the last of us tv show main differences

The Last of Us TV Show Main Differences: Exploring The Major Alterations

The Last Of Us, developed by Naughty Dog studio while being published by Sony Computer Entertainment, was a diamond in the rough when it was released in 2013 for the first time, and it has been meticulously cut and shaped into a multi-faceted gem over time.

This includes a remaster of the original, a remake, a sequel, & now an HBO television series that Craig Mazin & Niel Druckmann brought to life with great success. It was produced in Canada under Greg Spence & Cecil O’Connor.

I wasn’t surprised when the show came out, but I was anxious to see what changes they would make.

My doubts lurked like countless clickers in a dark hallway, but I got past them and genuinely enjoyed the show after some mental adaptation. Unlike Joel, this game never gets old, and I consistently return.

I’ve earned the platinum for the first game and am undoubtedly biased with a deep nostalgic attachment.

However, after opening my mind to the experience, it became clear that the series is helping to enrich The Last Of Us universe with another shimmering emerald to the socket.

It isn’t half-hearted by any stretch and portrays the core story progression well, even if there are specific changes I wouldn’t have made. The show mirrors the environmental elements particularly well, and hardened veterans will appreciate the decorated details of each scene.

There are many subtle differences, but I will discuss the most prominent ones. I’m thankful there weren’t any dramatic changes that would disrupt the flow of the story, but they certainly took some liberties and new routes with the characters and enemies.

Let’s find out how they differ and what was changed from the game! Here are the Last of Us TV show main differences found in the show:

The Main Differences

  • Explains and expounds on the past.
  • The Talkshow scene was fascinating.
  • More information about the virus.
  • The way enemies infect is intimately horrifying.
  • Sarah’s death is sadder because you get to know her.
  • Tommy isn’t in the first part as in the game. He’s “Missing.”
  • Joel places more value on human connection, particularly family.
  • Tess gets killed by an infected/explosion instead of FEDRA officers.
  • Frank & Bill’s relationship is explained from the game’s lore.
  • New characters such as Marlon (Graham Greene), Florence (Elaine Miles), Anna, & Kathleen were added.
  • Notable changes to character conditions and exploring the past.
  • Backstories are explained and elaborated on.
  • Joel is a more fragile person, yet still an unstoppable character.
  • Supporting characters play more meaningful roles.

Comparing Core Mechanics

The Show Goes Back To Life Before The Outbreak

The Last of Us TV Show Main Differences: The Show Goes Back To Life Before The Outbreak

The first scene shows us a talk show before the outbreak where scientists discuss the possibility of the Cordyceps fungus becoming a virulent threat if they adapt to warmer temperatures in the human body.

The show helps you learn about when the virus first started with scenes from the past that give viewers perspective.

The game throws you into the middle of the heat with an anxiety-inducing scenario of Joel (Pedro Pascal) carrying Sarah (Nico Parker) through a panicked crowd with countless infected at every turn.

The show follows a slightly different timeline than the game but has no significant effect when watching. It started in 2003 when the game technically began in 2013.

One of the most fascinating lore episodes was the second one, titled “Infected,” where you find out that the infection began in Jakarta.

There was no mention of this in the game, and this outbreak prompted a mycologist named Ratna Pertiwi (Christine Akim) to suggest bombing the entire city to contain the spread.

Sarah Is A More Prominent Character

Sarah Is A More Prominent Character

Sarah’s death has always been one of the most tragic occurrences I’ve ever seen in a game. Still, it also sets the stage for the development of Joel’s character with Ellie, played by Bella Ramsey.

Sarah is more of an accessory character in the game that briefly supports Joel. Still, the show gives us a deeper glimpse into her life with more scenes that enrich her character.

It makes it all the more disheartening when she passes away later, which is the point. The Last Of Us has always been primarily cloudy skies with rare lighthearted moments and beautiful scenery.

The show captured her death scene very well and was even sadder to watch, even after seeing the event when playing.

Emphasizes Infection By Direct Contact More Intimately Than Spores

Emphasizes Infection By Direct Contact More Intimately Than Spores
Image from Fandom

The game features spores as the primary contraction method for the Cordyceps infection to take hold of unsuspecting victims, humans, or animals.

One of the first scenes involves using a mask to prevent spores from entering the lungs and infiltrating to take over the host’s mind and grow the species. Some may argue natural selection, but I assert it’s unnatural deselection.

There are more profound theories about the origins of the infection, but let’s stay on track. The main difference is that the show portrays the infection process more intimately through direct contact with an infected person via bite, scratch, or kiss.

Being that spores were a significant part of the game; it was a questionable decision that they removed them.

Yes, there were infections through direct contact in the game, but spores were a staple element they changed.

They were also based on actual science because Cordyceps fungi reproduce by bursting them into the air to infect an insect’s brain. Perhaps the scariest part of this is that something like it could happen theoretically.

Tommy Isn’t There In The Beginning & Their Relationship Isn’t Tense

Tommy Isn't There In The Beginning & Their Relationship Isn't Tense

If you’ve played the game, then you know that Joel and Tommy (Gabriel Luna) don’t exactly see eye to eye on everything. They were on good terms in the game and fought off infected together to save Sarah. The show changes this by removing Tommy completely.

Later, they have a strained, disagreeable relationship as brothers but still love each other.

The show portrays their interactions more lightheartedly and friendly, with no action sequences other than the game.

I was expecting an epic shoutout and some family drama because the original story describes a past where Joel & Tommy had some bad blood, and the tensions were high during their reunion.

It was disappointing that they chose this direction, but I understand it was for expanding the characters and giving a balance to the show.

They also took out the scene where Ellie rushes off with the horse, a tensely memorable and dramatic moment that was probably considered but thrown out.

Tess Died In A Different Way

Tess Died In A Different Way

It was a good decision for them to change this death because FEDRA didn’t make much sense to pursue them so far into the city and risk their lives instead of guarding the base.

They initially showed up in pursuit of Ellie, Joel, & Tess as they made it to the capital building. After revealing to Joel she was infected, Tess’s story ended as she bravely and boldly decided to stay.

Tess (Anna Torv) was then shot and killed in a sacrificial gesture to buy Joel & Ellie more time to escape and pursue the mission. She was already infected at the time and would have died anyway.

This sacrifice was amplified by a more disturbing and terrifying death by an infected that we will discuss in the next section.

Overall, dying in this manner made the scene more petrifying and gave another chance for the enemies to shine on screen while appropriately killing a character more logically.

Another purpose for this change was to show the FEDRA as a more neutral party instead of the leading human aggressors in The Last Of Us.

The Tendril Kiss Infection Is a New & Disturbing Infection Method

The Tendril Kiss Infection Is a New & Disturbing Infection Method

This scene shocked me and most other gamers because we are so used to seeing infected immediately go berserk, flail around, & try to bite your face off when encountered.

However, the show changed this aggressive formula by revealing an intriguing and equally disturbing social structure.

The infected man walks up to Tess and locks lips in a haunting kiss as the tendrils enter her mouth and begin the infection process. Talk about a kiss of death, and it was almost tender as Tess was petrified in fear and lit up the place for a glorious fiery sacrifice.

This was one of the most discussed scenes and provoked thought about the Cordyceps species regarding how they interact and infect others more intimately than brutal attacks.

The show manages to step outside the box and give you different considerations regarding the infection process and the remarkably calm temperament of some infected.

In the show, the tendrils through a kiss eerily imply that the fungus still drives human synaptic activity in the brain to spread through innate emotional behaviors.

Frank & Bill’s Relationship Expounded

Frank & Bill's Relationship Expounded

If you played the game, you remember when Bill (Nick Offerman) found an upsetting letter from Frank (Murray Bartlett), and nothing else was mentioned after that.

You don’t even have to give this letter to Bill and may not hear much about Frank in the first place. The show takes this single element and expands on it for almost a whole episode.

This is a prime example of how they took what would have been a brutal sequence of tedious fights through Bill’s town and instead opted for character development.

It was rather tragic, though, and not my cup of wine, how their relationship ended, but sorrow is a staple of TLOU. If you’ve seen the show, then you get that macabre reference.

There was no evidence of a romantic partnership in the game, and the note from Frank sequence ends with Bill saying, “Well, f*ck you too, Frank.”

The “Note From Frank” reveals the dramatic difference between the game and the show, as Frank is antagonistic and hates Bill while wanting to get out of that town, saying, “I want you to know I hated your guts.” In the show, they fall in love and get married with a tragic ending.

The Addition Of New Characters Adds Depth

The Addition Of New Characters Adds Depth
Image from Fandom

The line gets hazy in TLOU, and new characters help to demonstrate this when tough choices need to be made.

Adding new perspectives with different interactions and social excursions was a good idea because many fans were watching who had experienced the game and needed something fresh, so it didn’t feel like a complete rewatch.

Perhaps the most important addition was Ellie’s mother, Anna, played by Ashley Johnson, who revealed staggering information in her storyline that kept me glued to the screen.

We never met Frank in the game, but we got a whole episode that essentially replaced Bill’s backstory with something more meaningful and intimate with dramatic moments, a running theme in the show. These types of scenes remind me of similar moments from The Walking Dead.

Sam Is Deaf & Henry Was Once A FEDRA Informant

Sam Is Deaf & Henry Was Once A FEDRA Informant
Image from Fandom

This is a big difference that I had mixed feelings about, but the change in concept grew on me over time.

To put it bluntly, Sam, played by Keivonn Montreal Woodard, is deaf in the show but speaks in the game. An interesting detail that’s important to note is that the actor who plays Sam is also deaf, and it could be casting. He uses a magic slate to communicate throughout the show.

It’s hard to say if it was an intentional change, but you could argue it enhances Sam and his older brother Henry’s story and adds something more unique to their relationship.

You still get all the lines and the same characters, but it is also more tragic than the game.

We also learn that Henry, played by Lamar Johnson, was an Informant for FEDRA, where he was responsible for the death of Kathleen’s brother and the unraveling of some bad events.

Henry was being hunted in the show by Kathleen, who isn’t in the game. She sought vengeance for her brother’s death after he sold information that killed him, and Henry ended up shooting himself after killing his infected brother, just like in the show.

Ellie Attempts To Cure Sam With Her Blood

Ellie Attempts To Cure Sam With Her Blood
Image from Fandom

At one point, there’s an episode where Ellie uses her blood to try and cure Sam after she discovers he has been bitten on the leg. She is immune to the fungus, just like the game. However, she would always breathe in spores during the game, which is non-existent in the show.

Of course, the blood doesn’t work, and we reach another tragic ending for supporting characters serving their purpose and exiting the stage.

This fascinating addition shows that manufacturing a cure will be no simple task in a broken world with limited research capabilities. After all, the primary mission of both the show and the game is that Ellie could have the cure for the whole world, but no one knows for sure.

This was also a heartfelt gesture for her to shed her blood to cure him potentially.

Ellie has always had a healing, nurturing, and kind quality to her character, such as when she nurses Joel back to health. It is amplified in the show with new memorable scenes like this one.

Joel Is Psychologically More Vulnerable & Has Anxiety Attacks

Joel Is Psychologically More Vulnerable & Has Anxiety Attacks

The calm and collected Texas Ranger killing machine doesn’t have it all together in the show, as you might remember from the games.

Although, he’s still ruthless, and the knife interrogation scene was flawlessly executed. Still, these newfound panic attacks are a new element of his character that indicates his more fragile nature in an overwhelming apocalyptic scenario.

There’s a lot of pressure on Joel as things come crashing down around him, and everyone starts dying. Compared to the game, he is more psychologically stable around Tommy and other characters.

Even though he’s a skilled smuggler with the brains and brawn to back it up, even a callused Joel is more vulnerable in the show than in the game.

An interesting difference in his social attitude during the show is how he is more connected to Ellie at that point and believes in the potential cure despite the fear he isn’t capable of handling the job.

The show dives deeper into Joel’s humanity and mental fragility throughout each trial, human or not.

Joel’s Injury At The Eastern Colorado Campus

Joel's Injury At The Eastern Colorado Campus

So there’s a very side-wenching part in the game where Joel falls from a distance and gets impaled on an extended metal bar before being pried off it by Ellie to make their escape by horse.

In the show, he is stabbed in the stomach by a raider after a struggle and neck break. More raiders then pursue them before making it to safety. This was an interesting difference, and I’m sure the knife was much easier to pull off on camera than falling a far distance.

I think this part was shortened on purpose because there was also no extensive shootout while they were escaping, like in the game.

The injury was interesting because Joel did not notice he was stabbed at first before looking down in shock. This whole section felt much shorter than the game, but that’s understandable, given that it’s hard to pull off.

Ellie At The FEDRA Academy Backstory

Ellie At The FEDRA Academy Backstory

FEDRA was considered an evil group organized to oppress people with various restrictions and consequences in the games. We see them take a more ambiguous approach to them in the show by giving us an episode that explores the backstory of Ellie before she met Joel.

This wasn’t present in the game, so getting more information on her past was exciting. We learn from the show that she’s part of a FEDRA academy and is a classic troublemaker who gets constantly reprimanded for bad behavior.

This flashback establishes that the organization is much less evil than previously portrayed and leaves it up to the viewer to decide. Despite her behavior, she was encouraged to be a leader there because of her tenacity and strong personality.

David Is A More Prominent Villain And Cult Leader

David Is A More Prominent Villain And Cult Leader

David, played by Scott Shepherd, was your standard Villain in the game with a demented twist of cannibalism. While he still eats human flesh, his character has become much more religious as the prominent leader of a cult.

His spiritual attribute wasn’t present in the game, but his personality is still deceptively friendly, initially following the faith. The game features an extended fight sequence where Ellie and David inevitably bond over killing hoards of infected together in an abandoned building.

This was thrown away in the show, and we saw more of David’s role in leading the community, a warped eccentric form of Christianity. Among the townsfolk, a young girl discussed how Joel murdered her father on campus earlier, and she wasn’t in the game.

Seeing the town’s perspective and their interactions was worthwhile and had some new hair-raising cult vibes. David was a much more interesting character, so they needed to cut some action sequences with him.

The Backstory Of Ellie’s Birth & How It Could Account For Her Immunity

The Backstory Of Ellie's Birth & How It Could Account For Her Immunity

The game never features Ellie’s mother, but the show gives us some shocking information.

The show insinuates that Ellie’s mother, Anna, who was infected while pregnant with Ellie, gifted her daughter immunity. You would think that the main reason why Ellie is immune would be in the game, but it was surprisingly shrouded in mystery.

I expected at some point to learn exactly why she had this special immunity, but they can only write so much into the game. Still, it seemed like such an important detail, and I was disappointed we were left without answers.

Ellie’s birth was enlightening, giving long-standing fans a response to the critical question.

I was very impressed with the show for expanding the lore and giving us something to work with on this matter, even if the question isn’t answered outright.

Joel Tried To Take His Own Life In The Past After Sarah

Joel Tried To Take His Own Life In The Past After Sarah

The show revealed that Joel’s scar on his head was that he had failed at attempted suicide at one point in the past. This is another example of them expressing his humanity and showing how deep the pain went from the tragedy of his daughter’s death.

It sets the scene for his character development and allows him to show he has grown since then by stating his philosophy of life that time can heal even the deepest wounds.

It’s another bonding moment where Ellie connects with Joel regarding Sarah, and the game has few scenes like that.

Although Joel speaks of suicide during the game in another context, he never outright discusses it.

The show strengthens the concept of change against all emotional odds, and Joel also has something to fight for with Ellie and the potential cure as they endure & survive.

Ellie Isn’t On Good Terms With Marlene & The Fireflies

Ellie Isn't On Good Terms With Marlene & The Fireflies

In the game, Ellie and Marlene (Merle Dandridge) are portrayed as lifelong good friends maintaining a positive relationship with the fireflies.

The game paints a different picture with increased conflict until they come to an understanding, and Ellie eventually leaves with Joel. This created more drama and tension between the characters, and I wasn’t complaining.

The Fireflies were holding Ellie hostage essentially, and she was not happy or even remotely mentioned they were friends.

It seems Ellie has severe amnesia because she has no history or affiliations with the Firefly group or Marlene. After some struggles, Marlene finally reveals to Ellie that she is a close friend of her mother’s, creating trust and cooperation.

They then work together towards getting her out of the city to start the mission for a cure. It takes Ellie much longer to warm up to other characters, whereas, in the game, she is still aggressive but more readily agreeable.

Which Is Better Overall & Why?

I think the game is better overall because it has a perfect story and a more interactive experience, being a video game.

The game, by comparison, is much longer and needs to be condensed slightly by removing many of the imperative action sequences that make it thrilling to travel in Joel’s shoes.

The show adds to the existing lore and sometimes changes things that may not make full sense, but they have their reasons.

I was delightfully surprised at how good the series was, even if the game will always have my heart as the better version of the classic horror narrative.

Other Games & Shows Like The Last Of Us

  • The Walking Dead
  • Beyond: Two Souls
  • The Mist
  • The 100
  • The Purge
  • A Plague: Tale Of Innocence
  • Uncharted games
  • Resident Evil games
  • Days Gone
  • Death Stranding
  • Dead Space Remake
  • The Stand


Question: Is The Last Of Us show worth watching if you haven’t played the games?

Answer: If I had to choose for you, I’d play the game first. However, you could jump into the series and experience the feeling of differences in the opposite light when you decide to play the game.

If you only watch the television show, you’ll get the overarching story and can relate to someone who has played the game. It’s worth it, and I presume the show increased game sales.

Question: Do the actors fit better or worse in the show than the game designs?

Answer: For what it’s worth, the actors did an excellent job and felt like they had been dwelling in that universe for years. It’s hard to say if the actors played the games seriously or just studied them.

Overall, the cast is acceptable, but the original Joel & Ellie is a hard act to follow. Anyone who plays the games first will usually favor them, but the show quality was impressive & professional.

Question: Which is scarier, the Last Of Us game or the TV show?

Answer: The game is more brutal, grittier, & scarier overall, in my opinion. This is because you are playing as the characters & must take action while taking on challenges where you can quickly get startled & die a few times.

Shows tend to run themselves and are generally less scary, but it still packs a punch, and the CGI is incredible. Do you want a real scare?

Try playing the first game on grounded mode without the listen feature in pitch-black Clicker territory with the lights off.


In summary, the show has some notable differences that fans will notice when watching. It’s worth playing the game if you have only seen the show and vice versa.

They both have unique qualities you’ll appreciate and tend to compensate where the other lacks. These differences were firing off in my head while watching, but maybe you’ll spot some more if you examine the show closer.

I hope this will help you appreciate The Last Of Us TV series as a variation of the original with enlightening lore and new stories to enjoy and retell the impeccable horror tale that captivated the gaming world!

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