut through Kansas City in the show, while in the games it’s actually Pittsburgh.

Kathleen and other bandits – Kathleen, the bandit leader who has overthrown the local FEDRA and now commands a large group, is on the hunt for Henry and his brother. After Joel and Ellie kill two of their number, the group is convinced that the foursome is working together.

Underground disturbances HBO’s show introduces a new theme in the burrowing infected, who were driven underground by FEDRA many years back and now seem to be attempting to claw their way back up to the city streets.

Ellie helps to kill a bandit – Ellie’s first kill differs in the show from the original source material. While in the games she kills a man who is trying to drown Joel, the show sees her shoot the bandit in Kansas who is trying to suffocate him. Technically, of course, she doesn’t deal the final blow, but she does effectively doom him all the same.

Tommy’s role in the story – As is the case with several characters in the show, Tommy has a much deeper backstory in HBO’s adaptation by comparison to the games. We learn all about his troubled past in the show, and his relationship with Joel is stronger.

Episode 5: Endure & Survive

Sam and Henry feature in both HBO's TLOU and the game
Image source: HBO

Sam’s backstory – In the games, Sam isn’t deaf as he is in HBO’s adaptation, which definitely makes him seem much more vulnerable. Henry plays almost a father role to his brother, whom he must protect for obvious reasons. In fact, another key difference between the games and the show in Episode 5 is that we learn Kathleen is chasing the two brothers because Henry sold intelligence about Kathleen’s own brother in exchange for medicine for Sam.

Showdown with bandits In the show, the bandits are obviously under the command of Kathleen, which they aren’t in the game. Also, the final escape scene plays out in a motel whereas in the game it is a tower.

Sam’s infection – Sam is actually infected in both the game and the show, but in the show, Ellie attempts to heal him by wiping his bite wound with her blood, which she mistakenly believes is a medicine.

Episode 6: Kin

There are major differences between scenes in Episode 6 of TLOU and the game
Image source: HBO

Elderly couple – Ellie and Joel meet an elderly couple in a rural cabin, who are initially hostile before realizing the pair pose no danger. The couple explains to them that the west of the river is highly dangerous for all the dead bodies and infected they’ve found by the river, alluding to some sort of bandit gang. This turns out to be Tommy and co.

Tommy and Joel reunion – Unlike in the games, Tommy and Joel’s reunion isn’t interrupted by a firefight and instead takes place in the town.

Tommy, Maria, and the baby – Tommy has a wife called Maria who is pregnant in the show, but this isn’t covered in the games.

Ellie and Joel argument – Just as in the games, Joel asks Tommy to take Ellie to the Fireflies, but unlike in the game she doesn’t run to a nearby abandoned ranch after overhearing the conversation. Instead, she simply confronts Joel in a room, where the pair argue as Ellie explains she would only be frightened without him.

Shimmer the horse – Shimmer exists in the games, but not until the TLOU Part 2, whereas in the show the horse is owned by Tommy and the pair ride him toward Colorado.

Joel’s wound – Joel is injured in both the show and the games, but the nature of the injury is slightly different. Rather than falling from a balcony and being impaled by broken glass, Joel is stabbed by a bandit.

Episode 7 – Left Behind

The Last of Us Left Behind DLC is the subject for Episode 7
Image source: HBO

Episode 7 takes a break from the main story of the show and instead focuses on a narrative arc that is actually part of DLC content for the original game (also named Left Behind). In any case, both are flashbacks that showcase Ellie’s past with her close friend Riley, but the show provides much more detail.

Ellie’s backstory – In HBO’s show, Ellie’s backstory is given further context as we learn more about her life in the military academy. Ellie is shown getting into a fight with another student who bullies her, and as a result, is disciplined by a FEDRA commander who convinces her that toeing the line and becoming an officer should be her priority.

Riley’s backstory – Riley, we learn, was a former FEDRA officer in training but actually left because she discovered that was that she was destined to be put on sewage detail. She also explains that Marlene came into contact with her after running away and recruited her for the Fireflies. None of this is mentioned in the game.

The Arcade – In the game, the pair play an arcade title called The Turning, and due to having no electricity must imagine the game the pair play in the arcade is Mortal Kombat II. It’s one of the cooler differences between the show in episode 7 and the The Last of Us: Left Behind game DLC. This arcade game is powered up and working, whereas in the DLC Riley asks Ellie to imagine it.

The infected strike – The pair are attacked by a single infected, whereas in the game there’s a whole group of infected that bear down on them.

Episode 8 – When We Are in Need

David is a preacher in Episode 8, but he isn't the The Last of Us game
Image source: HBO

Ellie & the Bunny – The bunny lives! Unlike in the game, the bunny lives as Ellie gets distracted hunting a dear, which eventually leads her to David and James. Also unlike in the game, Ellie uses a rifle and not a bow.

David the Preacher – The opening of Episode 8 gives us a deeper look at David and his community. In the show, the leader is a preacher who uses the gospel to compel his followers, which isn’t something featured in the game. We also get to see much more of David’s community, generally, many of whom seem afraid of him (for good reason).

James – James is given much more screen time in the HBO show. He acts as David’s righthand man, and enjoys a bit more character development than what is seen in the game. He likely has a more fleshed-out role given that he is played by Troy Baker, the voice and actor who portrays Joel in the game.

No boss fights – There are no infected in this episode of The Last of Us, which is very different from the game in which Ellie and David battle waves of infected as part of a boss encounter that also involves a Bloater.

Ellie/David fight – Just as in the game, Ellie battles David after a fire breaks out. The fire is caused by Ellie in the show, whereas in the game it’s an accident. In any case, the pair end up fighting in a scene that is very similar to how it is depicted in the game. David’s death is far more brutal though as Ellie isn’t stopped by Joel midway through killing him.

Episode 9 – Look for the Light

The finale of HBO's The Last of Us has some differences from the game
Image source: HBO

Ellie’s mother, Anna – In the game, Ellie’s mother is only alluded to, whereas in the show we actually meet her for the first time and learn a little about her backstory; specifically, that she was bitten during the birth of Ellie. This is perhaps a clue as to how Ellie is immune to the effects of the Cordyceps fungus. We also see Anna die after she instructs Marlene to kill her, none of which happens in the game. Anna is played by Laura Bailey, the voice and actress who portrays Ellie in the game.

Joel’s scar – The show sees Joel tell a story about the origins of a scar he has on his head, which he explains was the result of an attempted suicide after struggling to come to terms with the death of his daughter. This is not part of the original source material.

No Joel & Sarah picture – In the game, Tommy tries to give Joel a picture of himself and his daughter, Sarah, which Joel refuses. Ellie takes this picture, and she later admits to Joel she has it. Joel is finally seen to accept his daughter’s death. None of this is featured in Episode 9.

No underground scene – In the game, Joel and Ellie are forced to navigate a flooded underground passage full of broken-down vehicles, which doesn’t appear in the show.

Fireflies – In the game, Joel and Ellie come across the Fireflies in a struggle, whereas in the show they’re actually snuck up on and attacked by them.

That wraps up our summary of the major differences between The Last of Us HBO and the game. If you’re curious to read what we think should be changed ahead of Season 2 then check out our feature on the subject here.

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Alex Gibson
Alex was a Senior Editor at Twinfinite and worked on the site between January 2017 and March 2023. He covered the ins and outs of Valorant extensively, and frequently provided expert insight into the esports scene and wider video games industry. He was a self-proclaimed history & meteorological expert, and knew about games too. Playing Games Since: 1991, Favorite Genres: RPG, Action