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The Last of Us

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The Last of Us Benefits From Lack of Violence Compared to the Game

Taking the Video Game Out of The Last of Us has Given It More

HBO’s The Last of Us has proven to be one of, if not the most faithful video game adaptations of all time. It’s not just a case of the world of the game being portrayed correctly or the characters staying true to how they are supposed to act. The show follows the plot of the game very closely. Some scenes are exact recreations with the same dialogue and framing as the game. The nature of changing from one artistic medium to another means that some things have to change. It’s the nature of adaptations. Different mediums require different things and The Last of Us is no different. 

While there are many creative changes between the two such as Bill’s arc being completely reworked, one of the best changes between the show and the game isn’t a case of the creatives going in a different direction. The nature of a game being an interactive art form and a television show being a passive one means that the show has far less violence than the video game. It’s all the better for it.

Losing what makes The Last of Us a video game gives its characters more depth and humanity than ever before. The very nature of a video game means that players must be given something to do. In The Last of Us, that means sneaking around and killing plenty of enemies, both infected and human. A television show can’t do that, it doesn’t have the time or the means. In any given level of The Last of Us, Joel can kill dozens of enemies at a time. A television show cannot devote multiple hour-long episodes to Joel just killing people and monsters. It needs to get on with the story.

Less is More

A game has a story but foremost it must make sure the player is an active participant in the experience. So, in between story moments, you play and when you play The Last of Us you kill a lot. So much that it becomes an afterthought. It’s something you must do to progress. In a show, killing is not something a player does to progress to the end of the game, it’s something that a human does and must live with. In losing the gameplay element, The Last of Us as a story has less violence than the game and it gives the characters more humanity.

Image: HBO

At the end of the first episode, as they’re leaving the FEDRA quarantine zone, Joel, Ellie, and Tess are caught by a guard. The guard is one who we’ve previously seen is friendly to Joel but for his job safety, he decides to bring them back in. Ellie attacks him in fear of her immunity being found out and he points his gun at her. Flashing back to when a soldier killed his daughter, Joel attacks and beat the guard to death. In the game, it’s different.

This same scene in the game features two random guards who catch them, and Joel and Tess take them out with no effort whatsoever. They’re badass video game characters, after all. This moment is present as if it’s nothing because it essentially is. It’s just two more people Joel and Tess have to kill. By this point in the game, players have already killed a handful of people, which means so has Joel. When you’ve done that, two more guards are meaningless. 

Since the show has to get on with plot development and can’t devote an hour to Joel sneaking around and strangling people, by the time this scene happens, we haven’t seen Joel kill. In fact, at this point in the show, he’s been depicted as fairly composed. Skilled with a weapon but composed and calm. So when he violently beats this guard to death, it means something. His first kill isn’t a random enemy during a tutorial mission to learn the controls. His first kill is a violent outburst of his repressed grief and rage from his daughter’s death. In the game, Joel kills so many people it means nothing. In the show, this kill is very purposeful as it shows us that Joel isn’t the calm, cool apocalypse survivor he presents He is a broken man.

The game depicts him this way as well but it takes longer to get there. It can’t afford to have the patience the show can, it has to engage players and teach them the controls. The show doesn’t have to worry about that so it can make this kill a meaningful character moment.

Episode 3 features a sequence where raiders try to get into Bill’s town. They’re thwarted by the traps he laid. They’re taken out by flamethrowers and an electric fence. If the show featured the same level of violence and killing then this sequence wouldn’t have worked. There’s a sense of danger as we see the raiders approach. Even as Bill’s traps work their magic, we still worry for Bill and Frank because we aren’t seeing enemies we’ve killed dozens, if not hundreds of. These are dangerous people who pose a threat.

The Last of Us Infected
Image: HBO

Losing the amount of violence present in the game also has the ripple effect of making the infected scarier. In a game, no matter how scary they look, the infected eventually become trivial. There becomes a point where you’ve killed so many on your way to the end of the game that they are no longer monsters and simply become something to deal with to finish the level. 

When we see Clickers in the show, we haven’t seen Joel take out dozens of them. He isn’t a video game character anymore, he’s simply a man desperately trying to kill two vicious mushroom monsters. He is more vulnerable than the Joel we control in the game, we aren’t looking over his shoulder, we’re looking at his face as he tries to quietly reload his gun. In a video game where you need an obstacle for players to overcome, the protagonist must also have the superhuman ability to take out dozens, maybe even hundreds, of that obstacle. In the show, Joel can remain a man who struggles against those monsters. 

The Last of Us has great gameplay but it has always been held in high regard in the gaming world because of its story and characters. The nature of adapting something to a new medium means it loses what makes the original medium special. In taking the video game out of The Last of Us, HBO’s adaptation gives its characters more depth and humanity and that makes every big moment count even more. 

Written By

30% Water, 70% James Bond movies. Matt is a writer, gamer, film enthusiast & silly person. The winner of various fictitious awards, he's fluent in English & pop culture references.

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