4 Big Reasons I Might Have Enjoyed The Last Of Us More If It Were A Less Faithful Adaptation

Joel concerned in The Last of Us finale
(Image credit: HBO)

I'm old. How old, you say? Old enough to remember being excited for the Super Mario Bros. movie (not the Nintendo/Illumination one. The one with Bob Hoskins!) only to be disappointed when I actually saw it since it was NOTHING like the games. 

But, being a grown-up is realizing that swing-for-the-fences misses like the original Super Mario Bros. movie (which I'll now defend to my dying day) are way more interesting than lazy (yes, I said lazy) "faithful" adaptations, and that's how I feel about HBO's The Last of Us. It's a lazy adaptation.    

How can I say such a thing when so much love and care went into it? Well, you're about to find out. 

Oh, and MAJOR spoilers up ahead for both the TV show and the game. You’ve been warned. 

Joel hugging Ellie in the snow in HBO's The Last of Us

(Image credit: HBO)

I Wouldn't Have Known Exactly Where The Show Was Heading If It Wasn't So Faithful To The Game

I beat The Last of Us all the way back in 2013. Back then, it wasn't repackaged for the PlayStation 5 as a "Part I," it was just the game and it was amazing. The accolades were numerous, and I remember it quite well. 

So well, in fact, that I knew pretty much every twist and turn that the show was going to take. Were you surprised when Henry shot his brother Sam, and then turned the gun on himself in Episode 5? Well, I wasn't, because that's what happened in the game. 

Did it shock you when Ellie brutally killed David in Episode 8 after what he tried to do to her? Really? Well, not me, because I knew that scene was coming. It was slightly altered, sure, but it was still in the game. Same with Joel killing everybody in the hospital in Episode 9. In fact, in the very same episode, when Pedro Pascal brought down the ladder, I turned to my wife and said, "There’s going to be a giraffe up there," and, would you believe it, there it was.   

I mean, jeez. The only episode that was genuinely interesting, was Episode 3, “Long, Long Time,” and that was probably because it was the only episode that was completely original and wasn’t in the game at all. Speaking of which… 

Bill in The Last of Us.

(Image credit: Naughty Dog)

Being Less Faithful To The Game Would Have Made The Show Feel Like A Brand New Experience 

A lot of people tend to say that the book is always better than the movie (I do think there are some exceptions), but like, yeah, duh. Of course. When you read a book, or in this case, play a game, it’s a wholly personal experience. Sure, you can read the same book as somebody else, or play the same game, but your experience is yours and yours alone, and you’ll likely attach your own personal feelings to it when you read or play it for the first time.    

When you see a movie or a TV show based on an already established property, however, you’re going to find that the actors are different from who you envisioned in your head (more on that later), or that the story moves either quicker or slower than you imagined it, and so on. This is yet another reason why I’d rather have a loose adaptation than a faithful one, as it’s never going to live up to your first reading or play-through. 

I much prefer something more like a companion piece. Just think about The Shining, which I think is superior to the book. Both Kubrick’s film and Stephen King’s novel follow the same basic plot, but they’re vastly different in their delivery. Same with Silver Linings Playbook, which is quite different from the novel, but also similar in key aspects. I much prefer this approach to an adaptation, because it feels like a whole new experience, even after reading the source material. 

As I already mentioned, Episode 3 with Bill and Frank’s relationship was alluded to in the game, but it was altered substantially in the show, as we never met Frank (alive) in the game. Bill is just angry with him. But, the show took the idea of them having a loving relationship and made it the season’s best episode, and that’s what I would have loved to have seen from the rest of the season. The same characters, but in brand new scenarios, so I could enjoy both the game and the show for different reasons.     

Joel angry in The Last of Us

(Image credit: Playstation)

If The Show Was Less Faithful, I Wouldn't Have Felt Like I Would Rather Just Replay The Game Than Watch The Series 

Okay, so this is particularly unique for The Last of Us. Because while I loved the Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter movies way back in the day, it’s safe to say that those were more guilty pleasures than anything else, and that I don’t even consider them when I’m playing the games they’re based on (unless, of course, we’re talking Street Fighter: The Movie The Game). 

No, this is unique because it’s actually a quality TV show. And, for people who never played the game, I can see them being highly invested in it. In fact, I saw a number of people online starting their praises for the series with, “Having never played the game…” which is important, because millions of us HAVE played the game, and let me tell you, the game is way better than the show.

Take for example the last episode of the season. In it, Joel kills the doctor who is operating on Ellie to find a cure for the human race. It was pretty shocking to see the internet's newly minted daddy killing so many people, it doesn’t have the same brutal impact that it had in the game, because you were actually the one controlling Joel and shooting the doctor, whether you wanted to or not. 

This is what makes video games such a beautiful and immersive art form. It’s the only medium where you feel like you’re in control of your own destiny. Some fans agreed with Joel, because Ellie would have died just to find a potential cure, and others, like myself, had a much different reaction since I didn’t agree with Joel’s actions, but I still had to go through with them regardless, which made me feel dirty. I definitely didn’t feel dirty watching Pedro Pascal blowing people away. I just felt bored.

Who knows, though? If the show had charted a different trajectory, maybe I would have felt something unique since I wouldn’t have seen it coming. Who’s to say? 

Joel and Ellie looking at mass grave in The Last of Us

(Image credit: HBO Max)

If The Show Was Less Faithful, I Wouldn't Have Tried To Recast The Actors In My Head 

Look, no disrespect to Pedro Pascal or Bella Ramsey as I think they did a pretty good job, but no matter how good they did, I still don’t see either as being a fitting Joel or Ellie, respectively. In fact, when watching the finale with my wife, I kept grumbling how Pascal didn’t feel like Joel because he seemed too nice, and my wife said that maybe Hugh Jackman could have been better. I narrowed my eyes, and then nodded. Yeah, I could see that. Jackman has grit.  

But, if it had been Hugh Jackman, I probably would have complained about that casting as well, and I might have even thought that Pascal would have made for a better Joel. Sort of like how no actor will ever make for the perfect Roland Deschain in my mind for the upcoming Mike Flanagan Dark Tower series, I really can’t see anybody else being Joel than the one I controlled in the game. 

The frustrating part is that it didn’t have to be this way! For example, Bill is kind of bland in the game, but Nick Offerman really brought him to life in the show. I think it’s because he was so different in the show than he was in the game that I was able to accept this version of him more than his video game counterpart. Likewise, if the show changed things up a bit more, I don’t think I would have been so harsh in my feelings about Pascal or Ramsey. It’s impossible to say now, but I just have that feeling.

What do you think? Are faithful adaptations the way to go, or do you prefer looser ones? Either way, for more news on The Last of Us, be sure to swing around here often.   

Rich Knight
Content Producer

Rich is a Jersey boy, through and through. He graduated from Rutgers University (Go, R.U.!), and thinks the Garden State is the best state in the country. That said, he’ll take Chicago Deep Dish pizza over a New York slice any day of the week. Don’t hate. When he’s not watching his two kids, he’s usually working on a novel, watching vintage movies, or reading some obscure book.