The HBO TV show adaptation of The Last of Us finished its first season last night, but it almost featured a pretty nuanced change to its ending. Series co-creator Craig Mazin explained how the last moments of Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie’s (Bella Ramsey) journey almost came to a different conclusion during an interview with GQ. Obviously, spoilers for the game and TV show follow from here.
Those who have played the decade-old PlayStation game should be familiar with its iconic and tough-to-swallow ending. The video game The Last of Us ends with Joel mowing down countless Firefly troops before carrying an unconscious Ellie out of a hospital, effectively robbing them – and the rest of the world – of a cure for the cordyceps plague. In the aftermath, Joel lies to Ellie, explaining that there is no potential cure. When Ellie asks Joel to swear that he is telling the truth, he doubles down, leaving Ellie to reply with a somber “okay” before a final cut to black.
This is largely what happened in the series finale of The Last of Us when it premiered on HBO last night, but Mazin said that director Ali Abbasi experimented with a more drawn-out ending that almost came to be: “He had this thought of just playing out this slightly longer, sadder version where Ellie says, ‘okay’, and then she turns and walks away. And Joel looks after her. We see the two of them walking, not really together but apart, down towards Jackson. It lingers and then fades. There was something beautiful about it.”
While many unfamiliar with the source material might look at Mazin’s words as a missed opportunity, those who played the game are probably breathing a sigh of relief. The Last of Us, and particularly its ending, has been the subject of intense debate since its debut in 2013. It certainly left a bad taste in the mouths of many, but there’s no denying that those last moments are some of the story’s most impactful. Even a minor change could have tarnished an otherwise solid adaptation, though it seems the decision to stick with the original ending was more than just a safe choice.
Mazin further explained the following:
Everybody was like ‘what do we do?’ And there was that meta-discussion of, are the people that played the game going to be more annoyed that they didn’t get it just the way it’s supposed to be, or are they gonna be more annoyed that they only got what they had before? And then how will everybody else feel? In the end, there’s something very specific about ending on that close-up of Ellie. Not knowing what comes next. Not knowing what she does. Does she walk away from him, does she walk with him, how does she feel? That moment gets suspended permanently.
In 2013, The Last of Us aimed to tell a complete story without the promise of a sequel, so developer Naughty Dog tried to give it a definitive ending. Now, however, we know that The Last of Us Part II released in 2020, and a second season for the show is already on the way, too. Early details about The Last of Us season 2 hint that it will largely follow the narrative of the original game’s sequel, but if it is anything like the first season, it will likely come with its own fair share of changes.
So, what do you think? Are you happy with the faithful ending we got, or should The Last of Us on HBO have strayed from its source material for a slightly different ending? Leave your thoughts below.