A very different kind of apocalypse. The Last of Us follows a group of survivors after a pandemic wipes out most of humanity, but it’s not a virus that causes the catastrophe — it’s a fungus.
The culprit is cordyceps, a real fungus that in the show has evolved to infect humans, who become zombie-like after exposure. While minor characters come and go, the series focuses mainly on Joel (Pedro Pascal), a middle-aged survivor who is charged with protecting Ellie (Bella Ramsey), a teen girl who is seemingly immune to cordyceps.
The sci-fi drama is based on the 2013 video game of the same name, which was written by Neil Druckmann. The Naughty Dog co-president is also a creator and executive producer of the HBO series, so he’s well-placed to ensure the show maintains the spirit of the game while also deviating where necessary.
One of the biggest differentiations came in episode 3, “Long, Long Time,” which pulled back from Joel and Ellie’s story to focus on Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett). Bill appears in the game, but by the time Joel and Ellie encounter him, his partner, Frank, is already dead. The show, however, devoted a full episode to Bill and Frank’s love story, from their first meeting to their heart-wrenching deaths.
“When we got to this part in the season, [co-showrunner] Craig [Mazin] brought up a really interesting point which is … there’s a lot of examples of things not turning out well for people, and often those are reflections and cautionary tales for Joel of, ‘Here’s what you stand to lose,’” Druckmann told IGN in January 2023. “It was, ‘What if we show them what you could stand to win?’”
While Mazin and Druckmann used the game as a jumping-off point for the show, they advised their actors not to do the same — though not all of them obeyed. “I hadn’t heard of the game. Their instruction was: Don’t play the game,” Pascal explained to Wired in January 2023. “I ignored them. I tried to play the game, and I was very, very bad at it. … It was important to me to play notes that were directly related to what was originally in the game — physically, visually, vocally.”
Ramsey, meanwhile, waited to play the game until after the show premiered in early 2023. “I’ve not got to the bit where Ellie comes in,” the Game of Thrones alum said during a February 2023 episode of the “Happy Sad Confused” podcast. “It’s actually not as weird as I thought it would be. I just need to get on with it. I get in a room, I look at all the details and I’m just wandering around. Then I end up getting lost. I just need to go forward and get to the point.”
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Keep scrolling to see how the Last of Us cast compares to their video game counterparts: