Last of Us TV boss explains changes from game: “We did deviate”

After the monumental success of The Last Of Us, adapting the widely-loved video game into a TV series was never going to be easy.

The HBO and Sky Atlantic show, starring Pedro Pascal (Joel) and Bella Ramsey (Ellie) is all set to be the first major sci-fi telly launch of 2023, but if you played the game, you’ll notice that some things have changed.

Speaking to RadioTimes.com and other press, writer and executive producer Craig Mazin explained, “Ultimately, adaptation is all about choices. And we can talk until our faces turn blue about how we make those choices. And there’s a lot of math to it. But for me, what it always came back to was, ‘What do I love?’ What, as a fan, would I be hurt if I didn’t see it in the show?

“And what do I think we would absolutely have to change to adapt to a medium that is passive, that isn’t interactive, that doesn’t require gameplay? And what are the things that we can be inspired by and adjust and just let ourselves be creative, but always within the bounds of ‘what do we love’?”

Mazin noted that this process “was made a lot easier by the fact that the narrative material, putting the gameplay aside, just the straight bedrock drama of the game that Neil [Druckmann] created is wonderful. There are incredibly rich characters, and most importantly rich relationships.

“And the way the plot moved was always in service of forcing those main characters and their relationship to change and grow. So everything we did, all of that adaptation process, picking and choosing, for me, came down to loving the game, and understanding the game. And then understanding this other thing we wanted to make that had to be both the same and different at the same time.”

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Druckmann, having written and creative-directed both of the Last of Us games, worked with Mazin as a writer and executive producer on the TV show.

He told us: “I think in the past, the mistake that some adaptations make when they come from video game to a more passive medium is to hang on to the action and the superficial things and the things that player is doing. And those work magnificently as a game. And they kind of fall flat in this other medium.”

Of course, in this day and age, there’s no shortage of TV shows or movies that are adapted from pre-existing material. But given that players of the game will already know the core beats of the story, were Mazin and Druckmann tempted to deviate from the game’s plot to give the audience some more surprises?

Nico Parker as Sarah and Pedro Pascal as Joel in The Last of Us. Sky Atlantic/NOW/HBO

“We did deviate, but not to surprise the audience,” Druckmann answered. “That was never our goal, like, ‘how do we surprise them?’ We knew that would happen organically as we just kind of adapt this from one medium to another, and the surprises will emerge in that way. But yeah, that was never never a focus of ours.”

Doubling down on his belief that the show will still work even if you know how it ends, Druckmann told us, “You will be able to rewatch this multiple times and get more information, more nuances, because again, the story is all laid out in front of us, especially where it might go past a season.

“There are things we’d like, seeds we can plant early on and they get paid off much later. I think multiple viewings will get you to appreciate that structure more and more, that there was a lot of thought put in every episode to make it as strong as possible. But also, how does it fit in the greater whole of the entire story and arc?”

GamerCityNews  0 Last of Us TV boss explains changes from game: "We did deviate"

Bella Ramsey as Ellie and Anna Torv as Tess in The Last of Us. Sky Atlantic/NOW/HBO

“The journey is everything to me,” Mazin added. “We stress endings, because we live in a spoiler culture, and there are movies with crazy twist endings that really are awesome. Like, I wouldn’t have wanted to know how Fight Club ended if I hadn’t seen it yet. But this isn’t that. The Last of Us isn’t about lots of twists and turns. The Last of Us is about the journey, and about these characters.”

The structure of a TV show also has its own benefits, Mazin noted. He said, “One thing that we get to do is create beginnings and endings every week. When you’re playing the game, you decide where you’re putting the controller down for the night, you decide how far you go. You can play it all in one crazy long session. You can do it 10 minutes at a time.

“But we [on the TV show] are designing beginnings and endings every week. And those things allow us to constantly create fresh and new things as a fan. There were so many things we got to do in the show that I was so excited about because they were either things that Neil had wanted to put in the game, but they didn’t have time, or they were new things that they had thought of after [making the game]. And then there were things that just came out of our conversations that we wanted to do.”

Closing off the conversation, Mazin said: “If you are a fan of the game, and you know everything that’s going to happen, all I can tell you is you’re going to feel a lot. You’re going to be surprised, repeatedly. And you are also going to be comforted repeatedly by a kind of re-presentation of things that you love that are meaningful to you.”

The Last of Us is exclusively available from 16th January on Sky Atlantic and streaming service NOW.

Check out more of our Sci-Fi coverage or visit our TV Guide or Streaming Guide to find out what else is on.

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