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Show vs Game: The Last of Us Episode 2

Episode 2 of The Last of Us show feels more like a video game than the previous episode, undoubtedly because it was directed by game director Neil Druckmann. This episode diverges only a little from the game, but it’s the nature of those incremental divergences that are fascinating to dissect.

Check out our coverage of The Last Of Us
SPOILER WARNING for episode 2 of the show and early parts of the TLOU game:

Episode 2 recap

Talking of dissection, we cold-open on 24th September 2003 in Jakarta, as foreshadowed in last week’s open. A woman (Christine Hakim) quietly eating lunch is summoned/kidnapped by military police. She asks the driver if she’s committed a crime, which screams guilty, but he says no. At a hospital facility, it’s revealed she is a Professor of Mycology (AKA a fungi expert). She inspects a slide through a microscope, in denial that cordyceps can be found in humans. Then, because this is HBO, she dons a Hazmat suit and dissects a human bite mark on a naked female corpse. She pulls some creepy plant tendrils from the corpse’s mouth and legs it. An official tells her that a woman in a flour and grain factory started biting people, and 14 of her co-workers are still missing. This chills Professor Ratna (and me) to the bone. Doubling down on doctor John Hannah’s statement in the last episode, Professor Ratna says a vaccine isn’t possible and, why not simply “bomb” all affected cities. Petrifying.

We cut to 2023. Ellie wakes up in an overgrown building, having slept fine since Joel murder-punched someone to death the previous night. Tess and Joel remain wary of Ellie’s immunity status (wouldn’t you be skeptical of a positive COVID test from someone saying ‘But I feel fine’?). While Ellie uses a magazine for toilet paper the adults discuss what to do, Joel not bothered if Ellie lives or dies. Tess forces Ellie to reveal that the Fireflies want to take her to a QZ with a medical setup to use her immunity to make a vaccine. An exasperated Joel has heard this all before, but Tess concludes they should deliver Ellie and get their booty. Tess explains to Ellie that Boston was bombed back in the day, but it (clearly) didn’t stop the virus. As they make their way to the Statehouse, Ellie cracks ill-timed jokes, while Tess asks her whether she was alone when bitten. Ellie says yes (not the story she told Marlene) and no, she doesn’t have a “boyfriend”. Ellie does however, have an education, knowing all about those Infected “with split open heads that see in the dark like bats.” The trio head through a hotel full of indestructible green plastic chairs while a frog plays the piano. When Ellie asks Joel whether it was hard to kill Infected  “… knowing they were people once?” he doesn’t answer. Tess then delivers some gruesome exposition about the 50 infected lying on the ground mingling with the cordyceps tendrils. Stepping on roots in one place may ‘awaken’ dozens of infected elsewhere and send them towards you as Ellie “is not immune from being ripped apart”. They head, torches and guns cocked, into a museum. Be careful what you wish for, Ellie, because here come those echolocating Infected known as Clickers. After a terrifying silent then loud Clicker attack the three escape, although Ellie has been bitten. Luckily, she can still cross a gap using a wooden platform and admire the view. They make it to the statehouse but the Fireflies are all dead, from bites or gunfire, Joel surmising  “they all fought one another, nobody won”. Tess insists on pressing on and Ellie works out why. Tess has also been bitten and the infection is spreading fast. In a heartbreaking moment of self-loathing, Tess calls herself a shitty person and begs Joel to “make things right” by taking Ellie to Bill and Frank, so he can “save who you can save”. Then Tess sets fire to the courthouse after enduring the worst French kiss imaginable. Building in flames, Joel doesn’t even look back. But Ellie is shell-shocked. RIP Tess Servopoulos. 

Well actually, in the Game…

This episode covers more game territory than episode 1. This makes sense, as there’s only so much murder by zombie and stealthing around filing cabinets that makes interesting viewing. Episode 2 maps on to Chapter 2: The Outskirts (subsection: Outside) through to Chapter 3: Downtown.

But first, a correction. I previously said that game-Joel was not a druggie like show-Joel. Joel is a huge pill popper of Supplements, which I assumed were vitamins. You know, the kind of vitamins that help Joel craft items really quickly…

As the end of Episode 1 fell right in the middle of gameplay, the game can’t cut to the morning after. Once game-Joel shoots the soldiers, we run through moonlit tunnels chased by FEDRA soldiers who know Joel is a murderer. Otherwise known as, ah, if it’s not the consequences of my actions. On harder game modes it’s easy to get caught in flashlight glare and gunned down. Imagine dying before seeing any Infected? Boring! The game has no maps, but a lot of hauling wheeled bins, traversing boards across gaps and pulling up heavy garage doors. So far, the TLOU game has only seen humans kill humans.

After the tunnels, and still at night, the game trio make their way to the Statehouse through an office building, not a hotel (but hotel exploration is something Joel and Ellie do later in the game). Also, unlike in the show, game-Ellie wades through water without complaint – she does mention her inability to swim later, but Tess and Joel are kind about it. Again, everyone is nicer to one another in the game yet it’s surprising how much show dialogue is lifted. I guess it’s something in the show actors’ delivery. The three find their first mauled body, but they’re nonchalant about it, unlike show Ellie who is (rightly) terrified. Game Tess explains very clearly that they must be quiet because Clickers, but the game forces the player (as Joel) to loudly and repeatedly wedge doors open with screeching metal cabinets. It certainly builds tension. The trio root around until Tess coolly shoots a Clicker right in the face, something her show counterpoint is less skilled at! Plenty of fast Infected (known as Runners) attack, but they’re all libertarians. The mushroom ground tendrils connecting to groups of Infected is a gross show invention. Game Joel is just as terse, and, as this is a game, there’s a lot of face-to-face contact with infected, plus looting their bleeding bodies for bullets, rags and jars of nuts and bolts (well, the Infected don’t need them). As in the show, Tess remarks that the recently infected turn quickly, and Ellie and Tess’s conversation re: her being alone in a mall when she was bitten is almost word for word the same (except the boyfriend part). 

The museum is a really fun part of the game. Players can walk around enjoying the desiccating paraphernalia which looks much worse than in the show. After a similar Clicker attack, Joel is concerned for Ellie, who doesn’t get bitten. And unlike the show, he doesn’t keep looking at his watch to indicate that he’s thinking about his dead daughter! In both game and show Ellie wistfully looks at the distant Statehouse declaring, “You can’t deny that view”. It’s clearly a key moment for their budding bond. 

Then the game skips to the morning, and the trio come up on the Statehouse. In a move unthinkable for the show characters, game-Ellie thanks Tess and Joel for bringing her there. They’re all so polite! Alas, all the Fireflies are dead and Tess has also been bitten. She still has a purpose, also telling Joel that “we are shitty people”, but in the game, Joel gives a defiant response: “No, we are survivors.” As indicated in episode 1 The game narrative differs, with no mention of Bill and Frank. Instead, Tess asks Joel to take Ellie to wherever Tommy is (vague) as he used to be a firefly so maybe he can find the medical unit. 

A key final difference is that it’s not the Infected that swarm the Statehouse, but those pesky Military units. Joel wants to stay and fight with Tess, but she demands that he and Ellie go. Tess raises her weapon, then it cuts to Joel and Ellie on the other side of the door. We hear gunfire then look over a balcony at a prostrate Tess. A commander announces: “Target neutralised. She took out two of our men.RIP Tess, you died as you lived, being a badass. 

Watch your language

Comparing the show to the game throws up interesting questions about the decisions behind adaptation choices. Why did screenwriter Crag Mazin ask Bella Ramsey’s Ellie to say “Well, I didn’t shit my pants” instead of game-Ellie’s “Other than shitting my pants, I’m fine.” Did he actually think that viewers might not understand irony, and would be imagining a squelching lead character? Okay…

Joking aside, the changes made to the last words between Joel and Tess are enlightening. In each case, the scene is still moving, conveying so much meaning. In the game, cutscene voice actor Annie Wersching impeccably delivers the line “There’s enough here so that you have to feel some sort of obligation to me.” In the show’s version, Anna Torv’s Tess speaks more to herself, saying “I didn’t ask you for anything…Not even to feel the way I felt.” This suggests an unbalanced love affair, which makes more sense for show-Joel who has cut himself off from all feelings. I like both versions, but hope that Joel had some good times during 20 years of post-apocalypse living, given he’s the hottest 56 year old around.

What’s coming in Episode 3:

The crew (of two) are still heading to Bill and Frank’s. I can’t wait to see what happens when they get to Bill’s Town.


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