The Last Of Us Creator Shares Smart Explanation For Why HBO Series Will Be Less Violent Than Iconic Video Game

Tommy holding rifle in The Last of Us
(Image credit: HBO)

While much of The Last of Us’ lasting impact on both video game enthusiasts and non-gamers tied into the emotional evolution of Joel and Ellie’s relationship, an undeniable draw for players also comes with putting blades and bullets into monstrous and human enemies. As such, a ton of blood and other gooey fluids gets shed during the course of the first game (not to mention its DLC and sequel), which is definitely part of what fans are hoping to see from HBO’s live-action The Last of Us adaptation starring Pablo Pascal, Bella Ramsey and more. And while there are lots of horrifying treats in store for audiences, co-developer Neil Druckmann has revealed the TV experience won’t rely nearly as much on violent encounters.

Neil Druckmann wrote and co-directed both of the award-winning Last of Us games, and co-created the episodic adaptation alongside Chernobyl maestro Craig Mazin, so he’s inarguably the best person to speak on how and why changes were made when bringing the harrowing story from the Playstation console to an HBO production. Speaking with SFX magazine ahead of the HBO horror-drama’s January 15 premiere, Druckmann explained why the creative team chose to lean away from the continuous and consistent violence that Joel faces in the source material, saying:

We need a certain amount of action, or violence, that we could use for mechanics so you could connect with Joel and get into a flow state. Then you would really feel like you’re connected with this on-screen avatar and you’re seeing the world through his eyes. But that doesn’t exist in a passive medium. One of the things that I loved hearing from [co-creator Craig Mazin] and HBO very early on was, ‘Let’s take out all the violence except for the very essential.’ That allowed the violence to have even more impact than in the game, because when you hold on showing the threat and you’re seeing people’s reaction to a threat, that makes it scarier. And when we do reveal the infected and the Clickers, you get to see what brought down humanity and why everyone is so scared.

As someone who adores both TLoU games with all of my blackened heart, I can definitely speak to the notion that while the level of physical violence does get jarring at times — usually through cut scenes — it doesn’t take extremely long for desensitization to kick in. To Druckmann’s point, trying to survive an ongoing array of gunfights and Clicker attacks keeps players stressfully strapped into Joel’s headspace as part of the overall gaming experience, but that’s an entirely different thought process than the one TV writers adopt for their more passive audiences. Watching Joel fight for survival in live-action doesn’t require all of the steps taken to ensure gamers remain rapt, and thus doesn’t require as many violent threats. 

All that said, there’s no doubt some fans will read “less violent” as “less enjoyable” or “less authentic,” but let’s just strap a nail bomb to those kinds of thoughts. “Less is more” is nearly always the best way to handle things, and it’s easy to understand why spreading the more hyper-violent sequences out will make them that much more effective while watching. The Last of Us, which wrapped production back in November 2021, would likely be criticized by one and all if it was just an endless line of gun battles with desperate stragglers and former Fireflies. Druckmann and Mazin would appear to be adhering to age-old horror principles, which they hope will help make the standout scenes all the more impactful.

And viewers can bet with assurance that the live-action Clickers will bring all the same pulse-pounding tension that the blind mutations bring to the game series. Druckmann & Co. brought the horrifying monsters to life almost entirely through practical effects, costuming and makeup, making them just as jolt-worthy to the actors themselves as the characters.

With or without violent content in the mix, The Last of Us will deliver a smorgasbord of big moments from the video game, with lots of details and easter eggs for players to look out for. Arguably the two biggest highlights have already been revealed, with Ellie and Joel voice actors Ashley Johnson and Troy Baker joining the cast as “Anna Williams” and “James,” respectively. But with Druckmann partly behind the wheel, you know many more will be revealed as the weeks go by.

Check out the show’s first full trailer below.

The Last of Us will arrive on HBO on Sunday, January 15, at 9:00 p.m. ET, and the ep will also be streamable for those with HBO Max subscriptions. Head to our 2023 TV premiere schedule to see what else is coming to the small screen soon.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native and an Assistant Managing Editor with a focus on TV and features. His humble origin story with CinemaBlend began all the way back in the pre-streaming era, circa 2009, as a freelancing DVD reviewer and TV recapper.  Nick leapfrogged over to the small screen to cover more and more television news and interviews, eventually taking over the section for the current era and covering topics like Yellowstone, The Walking Dead and horror. Born in Louisiana and currently living in Texas — Who Dat Nation over America’s Team all day, all night — Nick spent several years in the hospitality industry, and also worked as a 911 operator. If you ever happened to hear his music or read his comics/short stories, you have his sympathy.