The infected were a constant threat throughout the first season of HBO’s The Last of Us, but compared to the game, the show didn’t ultimately feature quite as many different kinds of cordyceps-infected monsters as Joel and Ellie made their way to Salt Lake City. Aside from one rather melodramatic bloater, small hordes of clickers (and other humans) were really the only dangers The Last of Us’ human survivors seemingly had to worry about. But according to showrunner Craig Mazin and series co-creator Neil Druckmann, there’s a reason for that, and it may very well change as The Last of Us continues in future seasons.
During a recent junket interview ahead of last night’s finale, Mazin and Druckmann spoke at length about their adaptation process and how they decided which elements of gameplay were absolutely essential to the story’s narrative. The Last of Us being based on a postapocalyptic survival game meant that Joel’s story in the show would obviously be marked by violence reminiscent of the source material.
But Mazin explained that because television is a more passive medium and because so much of The Last of Us is about Joel — a complicated protagonist we’re meant to care about — killing people, it felt right to downplay “a lot of the gameplay centered on NPCs that you have to get around” for the show.
“Either avoid or stealth kill or just confront head on — those were sort of your choices when you’re playing, and the NPCs were either raiders or cannibals or FEDRA or they were the infected,” Mazin said. “I don’t know what your ultimate kill count is in a typical run of The Last of Us, but it’s in the triple digits for sure.”
While triple kill counts may just come part and parcel with playing the game a little aggressively, Druckmann said that general estimate was “much higher than we would want for the show” — and that every action scene that either felt like a pure spectacle or that didn’t move characters emotionally ended up being cut. Part of how they adjusted, the pair described, was by putting more emphasis on character relationships. In doing so, the deaths of characters like Tess, Bill, and Frank could have much more weight to them without the series having to focus solely on how many clickers they took down before meeting their ends.
“So, there may be less action than some people wanted because we couldn’t necessarily find significance for quite a bit of it, but [there was] a concern that it would be repetitive,” Mazin said. “After all, you’re not playing it, you’re watching it, and although a lot of people do like to watch gameplay, it needs to be a little bit more focused and purposeful when we’re putting it on TV.”
As open to new ideas for the show as Mazin and Druckmann both were, they said that there was never any question about the finale playing out exactly the same way it did in the first Last of Us game, with Joel murdering multiple Fireflies in order to save Ellie’s life.
Though they wouldn’t go into detail about whether they plan to take a similar approach as they adapt The Last of Us Part II in the show’s future seasons (plural), Mazin did say that he wants there to be a sort of big picture balance that comes into shape when people are able to compare the show’s chapters. Season 1 might not have spotlighted all that many of the special infected, but that lack is something season 2 could very well address.
“There is more The Last of Us to come, and I think the balance is not always just about within an episode, or even episode-to-episode, but season-to-season,” Mazin said. “It’s quite possible that there will be a lot more infected later, and perhaps different kinds.”