The Last of Us episode 2 landed on HBO Max on Sunday, and it saw Ellie, Tess and Joel taking the first steps of their dark journey across the US. Fans of the classic video game will undoubtedly be pleased at how closely it mirrors the source material.
There were a few major deviations from the game, though, so let’s dive into those.
Since the game limits its focus to Joel and Ellie’s perspectives, references to the pandemic’s origins are limited to notes and old newspapers scattered around the environment.
In contrast, episode 2’s opening flashback reveals how the Cordyceps fungus brought the world to ruin in 2003. After being bitten by an unknown person, a woman working at a flour and grain factory in Jakarta, Indonesia, chomped on her coworkers before being gunned down.
Several of these people were executed to stop the problem from growing, but it was too late. After being consulted by security forces and discovering that the dead woman’s body had been colonized by the fungus, mycology expert Ibu Ratna (Christine Hakim) offers some terrifying advice: Bomb the city to stop it from spreading further.
Ibu Ratna realizes the world is doomed.
Apparently accepting that this was the end, Ratna asks to be taken home so she can spend whatever time she has left with her family. Series writer Craig Mazin told CNET this is scariest moment in the show for him.
“That’s terrifying to me,” he said. “It grounds everything, and the more we can make the peripheral feel real, the more the center will feel real.”
So, yeah, cheery stuff. In his deep-dive into the science behind the show’s fungal pandemic, CNET’s Jackson Ryan noted that we’re hugely dependent on rice, wheat and maize as food sources. If any of these were infected with a fungal pathogen, it could be devastating.
In the game, Cordyceps spreads via spores — Mazin told ComicBook.com that they changed it for the show to avoid having characters wearing gas masks all the time.
The game forces characters to avoid Cordyceps spores.
A dark fate
Mysterious teen Ellie (Bella Ramsey) is immune to the fungal brain infection that has reduced much of the populace to savage cannibals, so smuggler partners Tess and Joel (Anna Torv and Pedro Pascal) have been tasked with delivering her to the rebel group known as the Fireflies. They hope to replicate Ellie’s resistance and restore the world.
The episode’s 2023 story sticks closely to the game, right down to Tess hiding the fact that she’d been bitten by one of the infected in the Bostonian Museum. They reach the Capitol Building and find the corpses of the Fireflies they were meant to bring Ellie to.
Tess reveals her wound, accepts that she’s doomed and demands that a reluctant Joel bring Ellie to their buddies Bill and Frank, so they can help get Ellie to the Fireflies.
Tess wants to see the world restored, even if she won’t be there to see it.
“You get her there. You keep her alive. And you set everything right,” she says. “All the shit we did. Please say yes, Joel, please.”
In the game, soldiers of the authoritarian remnants of the US military arrive at the building and Tess stays behind to delay their adversaries. She’s quickly gunned down, but her sacrifice gives Joel and Ellie the chance to escape.
The show, however, sees a horde of infected descend on the Capitol Building, and Tess stays behind to cover Joel and Ellie’s escape. She dumps gas and grenades all over the floor.
“Joel, save who you can save,” she says, prompting him to pull a struggling Ellie to safety.
Joel suddenly finds himself responsible for Ellie.
As the infected rush in, Tess struggles to ignite the lighter and blow them all up. A particularly horribly mutated infected notices her and tendrils extend from its mouth into hers — never have I wanted a flame to ignite more.
Much to our relief, she manages light the fire and closes her eyes before the explosion kills her and a bunch of infected. Ellie and Joel witness the blast from outside, and a quietly devastated Joel walks away.
We don’t know why the show’s creators opted to use infected for this moment instead of soldiers, but it seems likely they wanted to reinforce the danger of the Cordyceps fungus just as it was revealed that Ellie could be the source of a cure.
The bleak tale continues on HBO Max next Sunday, Jan. 29.
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