How The Last of Us Episode 3 Proves Changes Are Critical to a Good Adaptation

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Warning: This article contains spoilers for The Last of Us Episode 3, as well as for the game up to that point.


If you had told me a few years ago that I would be crying like a baby watching the live-action adaptation of the search for a car battery in a video game in a series from the guy who wrote Scary Movie 4, I would have laughed in your face, but The Last of Us episode 3 has proven me wrong.

The HBO adaptation has received widespread applause from critics for how well it has transferred the already highly rated video game to the realm of series. But a totally valid criticism that has been made of it is that getting the tone and plot right didn’t take much workas Naughty Dog’s cinematic narrative and structure had already laid many of the foundations.

The first two episodes of the series have followed the game to the letter when it comes to the introduction of Joel (Pedro Pascal), Ellie (Bella Ramsey) and the circumstances that led them to travel as backpackers through this post-apocalypse. fungal. Nevertheless, It is in the third episode where the series gives a twist to what is known.

change is hard but is inevitable when telling a familiar story in a new medium. Let me explain how The Last of Us Episode 3 introduces huge changes and tells a whole new story, but in a way that builds on the source material rather than paving over it.

In the game, Joel and Ellie head to Lincoln City in search of Bill (played by Nick Offerman on the HBO series), a survivor Joel smuggled for in the past, hoping he can provide them with a vehicle. In the series, episode 3 begins with Joel and Ellie on their way to Lincoln, and ends with them driving away in Bill’s truck, but basically everything that happens in between is different.

People often get angry when film or television adaptations make changes to beloved source material, and that anger is often justified, but adaptation, by definition, involves changes. In biology, it occurs when an organism develops new traits that help it survive in its environment (for example, a parasitic cordyceps fungus responds to rising temperatures by aggressively seeking new hosts to proliferate its species). In the case of mass media, an adaptation involves changing a story to better adapt it to a new medium. What’s fun in a video game doesn’t have to be a good prime-time drama, and vice versa.

Shooting and running from hordes of zombies is something that has been done ad nauseam in virtually every medium. What made The Last of Us so special, apart from its excellent gameplay, was the way it explored concepts established by many genres with the gravity and nuance of a serious prestige drama. There are great stories of post-apocalyptic wastelands filled with carnivorous monsters, but there’s also a lot of mediocre garbage.

In the game, Bill is an old survivor locked up in a town full of traps and homemade barricades, a not-so-subtle metaphor for how he’s become emotionally isolated. While arguing with Joel, he mentions Frank, an old classmate, in passing. Bill leads Joel and Ellie through a maze of dilapidated buildings and wrecked vehicles in search of car parts, fighting off waves of clickers in the process. Finally, they reach a safe room and they find the body of Frank, who hanged himself after being infected.

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While they search the house, Joel finds an angry letter that Frank left for Bill., just in case he bumped into her. The last line? Frank would rather die trying to get out than spend another day with Bill. Up to this point, Bill’s demeanor and general toughness left some ambiguity as to whether this “associate” was a business associate or a lover, but Frank’s note strongly suggests the latter, and if that wasn’t obvious enough, the gay porn that Ellie swiped from Bill makes that clear.

I think we tend to see death as a failure, especially when we’re talking about a video game.

In the series, virtually every aspect of the relationship between Bill and Frank changes, but the characters remain true to how they were introduced in the game. The arguments they get into echo the complaints in Frank’s letter, but in the series it’s almost as if Bill ran through a few dialogue checks to unlock the “good ending.” Well, as close to one as you can get in the grim and unforgiving world of The Last of Us.

Speaking to IGN, showrunner Craig Mazin explained:”I think it’s a happy ending. I think we tend to see death as a failure, especially when we’re talking about a video game. It’s literally a failure… But then there’s this other way of ending things on your own terms, satisfied”.

Episode 3 of the HBO series is almost the original story of Bill. He was a textbook example of a doomsday prepper seeming to welcome the doomsday with open arms. Following Lincoln’s evacuation, Bill springs into action. Bill’s booby traps and security measures in the video game were rudimentary and seemed straight out of the same playbook as Wile E. Coyote or Kevin McCallister. But in the series? Offerman’s Bill channels the libertarian ideals and exquisite craftsmanship of Ron Swansonbuilding elaborate defenses that turn the city of Lincoln into their own private fortress…and paradise.

Ok, maybe it’s the other way around. Mazin explained what Offerman brought to the role, telling us: “It’s not Ron Swanson reporting to Nick, it’s Nick reporting to Ron Swanson… the key difference is that Nick is the kindest, most open and welcoming human being there is. You don’t get that ‘walk away’ rudeness from me’, but an inherent old-fashioned American masculinity; an appreciation for steak and scotch and good manners, speaking straight and demanding a full day’s work from everyone around you.”

Before long, Frank, played by Murray Bartlett, falls into one of these traps. Bill reluctantly lets him in to give him a meal and a hot shower. Past the typical HBO Sunday night prestige drama sex scene, we find a genuine and sincere love story, and for a show about a fungal apocalypse, it’s much more slice of life than freak of the week. The biggest conflicts are on a smaller scale than we expect from this world: Frank wants to fix up the neighborhood and invite his friends over. Loyal to his video game counterpart, Bill stubbornly opposes change, frivolity, or anything else that might compromise his safety, but this time he relents to make Frank happy. Joel and Tess come over for lunch, which turns out to be the start of a fruitful business relationship, in the most literal sense: they end up trading seeds to start a strawberry patch.

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Although a brief shootout with assailants appears to leave Bill mortally wounded, the deadliest threat in this episode turns out to be something even more difficult to combat: an incurable terminal illness, or the ordinary, non-sci-fi bud variety that hits much closer to home. Despite Bill’s gut instinct to try and fight and survive, Frank points out that there was no cure for this before the end of the world, and it’s only going to get worse. In the game, Frank said that he would rather die than spend another day with Bill. After his last perfect day, Bill respects Frank’s wishes to die his way and pours him a glass of wine with sleeping pills, pouring himself one as well. A suicide pact may not be a fairy tale happy ending, but Bill and Frank had a perfect day together and ended things his way. In the game, we never find out Bill’s fate, but he doesn’t seem to have much else to do.

Bill’s realization of who he is as a human being inspires Joel to do the right thing in this case.

After Bill and Frank’s last meal, Joel and Ellie arrive in Lincoln to find a note, written by Bill, addressed to Joel (or whoever). It’s reminiscent of Frank’s in the game, but instead of being bitter and vindictive, it’s hopeful, and instead of just supplementary reading, plays a pivotal role in the advancement of the series.

“Bill, not understanding that he is doing it, has managed to inspire Joel to take Ellie west. He has given Joel this posthumous instruction that ‘men like you and me are here for a reason, to protect the people we love, and God help any son of a bitch that gets in our way.'” Mazin points. “Bill’s realization of who he is as a human being inspires Joel to do the right thing here.. The question is whether he’s always going to inspire Joel to do the right thing.”

After finding and charging a car battery with far less hassle than in the game, Joel and Ellie hit the road in Bill’s blue and white striped pickup truck. The only thing that happens differently during his time at Lincoln that has any major repercussions is that Ellie steals one of Bill’s guns; in the game, she just steals his porn. How will the pistol come into play? We’ll have to wait and see.

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This episode is going to piss off a lot of people.. Aside from the fact that it’s a very sincere gay love story, one that’s sure to outrage the worst people, some will complain that it’s different from the game, or that it leaves Joel and Ellie out for an hour, or There are hardly any action scenes.

It is clear that Druckmann is not afraid to surprise the public, but that was not the goal: “We didn’t approach it like, ‘Okay, it’s time to really surprise people familiar with the game.’ we could count right now,” the game’s co-creator told us. “We had some initial conversations where we wanted to see Frank because we had a chance to go back, but then Craig came to me with a pretty comprehensive proposal for what this story could be like, and I fell in love with it.”

As expected, Druckmann is protective of his creations: “If someone came to me a few years ago and said: ‘Okay, how about adapting a story and taking one of the main characters and completely changing their destiny?’ I would have said: ‘Fuck no. Have you gone crazy?” But I think it speaks to the kind of process that Craig and I have, which is always being open to new ideas and then evaluating how they affect the rest of the story. Are we better at this version of the story in this other medium or are we worse? If we are better, we should fully accept it. And this was a very beautiful story. It was very easy for me to say, ‘Let’s do it. It sounds amazing.’

Whatever the discourse on the episode, it should not be overlooked that a big underlying theme is that being open to change and trying new things makes life better. In the game, Bill is stubbornly stuck in his ways, and as a result, his is one of the most tragic stories. In the series, he lowers his defenses a bit and takes risks, and in the end he ends up better because of it; in the end he’s still totally tragic, but there are much worse ways to die.

Adaptation, whether in nature, in the media or in everyday life, is about making the best of new circumstances, and this episode will take some out of their comfort zone, but that’s what it’s all about. If you want to relive the events of the game, well… Last year they redid everything from scratch with better visual effects, and for those who prefer to sit back and watch, there are plenty of playthroughs on YouTube. As the saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt, and an exact 1:1 remake of the game wouldn’t necessarily make for a good TV series. We have seen many adaptations that have changed a lot of things for no reason, but this time? I think they have done well.