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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 Episodes 1, 2 and 3.

HBO’s highly anticipated adaptation of Naughty Dog’s critically acclaimed video game “The Last of Us” is finally here — and TheWrap is providing a weekly roundup of the biggest changes and notable easter eggs from its source material.

“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 Last of Us” 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.

Episode 1

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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)

Changes

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 Angel Knives, which has similarities to Mortal Kombat.  

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

The Last of Us” airs weekly on Sundays at 9 pm ET on HBO and is streaming on HBO Max.