HBO’s The Last of Us is a strikingly faithful adaptation of its video game source material. Aside from a few small changes, most of the show feels like the game has been translated directly to the screen, at least in the first two episodes. There are even a few moments that feel like almost perfect re-creations of frames from the game.
But one point of total deviation came at the very end of the show’s second episode when Tess’ (Anna Torv) storyline got a big update.
[Ed. note: This story contains spoilers for The Last of Us the game and the first two episodes of the series.]
Tess’ death at the end of episode 2 isn’t a total shock, exactly. While it may come as a surprise to first-timers, game players knew she would die from the start, though not necessarily in the way the show plays out. While Tess does die at almost exactly the same point of the story in 2013’s The Last of Us, the actual events surrounding it are pretty different.
In the game’s story, Tess is actually killed by FEDRA soldiers, though the fact that she is already infected and sacrifices herself stalling for Ellie and Joel is still the same. On top of that, Joel (and therefore the player) actually witnesses Tess’ death, whereas in the show he obviously only sees its ensuing explosion.
There are a few reasons that the show could have made this change, one of which being that FEDRA simply has barely been established in the drama of the series. While the government response has played a small role in the story so far, it certainly hasn’t been enough for FEDRA’s presence to be felt. Tess’ death at the hands of the infected also serves to make the virus and its hosts seem genuinely dangerous, especially after they were largely absent from the show’s pilot.
The games aside, the show’s execution of Tess’ death is unsettling and strange. While the show clearly loves its weird, gross infected, with their tendril-y fungi strands that writhe and flit constantly, always searching for new hosts, the prolonged voyeuristic “kiss” is almost leering for a show that often isn’t and doesn’t need to be. Seeing a mushroom zombie infect Tess like that doesn’t do much to further our understanding of the Cordyceps curse that killed humanity or give a more impactful feeling to Tess’ death.
According to showrunner Craig Mazin, the goal with this was to explore what happened when someone was infected peacefully, and that not everything had to be violent. “What does it look like if you just stand perfectly still and let them do this to you?” Mazin asked in an interview with Variety. “Then we landed on this nightmare fuel. It’s disturbing and it’s violative. I think it’s very primal in the way it invades your own body.” Perhaps the best explanation for the scene is Mazin’s own description for it: “To use an overused word, it’s triggering.”
While there may be more unspoken, practical reasons for the change, showrunners Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin proved with episode 2 that they still have some surprises in store both for viewers coming to the story for the first time through the show and for veterans of the video game.