The Last of Us: All differences between TLOU game & TV show

Sam Smith
David in The Last of Us Episode 8

The Last of Us TV show is now airing weekly on HBO – here are all the differences between the show and the first The Last of Us game.

HBO’s The Last of Us is here and it’s already shaping up to be a pretty faithful adaptation of the first game in the series. However, there are already some notable changes from the source material that are worth addressing for fans of the games, or just anyone who wants to enjoy both incarnations of The Last of Us.

Below, we’ll keep track of all major The Last of Us TV show and game differences, week by week, updating this piece each time a new episode airs. Naturally, spoilers for both the game and the show exist below.

Joel and Sarah in The Last of Us HBO show
Sarah and Joel’s story is similar, but there’s a slight change.

The Last of Us TV show & game differences

Here’s a breakdown of all of the major differences between The Last of Us games and TV show:

Episode 1: When You’re Lost in the Darkness

The Cordyceps threat – In the TV adaptation, scientists have been warning society about the Cordyceps threat since the 1960s, but haven’t been taken seriously. In the games, the fungal threat comes largely out of nowhere. This could be interpreted as a reference to climate change or as nature striking back at humanity.

Bill and Frank – The roles of Bill and Frank have been slightly altered in the TV series. In the games, Bill is an old friend of Joel’s who he meets in Jackson. Bill also informs Joel that Frank has died, taking his own life. In the TV show, Bill and Frank are both alive and in radio contact with Joel, keeping him informed about the dangers outside of his safe zone.

Tommy – Joel’s brother Tommy’s role is also expanded in The Last of Us TV series. In this adaptation, Tommy is much more of a troubled soul, needing Joel to bail him out of jail after a bar fight. This may have been with an infected person, or Tommy simply gets into more scrapes in this version. In the opening episode, Joel has lost contact with Tommy which is the reason for his trip. However, in the game, Joel knows exactly where Tommy is, but the brothers are estranged for other reasons – likely the death of Joel’s daughter Sarah.

Clicker The Last of Us
There’s a major change regarding how the fungus spreads in the TV show.

Tess and Joel’s relationship – In The Last of Us games, a romantic relationship between Tess and Joel is only subtly hinted at. However, in the TV series, their relationship is much more overt. While it’s still never clearly defined, there’s an obvious romantic connection between the two in HBO’s version.

The twenty-year time jump – The opening of the first The Last of Us game is set in 2013, around the time it came out. After the death of Sarah, the game then moves twenty years into the future and after the world has been ravaged by Clickers. However, the TV show changes this time jump, setting the kick-off of the apocalypse in 2003 rather than 2013. This means the action in The Last of Us TV show takes place the same year the show debuted, in 2023.

Sarah’s role and death – Those who’ve played the first The Last of Us game will be all too familiar with the gut punch that is Sarah’s death, something which comprises the whole foundation of Joel’s character arc and eventual status as a surrogate father to Ellie. However, in the TV show, Sarah’s death is teased out for longer by expanding her role and backstory, making the gut punch even harder – something that will be especially torturous for fans of the games who’ve experienced it once before.

The Cordyceps spores – In the game, the fungus spreads from person to person by leaving spores in the wake of the infected. This allows the contagion to be semi-airborne so characters need to be careful what they breathe in. Although in the TV show, the Clickers take a much more personal approach, infecting others through tendrils that crawl out of their mouths and into others. This makes them a bit more like classic zombies, passing on their deadly infection orally rather than through other means.

Episode 2: Infected

A still from The Last of Us Episode 2
There are some key differences to major events in episode 2 of The Last of Us.

Jakarta In the same vein as episode 1, the second episode of the HBO adaption features a unique opening sequence that wasn’t present in the game. The episode’s opening minutes are set in Jakarta in 2003 and follow Ibu Ratna – a professor of mycology who is escorted into a government facility and asked to examine the dead body of a woman who has a bite on her foot, and a tendril in her mouth.

After she’s finished her examination, professor Ratna is fully aware of the danger the situation presents and suggests that the best course of action would be to bomb the city to stop the infection from spreading.

Due to the scene being set in 2003, this appears to be the very beginning of the outbreak.

Museum attack 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.

Cordyceps connection – As Joel, Tess and Ellie made their way through the streets of Boston in episode 2 we learned more about the way the infection spreads in this version of The Last of Us. As opposed to spreading through airborne spores like in the game, Cordyceps spreads through tendrils in the show, and due to this, the infected are even more connected.

While observing a group of infected from a distance, Tess explains to Ellie that the Cordyceps fungus also grows under the ground as a long fiber that can sometimes spread for miles. If a person steps on a patch of Cordyceps in one place, a dozen infected could wake up somewhere else and immediately know where you are. This new twist is certainly unsettling as it means everyone will have to tread even more carefully to avoid accidentally stepping on any fungus.

Tess’s Death The biggest gut punch in Episode 2 was the death of Tess. She is infected by a clicker during the museum attack but doesn’t reveal her condition to Joel and Ellie until they’ve reached the Capitol building.

Knowing that she has limited time until the infection takes hold, Tess instructs Joel to take Ellie and chooses to sacrifice herself so they can safely escape. In the game, the building is rushed by FEDRA soldiers who had been pursuing the group since they left the QZ, and Tess is shot dead. In the show, however, a horde of infected enter the building and a clicker ‘connects’ with Tess via the tendrils in its mouth – effectively giving her a ‘kiss of death’. In her last moments, she is able to set the floor (that she had doused in oil) alight – destroying all the infected in an explosion.

Tess’s request After escaping FEDRA in the game, Joel and Ellie make their way to Bill’s Town where Joel’s survivalist friend lives so they can acquire a car. In the show, the idea to find Bill comes directly from Tess.

Just before the infected find them, she tells Joel to take Ellie to Bill and Frank and suggests that the pair of them could escort Ellie to the Fireflies themselves, so Joel can continue his search for Tommy. In the game, Tommy isn’t missing so Tess tells Joel to take Ellie to him instead.

Episode 3: Long Long Time

Frank and Bill
Frank and Bill get much more screen time in the TV series.

Frank and Bill – Episode 3 spends a lot of time exploring the relationship between Frank and Bill. In the games, Joel and Ellie come across Bill and the trio makes their way back to his home where Frank has killed himself. Joel and Ellie eventually go on their way, leaving Bill to grieve Frank’s loss alone.

In the TV show, Bill is a survivalist who’s ready for the apocalypse. After it starts, he takes Frank in and the pair become a couple, they also become friendly with Joel and Tess. Soon, Frank reveals he has a terminal illness and that he will die soon. Not wanting to be alone, after Frank kills himself, Bill chooses to follow him as both men leave the world together.

When Joel and Ellie visit the pair, they discover the sad news. However, Bill has left a note for Joel as well as a cache of supplies to help his old friend.

Tess and Frank In the TV show, it’s revealed that Tess has been in radio contact with Frank since she and Joel used to spend time with him and Bill. This is never mentioned in the source material.

Ellie and arcade games – In The Last of Us: Left Behind DLC, we learn that Ellie has an affinity for old arcade games and is sad when she’s unable to play one in an old abandoned shopping mall. In the series, however, Ellie is a fan of Mortal Kombat 2 and mentions that she used to play them with a friend. That friend is likely to be Riley, the other main character of Left Behind and one that’s yet to debut in the TV show.

Episode 4: Please hold my hand

Kathleen in The Last of Us
Kathleen is a new character in The Last of Us TV series.

Welcome to Kansas – Ellie and Joel take a shortcut through Kansas City in Episode 4 of The Last of Us TV show, which is a major deviation from the source material. In the game, they’re forced to stop in Pittsburgh.

Kathleen and co. – A new setting brings with it a new set of characters. The one who makes the biggest impact is Kathleen, the leader of a group of bandits who are hunting a man named Henry. Kathleen believes Joel and Ellie are in league with Henry after Joel kills two of her crew in self-defense. By the end of the episode, Joel and Ellie are ambushed by Henry – the only question is, is he friend or foe?

Burrowing infected – In a rather interesting deviation from TLOU game, Kathleen’s men report to her that the infected are somehow tunneling into the city – seemingly to get to the uninfected. We’re not given much in the way of details about how the infected are “burrowing” into Kansas, but it may imply an intelligence or determination among the infected that isn’t present in the games.

Ellie’s first kill – In the original game, Ellie kills her first man defending Joel from an enemy who’s trying to drown him. In the TV series, while Joel does most of the heavy lifting, Ellie ends up contributing to the killing of a bandit who was also trying to kill Joel. Ellie was simply protecting her companion, like in the games, but it was a different enemy who became the first corpse in Ellie’s soon-to-be substantial body count.

Tommy’s role in the story – The Tommy we’re seeing in the TV show is a very different character from the Tommy from TLOU games. This version of the character is a much more troubled person and has a much more fleshed-out backstory. They key difference from the games is that Tommy and Joel seem to be on good terms since the world ended, and Tommy’s involvement with the Fireflies. We expect Tommy’s role in the TV show, and his troubled past will factor into the story more than it did in the games.

Episode 5: Endure and Survive

Henry and Sam in The Last of Us Episode 5
Henry and Sam return from the first game.

The threat of Kathleen – The terrifying Kathleen looms large over episode 5 as an enemy of Joel, Ellie, and their new allies, brothers Henry and Sam. While the infected are tunneling toward our heroes with murderous intent, it’s Kathleen who’s the true threat during this episode, proving once again, that humans are always the scariest monsters. Kathleen also reminded us of another frightening zombie TV villain, The Walking Dead’s Dawn Lerner. Like Kathleen, Dawn’s time in the series was short but had a deadly and long-lasting impact on the main characters.

Sam’s portrayal – The TV version of Sam is different from how he’s portrayed in the TLOU game. This time, the character is hearing impaired and played by young deaf actor Keivonn Woodward. This adds another layer to the character and makes his inevitable fate feel even more tragic than it was in the game. Just to pile on top of this, the TV version of Sam is only eight, rather than thirteen.

Henry’s backstory involves Kathleen Kathleen serves as the big bad of episodes 4 and 5 as she’s hunting Sam and Henry with bloody vengeance on her mind. Kathleen is a new character, while Sam and Henry have been adapted from the game. In this portrayal, Kathleen wants revenge on Henry for selling out her brother to FEDRA in exchange for medication for Sam. Of course, in the games, Henry and Sam’s story doesn’t involve Kathleen, however, sadly, it shares several other similarities.

The sewer escape – As Kathleen is hunting Sam and Henry in episode 5, their escape from the sewer with Joel and Ellie plays out differently. In the games, the four companions do battle some bandits, but these are just random enemies while in the TV series, they are part of Kathleen’s crew. Once Kathleen is defeated, the remaining bandits flee with the survivors, making their last stand in a motel, which in the games was a tower.

Sam’s fate – Sam is sadly infected in the fight at the tower/motel in both the TLOU game and TV series. He turns during the night and attacks Ellie – needing to be put down by a gunshot before Henry commits suicide out of grief. However, in the TV series, Ellie tries to save Sam by using her blood on his wound. As Ellie is immune to the infection, she hopes she can save Sam. Unfortunately, the plan doesn’t work and Sam and Henry’s journey ends in tragedy.

Episode 6: Kin

Troy Baker The Last of Us
Joel and Ellie’s story continues in episode 6.

Maria’s pregnancy – In the TV show Tommy’s wife Maria is pregnant. While this should be a happy occasion, all it does is lend extra tragedy to Joel’s story and remind him about the loss of his own daughter. It also leads to an argument between the brothers and is one of the reasons why Joel continues in his role as Ellie’s protector and not Tommy.

“Go east” – In an interaction that doesn’t happen in the games, Ellie and Joel are sheltered from the snow by an elderly couple who share their cooked rabbits with them. Joel asks the old man if he’s ever met his brother Tommy, and confides in him that they’re traveling west. In response, the elderly gent warns Joel not to continue his journey, advising him to “Go east.”

Tommy and Joel’s reunion – In The Last of Us Part 1, Joel and Tommy’s reunion at a dam is interrupted by bandits and leads to a tense shoot-out section. However, in the games, while the reunion is awkward, there’s no danger. It’s also Maria who figures out who Joel is, and leads him to Tommy, her husband.

Ellie responds to Joel’s concerns differently – In the games, Ellie overhears Joel telling Tommy that he may not be strong enough to continue his journey with Ellie and suggests Tommy takes over. She then steals a horse and runs away to an abandoned ranch until Joel comes to find her. In the TV show, Ellie just goes to another room and contemplates this news, that is until Joel finds her and they have the same conversation from the ranch.

Shimmer arrives early – The Last of Us Part 2 features a horse called Shimmer that travels with Ellie and Dina on their journey to Seattle. In the TV series, Shimmer appears early and is currently owned by Tommy’s allies. Ellie and Joel do end up riding Shimmer later in the episode.

Joel’s injury – In The Last of Us game Joel is heavily injured by a piece of broken metal as he falls from a balcony. This injury leads to Ellie needing to care for him throughout the winter while Joel recuperates and they continue their journey. In the TV show, Joel is stabbed by the jagged edges of a broken baseball bat. This will likely lead to a similar part in the story, with Joel needing Ellie to look after him.

Episode 7: Left Behind

Ellie and Riley in The Last of Us Episode 7
Ellie’s backstory is revealed in Left Behind.

Ellie and Joel – In the Left Behind DLC, Ellie’s flashback is triggered when she tries to find medicine from an abandoned mall in Colorado, where she’s attacked by raiders. She fights them off, manages to flee from infected, and escapes the mall with Joel, which leads into the Winter chapter. In the show, Ellie searches for supplies in a house where she’s holed up with Joel while he recovers. Rather than the mall reminding her of Riley, it’s the possibility of losing Joel.

FEDRA school – Before we meet Riley, we get scenes with Ellie in FEDRA school; more specifically, she fights a girl named Bethany who steals her headphones, and she gets a pep talk from Captain Kwong. In Left Behind, we only see them exploring the mall.

The corpse and whisky – Ellie and Riley find a dead man en route to the mall, who appears to have drank and drugged himself to death. They take the whisky and drink it throughout the episode. None of this happens in the game.

Overall order – While Episode 7 is broadly the same as Left Behind, they’ve rejigged the order of the “four wonders.” In the game, they start in the fancy-dress shop, before going to the carousel, the photo booth, and the arcade. In the show, they start with the carousel, before the photo booth, arcade, and costume store.

The arcade – Raja’s Arcade makes an appearance in both the show and the game. In Left Behind, Ellie has to imagine herself playing a fictional game called The Turning, because the machine is busted. However, in the show, Ellie and Riley actually play Mortal Kombat II.

The kiss – The actual kiss itself and the build-up to it are almost identical, but there’s one small change: in Left Behind, it takes place in an electronic store, while Ellie and Riley kiss in the fancy-dress shop in the show.

Episode 8: When We Are in Need

The Last of Us David
This episode shows humanity at their worst.

Hunting weapons – In the show, when finding food for her and an injured Joel, Ellie hunts with a gun rather than a bow and arrow like she does in the game.

No infected – While this part of the game has a large attack of infected people, who David and Ellie must fight against, the only enemies this episode are human, showing how far humanity has fallen since the outbreak.

Troy Baker – This is more of an easter egg than a difference, but for those who may not know, Joel is played by Troy Baker in the game, whereas here, Baker is playing James, the right hand man to David. Ultimately, Baker is playing a villain, rather than a hero.

In David we trust – While you probably won’t trust David from the get-go, his evilness is much more obvious in the show. See, in the game – and not the show – you spend a whole battle with him, as he helps Ellie escape from a massive horde of infected and a bloater. This causes Ellie to momentarily trust him, until he reveals that his group was the one that attacked Joel at the University. And later, Ellie believes him when he says that the food he gives her isn’t human meat, but in the show she’s not buying it.

Joel doesn’t stop Ellie attacking David – In the game, as Ellie is hacking David into pieces, Joel has to physically drag her off him, and he then holds her in a comforting embrace. In the show, Ellie actually walks out of the burning building after killing David and runs into Joel. She is just as traumatised however, and don’t worry, Joel still calls her “Baby girl.”

Episode 9: Look For The Light

Joel and Ellie in The Last of Us Episode 9

Ashley Johnson and Anna – In Episode 9, Johnson makes her short-lived debut as Anna, Ellie’s mother. In the game, she voices Ellie, and most of what we know about her mum comes from a findable note that doesn’t explain what happened to her. In the show, we see her get bitten as she’s in labor, and she severs the umbilical cord before Ellie is infected.

Joel’s scar – Shortly after they reach Salt Lake City, Joel explains the true cause of the scar on his head: two days after Sarah died, he tried to shoot himself and take his own life. He flinched at the last moment. “Time heals all wounds, I guess,” Ellie tells him, to which he says: “It wasn’t time that did it.” In the game, Joel never makes this confession, although he alludes to it when they find two corpses who “took the easy way out”, in Ellie’s words. “There’s nothing easy about it,” he says.

No underground tunnel – In the show, Joel and Ellie pretty much just stroll to the hospital after seeing the giraffes, where they’re knocked out by the Fireflies. In the game, they’re forced to go into an underground tunnel, avoid infected, and they nearly drown in a flooded area when a bus collapses.

The Last of Us Season 1 is available to stream in its entirety now. In the meantime, you can find out more about Season 2 here, and check out the rest of our coverage here.