The Last of Us Season 2 needs to make more deviations from the source material

Spoilers for HBO’s The Last of Us Season 1 and the 2013 video game.

It was unexpectedly one of my favourite television moments of the year: a 75-minute exploration of a queer relationship developing throughout a 20-year zombie pandemic.

The Last of Us’ third episode “Long, Long Time” was a story that brought the show a lot of praise, due to its standout performances, beautiful writing, but most importantly – its willingness to deviate from the source material it was adapted from.

For the three people who haven’t seen the show yet; The Last of Us (based on the 2013 video game) is set two decades after a mass fungal infection has transformed a majority of the world population into zombie-like creatures. But it’s really about the relationships of the characters, and how people have adapted to living this new life, centred mainly around Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) as they travel west across the United States.

hbo the last of us

Long, Long Time

Episode 3, titled “Long, Long Time”, was the perfect example of this, taking us away from Joel and Ellie’s story to focus on Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett). Bill and Frank meet as strangers a few years into the apocalypse, and the episode depicts their relationship develop over the course of many more years.

Long, Long Time is an episode about love, which is something that co-creator Neil Druckmann has cited as the main theme of The Last of Us. Whether that love is familial, romantic, platonic, or something else entirely – it doesn’t matter. Love is something we all experience and cherish, and a theme vital to explore in a universe where everything is out to kill. This rings especially true for queer love.

This is what made Bill and Frank’s relationship on screen so powerful. It was a depiction of love that felt so eerily close to what queer people experience in the real world. And even moreso, it took me by surprise considering that’s not how it was portrayed in the video game.

Credit: HBO

In the video game, we meet Bill and he’s alone. Frank is gone. The queerness is still present, but it’s a lot more subtextual. We don’t see their relationship play out like in the show, because it was originally built around gameplay and developing Joel and Ellie further, rather than focusing on Bill. In the end, Long, Long Time showcases the power of the adaptation. When you don’t have to worry about sandwiching narrative with action gameplay sections, it allows you more time to flesh out those characters.

The Last of Us Season 2 Release Date – everything you need to know

We’re treated to more of this throughout the first half of the season. Two episodes later, we see the backstory to Henry and Sam, two characters from the game who also didn’t receive as much development as the show gave them. The need to include lengthy gameplay sequences between each cutscene works well for a video game, where you can develop these characters through narrative design as you control the characters. But for TV, it’s clear that slowing things down and deviating slightly from the source material is the best way to achieve a stronger effect.

hbo the last of us
Credit: HBO

Original material

This was what disappointed me about the last couple of episodes of the show. We got one episode exploring David’s group, a congregation of cannibals who prey on wandering travellers, and a shorter season finale that culminates in some of the most dramatic writing the entire series has demonstrated so far.

But it was clear from the pacing that series co-creators Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin were running out of time to develop these two plotlines as deeply as the first half of the season. In the space of 100 minutes across these last two episodes, roughly five hours of plot from the games is condensed down to fit this runtime. New, original material takes less importance here, with a majority of the scenes being cutscenes that were pulled directly from the game. The Last of Us’ strengths as an adaptation in the early episodes of the season are almost absent.

the last of us tv series
Credit: Naughty Dog/HBO

Look, I get it. As an adaptation, fans of the game are going to want to see those same story beats recreated in live-action. And you can’t fault Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey for it, their performances are absolutely incredible. I really can’t wait to see how they play these characters in the second season.

Give us new material

But my favourite parts of the season were specifically the sequences that weren’t in the game. Bill and Frank’s backstory, Henry and Sam, the revolution stuff with Kathleen, I loved that stuff. If I wanted to watch the original story beat-by-beat, I’d just replay the game. Give me more original scenes and characters that can exist alongside the adapted material. Long, Long Time proves this can work.

But there were so many opportunities to include more of this in the later half of the season. Show me Marlene’s cross-country journey to reach the Firefly hospital. Show me why David’s group is so messed up. Or even give me some flashbacks showing how the Jackson community was built up from nothing.

hbo the last of us
Credit: HBO

I’m not saying the show needs more full episodes devoted to flashbacks as Long, Long Time and Left Behind did. That sounds like a nightmare for the momentum of the season. But even just an extra few scenes in each of the two final episodes would have really helped with the pacing. It’s clear this story needed to be structured more around a 12-episode order, when it only got nine.

This is ultimately why I hope The Last of Us Season 2 takes note of the pacing issues the first season had. I’d love to see more content that didn’t appear in the games. Druckmann and Mazin have revealed that the second season will adapt Part 2, and this will take place over multiple seasons. If you’ve played The Last of Us Part 2, you’ll know there’s massive potential here to include new material alongside the adapted stuff, and if that’s going to be the case, I’m excited to see what they do with it.

Featured Image Credit: HBO