The Biggest ‘The Last of Us’ Easter Eggs and Changes From the Game

HBO’s post-apocalyptic drama series stars Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey as Joel and Ellie


Warning: This article contains spoilers for “The Last of Us” Season 1

The first season of HBO’s highly anticipated adaptation of Naughty Dog’s critically acclaimed video game “The Last of Us” officially concluded on Sunday evening. Here, TheWrap details the differences between the series and the popular video game.

“The Last of Us,” which is written and executive produced by Craig Mazin (“Chernobyl”) and Naughty Dog co-president Neil Druckmann, takes place 20 years after modern civilization has been destroyed. Joel (Pedro Pascal), a hardened survivor, is hired to smuggle a 14-year-old girl named Ellie (Bella Ramsey) out of an oppressive quarantine zone. What starts as a small job soon becomes a brutal, heartbreaking journey, as they both must traverse the U.S. and depend on each other for survival.

The game first made its debut on PlayStation 3 in 2013, while its sequel, “The Last of Us: Part II,” was released in 2020 on the PlayStation 4. The franchise has sold more than 37 million copies globally as of December 2022, according to Naughty Dog.

See below for TheWrap’s full roundup of the show’s biggest changes and notable easter eggs from its source material.

Episode 1

Nico Parker as Sarah in “The Last of Us” (HBO)

Changes From the Game

The opening scene of “The Last of Us” immediately builds upon the source material, with two epidemiologists discussing the threat that viruses and fungi pose to mankind. One of the many mentioned is Cordyceps, which the show and video game’s pandemic stems from.

HBO’s adaptation of “The Last of Us” begins in the year 2003, 10 years earlier than the video game. As a result, the 20-year time jump sets the show’s main timeline in the year 2023 instead of 2033.

The first episode allows the audience to spend more time with Joel’s daughter, Sarah than players get in the video game. New scenes not included in the video game show Sarah attending school and going to pick up Joel’s birthday gift. Another key difference from the game is that Sarah is biracial in the series instead of caucasian.

In addition, the episode introduces new characters not included in the game — Joel and Sarah’s neighbors, the Adlers, and Kim Tembo (Natasha Mumba), a member of the resistance group known as the Fireflies — and answers the question of where Joel was at the start of the video game: bailing his younger brother Tommy out of jail.

Other scenes that build upon the video game’s story show Joel and Tess dealing with the tough conditions in the quarantine zone. Unlike the video game, Joel is after a car battery in the QZ so that he can go find Tommy, while the video game’s plot point of the weapons deal with Robert is reduced. The audience also gets to see more interaction between Ellie and Marlene prior to their meeting with Joel and Tess, which is not included in the video game.

Another major change from the video game is that the Cordyceps infection is passed through tendrils rather than spores.

Easter Eggs

The most notable easter egg from the first episode is that Merle Dandrige, the voice actor of Marlene in “The Last of Us” video game franchise, reprises her role in live-action form.

A blink and you’ll miss it easter egg is a birthday card for Joel located in Sarah’s room as she’s waking up, which was spotted by former Naughty Dog concept artist Alexandria Neonakis. Another is Curtis and the Viper 2, a movie that Sarah borrows from the Adlers. Ellie mentions that she plans to watch the fictional film with Joel in the “Last of Us: Part II.”

Other easter eggs from the video game include Sarah’s “Halican Drops” shirt, Joel’s watch, and the Federal Disaster Response Agency (FEDRA), an antagonist faction featured in “The Last of Us” video game franchise. Also mentioned throughout the first episode is the Fireflies’ slogan from the video game: “When you’re lost in the darkness, look for the light.”

In addition, the scenes in which Joel and Sarah flee their home in Tommy’s truck and Joel and Tess discover Ellie is positive for Cordyceps play out almost identically to those from the video game.

Episode 2

Christine Hakim as Ibu Ratna in HBO’s “The Last of Us” (Liane Hentscher/HBO)

Changes From the Game

The second episode of “The Last of Us” continues with world-building at the top of the episode, starting out in Jakarta, Indonesia. The show introduces a new character named Ibu Ratna, a professor of mycology at the University of Indonesia, who is taken by local authorities to examine an infected individual. She later tells authorities to bomb the city after warning that there is no vaccine.

A scene is also added in which Ellie asks Joel a series of questions, including where he and Tess are from, whether they are in a relationship and if it’s hard to kill infected knowing they were people once. 

Though Tess ultimately becomes infected just like in the video game, how she dies has been altered slightly in HBO’s adaptation. Instead of being killed by a group of soldiers, Tess dies in an explosion that successfully stops a horde of infected from chasing after Joel and Ellie.

Easter Eggs

In episode 2, hardcore fans will notice that Ellie and Joel’s backpacks look identical to the game. Also quickly shown in the episode is Ellie’s switchblade, a weapon she carries throughout the course of the video game. Additionally, the official Naughty Dog Twitter account points out that Tess’ lighter at the end of the episode is modeled after Sam Drake’s lighter in one of the developer’s other popular games: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.

When Ellie explains to Joel and Tess how she got infected, she mentions that she snuck into a mall – a nod to the game’s “Left Behind” storyline. Additionally, Ellie reveals while walking through a flooded hotel that she can’t swim, a challenge that constantly comes up in the original video game.

Another easter egg is Misty Lee and Phillip Kovats, the original voices of the video game’s Clicker zombies, reprising their roles in HBO’s adaptation.

Episode 3

Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett as Bill and Frank in “The Last of Us” (Liane Hentscher/HBO)


Towards the beginning of the third episode of “The Last of Us”, Joel explains to Ellie that the outbreak is believed to have been started by Cordyceps mutating and getting into the food supply through ingredients like flour. This is a slight change from the game, in which the outbreak is caused by infected crops in South America.

The rest of the episode’s changes expand the story of Bill, a character in the game whom Joel and Ellie visit in order to get a vehicle. Viewers and fans of the game are able to see Bill living in the town of Lincoln all by himself as well as what his relationship with his partner Frank was like. 

In the timeline of HBO’s adaptation, Lincoln is evacuated on September 30, 2003. In 2007, Frank stumbles into Bill’s town while traveling from a quarantine zone in Baltimore and is headed towards Boston. Instead of killing Frank, Bill decides to take him in and give him food. The episode proceeds to follow Bill and Frank’s life up until the main timeline in 2023, including meeting Joel and Tess in person after connecting over the radio, Frank rescuing Bill after he’s injured during an attack by raiders, and the pair ultimately choosing to take their own lives after Frank becomes sick and wheelchair bound.

This differs from the game in that players never get the opportunity to meet Frank prior to his death, in which he hangs himself after being infected. Bill, who is still alive during the events of the game, also briefly meets Ellie. Additionally, the episode sees Ellie stealing a pistol from Bill’s house, a change from Joel teaching Ellie how to use a rifle and later giving her a pistol for “emergencies only” in the video game.

Easter eggs

A notable easter egg at the beginning of the episode is Ellie stumbling upon an old arcade machine featuring the game Mortal Kombat and noting that her friend “knew everything” about the game. This is a reference to the video game’s “Left Behind” storyline, in which Ellie and her friend Riley play a fictional arcade game called The Turning, which has similarities to Mortal Kombat.  

Two others are Bill’s trip-wire trap, which is used to keep infected and raiders out of his town, and Ellie’s red shirt.

Episode 4

Bella Ramsey and Pedro Pascal as Ellie and Joel in “The Last of Us” (Liane Hentscher/HBO)


Episode 4 sees Joel and Ellie get ambushed while driving through Kansas City. This is a change from the video game, which finds the pair traveling through Pittsburgh.

Additionally, the episode expands upon Tommy’s backstory, with Joel telling Ellie that his younger brother ended up enlisting in the army after high school during Operation Desert Storm and later joining the Fireflies after meeting Marlene. 

The episode also introduces two new characters, Kathleen and Perry, who lead a resistance movement known in the video game as the Hunters. 

Easter eggs

Early in the episode, Ellie can be seen reading an adult magazine in Bill’s truck – a direct callback to the game. 

Ellie also briefly reads through a pun book, a reference to similar sequences during the Pittsburgh section of the game as well as during the “Left Behind” DLC with her friend Riley.

Additionally, Perry is played by Jeffrey Pierce, who originated the role of Tommy in “The Last of Us” video game franchise.

Episode 5

Lamar Johnson and Keivonn Woodard as Henry and Sam in “The Last of Us”


Like the previous chapters of the HBO series, Episode 5 expands upon the backstory of characters from the video game. This week focused on Henry and Sam, two brothers in the video game who help Joel and Ellie escape Pittsburgh, and a group of hostile survivors known as the Hunters. 

In the game, Henry and Sam come from an abandoned quarantine zone in Hartford, Connecticut, and join a group of survivors headed west. While searching for supplies in Pittsburgh, the group of survivors is forced to separate after being ambushed by the Hunters. 

In HBO’s adaptation, the pair is trying to escape from Kansas City and a resistance movement led by the ruthless Kathleen. In the episode, audiences follow Sam and Henry as they run from the resistance movement and witness Joel and Ellie’s fight in the convenience store from Episode 4. Other notable changes in HBO’s adaptation is that Sam is eight years old instead of 13 and is played by a deaf actor. 

After finding Joel and Ellie and agreeing to work together to escape the city, the group reaches an underground settlement, where Henry explains to Joel that the reason Kathleen is after him is because he sold out her brother Michael to FEDRA in exchange for medicine to treat Sam’s leukemia. Doing so results in Michael’s death, sending Kathleen on a path for vengeance. 

Easter Eggs

When the group reaches the underground settlement, there are two notable Easter eggs. The first is a drawing with the name Ish, a reference to a character who does not appear in the game but whose backstory is revealed through notes picked up by players. The second is a Savage Starlight comic book found by Ellie and Sam, a collectible from the video game.

The final Easter egg is the Bloater at the end of the episode, the most dangerous version of the infected from the video game, which takes years to form after exposure to Cordyceps.

Episode 6

Gabriel Luna and Pedro Pascal as Tommy and Joel in “The Last of Us” (Liane Hentscher/HBO)


The show introduces two new characters, Marlon and Florence, who are survivors living in the wilderness in Wyoming. 

The episode expands upon the character Maria, who is played in the series by Rutina Wesley. Maria tells Ellie that prior to the outbreak, she worked as an assistant district attorney out of Omaha, Nebraska. We also learn from a memorial in Maria’s house that she had a son named Kevin, though his cause of death is not revealed. She later revealed to be pregnant with Tommy’s child, a change from the video game. 

A slight change is made to Joel’s background. In the episode, we learn that Joel was a contractor, whereas in the game it’s confirmed that he’s a carpenter. 

In the final minutes of the episode when the pair is at the University of Eastern Colorado, Joel is stabbed. This is a slight change from the game, where Joel is tackled off of a balcony and lands on a shard of glass. 

Easter Eggs

At the beginning of the episode when Joel and Ellie arrive at Marlon and Florence’s cabin, Ellie ends up taking a dead rabbit –  a reference to the winter section of the game, in which Ellie kills a rabbit with an arrow. 

Towards the beginning of the episode, Joel talks about his aspiration to buy a ranch and raise sheep, while Ellie talks about wanting to be an astronaut. Both are references to “The Last of Us: Part II.” We also meet Ellie’s horse from the sequel, Shimmer, and a girl staring at Ellie and Joel, who many on Twitter have speculated to be Ellie’s girlfriend Dina

Additionally, the show continues to have video game-accurate costumes with Ellie’s pink and white sweatshirt. Joel also mentions towards the end of the episode that he wants to be a singer, a callback to the game.  

Episode 7

Bella Ramsey and Storm Reid as Ellie and Riley in “The Last of Us” (HBO/Liane Hentscher)


In Episode 7, audiences are given a glimpse of Ellie’s time in FEDRA school. Unlike the game, the episode shows Ellie getting into a fight with a classmate named Bethany when she brings up Riley leaving. 

In the video game, Ellie and Riley play an arcade game called The Turning, which is similar to Mortal Kombat. However, the arcade machine is broken, which forces Ellie to imagine the fight instead of actually playing it. 

Additionally, the pair participates in two activities that are omitted from the episode — playing with water guns and throwing bricks at cars. Other changes include Riley and Ellie looking at lingerie from Victoria’s Secret. 

In the game, Ellie’s search for medical supplies to help Joel is interwoven with the Riley flashbacks, whereas in the show it is simply shortened to the final minutes of the episode. 

Easter eggs

The No Pun Intended joke book that Ellie carries around in Episode 4 makes a return. Two other easter eggs from the Left Behind DLC featured in the episode are the wolf and clown Halloween masks and Ellie’s walkman. 

Additionally, fans of the “Last of Us: Part II” can spot a “Dawn of the Wolf Part 2” movie poster and can hear the song “Take on Me,” which are both referenced in the sequel. Another musical easter egg is the song “I Got You Babe,” which is the same song used in the Left Behind DLC. 

Episode 8

Scott Shepherd as David in “The Last of Us” (HBO/Liane Hentscher)


In Episode 8, Ellie carries Joel’s rifle when she goes out to find food for them and comes across David and James, the game’s antagonists in the winter section of the game. This is a slight difference from the game, in which Ellie uses a bow and arrow. 

The episode also expands upon the character of David. Though he is ultimately revealed to be a cannibal, he explains to Ellie that he was a math teacher prior to the outbreak and has since become a preacher. The HBO adaptation also offers a look at David’s people – some of who do not know that their own group are cannibals. 

When Ellie hides from David in the restaurant, she throws a burning piece of wood at him, which sets the building ablaze. In the video game, the fire is started by a lantern that smashes on the ground. After Ellie brutally murders David in the video game, she is immediately pulled off of him by Joel, who is there to comfort her. In the show, Ellie does not reconnect with Joel until after leaving the restaurant and heading back out into the snow. 

Easter eggs

In HBO’s adaptation, James is played by Troy Baker, who originated the character of Joel in “The Last of Us” video game franchise. The other Easter egg is the deer that Ellie kills, which leads her to David and James both in the show and the game.

Episode 9

Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey as Joel and Ellie in “The Last of Us” finale (HBO/Liane Hentscher)


The “Last of Us” finale shed new light on how Ellie may be immune with a flashback of her mother Anna giving birth. Additionally, the episode briefly explores Anna’s friendship with Marlene, who is tasked with taking care of Ellie after the former becomes infected. 

HBO’s adaptation also reveals that Joel attempted but failed to commit suicide after Sarah’s death.

Moments later, Ellie and Joel are hit with a flash bang and are ambushed by the Fireflies. This is a slight change from the game, in which Joel saves Ellie from drowning before being knocked out by a Firefly. 

Easter Eggs

Three actors from the video game appear in the finale: Ashley Johnson, who originated Ellie in the video game and plays Anna in HBO’s adaptation; Merle Dandrige, who reprised her role of Marlene from the video game; and Laura Bailey, who played one of the hospital nurses in both the video game and the show and is known for originating Abby in “The Last of Us: Part II.”

Additionally, the final episode includes the game’s well-known giraffe scene and uses the same end credit song from the game.

The Last of Us” Season 1 is streaming on HBO Max.