The Last of Us: Tess was originally the villain

Tess in The Last of Us HBO show and early concept art of Tess and Joel from the gameNaughty Dog/HBO

Episode 2 The Last of Us solidified how great a character Tess is – but things originally weren’t going to turn out that way, as she was once the villain of the game.

The Last of Us, one of the most acclaimed titles of the 2010s and a generation-defining game, is being given the prestige, big-budget television treatment on HBO. The story follows two people, Joel and Ellie, on a life-or-death, cross-country trip across an America ravaged by a brutal fungal infection.

However, for a moment, there is a third member of their party: Tess. In our review, we discussed how Episode 2 follows their journey, and “builds on the tragedy, suspense, and horror of the show’s opener by adapting one of the key moments from the game: the museum and its clicking terrors.”

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Sadly, while transporting Ellie to the Fireflies, tragedy befalls Tess, which impacts Joel’s decisions for the rest of the game. However, Tess once had a very different role, because she was meant to be the main antagonist.

Warning: spoilers for The Last of Us.

Tess originally survived most of The Last of Us… as its villain

Originally, Tess and Joel’s relationship was essentially the same within the game and the show: they were smuggling partners and hardened survivors, doing whatever was necessary for themselves. In the original story, Tess even had a brother, just like Joe.

However, under original plans, there would have been a switch: during an operation that brother would be killed, and Tess would blame Joel for his death. Thus, when Joel leaves with Ellie to travel across the country, Tess follows them with the intent of making Joel pay.

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However, according to the game’s creator Neil Druckmann, this plot simply didn’t work. Speaking to Game Informer, he said: “What’s interesting is that, originally in the story Tess took more of a villain role. Tess was betrayed by Joel and took on a mission to pursue him across the country.

“That storyline never worked out. The storyline shifted and Tess took on this role where she became more of a believer and she helped motivate Joel.”

The main motivator for this change? The creators couldn’t come up with a reason why Joel would travel with Ellie, unless Tess sacrificed herself and asked him to do the job as her last request.

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“We had a tough time understanding why Joel would take this journey – we weren’t buying it,” Druckmann continued.

“We also had a hard time buying that Tess would go on a vendetta. We could understand her pursuing Joel a little bit, but why would she go for a year around the country?

“Those things were solved by saying that Tess is going to die when she gets bitten, but her dying wish to Joel is to do this one good thing – help me do this one good thing so my soul can rest because I’ve done all these horrible things.”

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This of course is what also happens in the show, with the very first spoken line of the very first trailer being Tess stating to Joel, “You keep her alive, and you set everything right.”

Ellie was originally going to be a pacifist

This change in Tess’ character was also a change in Ellie’s.

Ellie was originally going to be a much more innocent character, refusing to kill any non-infected person. However, this descision had a lot of repercussions, as Druckmann explained: “Ellie’s arc originally was that she didn’t kill any non-infected people until the end, when she was going to kill Tess when Tess was torturing Joel.

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“What we realised is that we had to get Ellie engaged more in the combat because when she was disengaged from the action for that long you didn’t care so much. So that changed pretty early on. We decided it wasn’t going to be about the first time she killed someone, it was more about this coming of age story of the impact that the horrors of violence has on her over the course of the game.

“That culminates with her conflict with David. That happened pretty quickly, just based on some things we realised about the story and how we had to integrate it into the gameplay.”

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Tess also impacted the game’s ending

While Tess was made darker in the game’s original plans, the ending was also made more hopeful. “The original ending when we pitched the game was a much more hopeful ending, where Joel and Ellie make it to San Francisco and that is a town run by people who are trying to restore society,” Druckmann added.

“Joel has killed all these doctors and lied to Ellie, and Ellie just fully buys into the lie. So, you’re left with the idea that they are going to live the rest of their lives in this town. The camera pulls back and maybe everything is going to be alright for these two.”

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However, this ending tested poorly with both the game’s creators and audience. “I was working on writing, and it didn’t feel honest anymore. After everything they’ve done and everything they’ve been through, that was letting them off a little too easy – especially for Joel.

“When we did focus testing, at least initially until some of the hospital stuff started coming together, it tested very poorly.”

So the game developed into what it is now, and to be honest, we’re very glad that it did.

The Last of Us Episode 3 will be available to watch on January 29 in the US and January 30 in the UK. You can check out the rest of our coverage here, and the trailer for the weeks ahead here.

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