The following contains spoilers for HBO’s first two episodes The last of us series.
HBO is taking over The last of us generates a lot of discussion about how it modifies the source material. This conversation has some said the show feels overly obligated sometimes to the PlayStation 3 game, while also noting the need for quite noticeable swings in other spots, with reviews citing the changes to Bill and Frank’s storyline in an upcoming installment as a highlight. But after episode two, “Infected,” I’m honestly amazed at how the show chose to portray Anna Torv’s Tess, a character who only appears in both the show and the original game for a short time but deserved a whole lot better. . than what HBO’s show gave her.
In the game The last of us, Tess turns out to be a skilled smuggler who, along with main character Joel, even pulls the strings in her operation. They are both considered dangerous in the Boston quarantine zone where they live, but Tess is the one who acts and acts and uses her connections to get them what they need to survive in this infernal landscape, and Joel answers her. That guy is mentally and emotionally checked out and just needs someone to tell him what to do most days. The hints of tenderness they feel for each other are much more overt in the show, with a scene where both Tess and Joel share a bed, and Joel showing concern over her injuries at the hands of Robert’s men rather than a general jaded exasperation. Yet it never quite reaches the heat of what Tess wants, which she acknowledges in her final scene in the second episode. While Joel’s actual emotional entanglement with her seems complicated, it’s so overbearing that when she asks him to redeem their long legacy of violence with an act that could result in a better world after she’s gone, he coldly relents.
Aside from the inner workings of their relationship, Tess is a character who exudes confidence, street smarts and intuition in the game version of The last of us. On HBO’s show, I barely recognize her in some scenes. Tess’s introduction in the first episode was that she was dealing with an estranged business partner Robert, who she would then make short work of in the game (she doesn’t get this in the television series). In the show, Robert is more afraid of Joel than Tess and given that Tess is not portrayed with the same level of ruthless prowess as in the game, it makes sense that Robert would see Joel as the menacing threat. Joel and Tess from the game felt like equals in the violence they would commit, but many of the moments that contributed to that feeling are left out in the TV show. In pursuit of Robert, Tess is the one to shoot through his henchmen relentlessly, initiating some of the game’s early combat sections. On the player’s first encounter with a clicker, Tess is the one to kill him while Joel’s life is in danger. But without these moments, HBO’s vision of The last of us doesn’t seem to recognize Tess as an equally big threat.
Any chance Tess and Robert have to settle their dispute is cut short by an explosion as Fireflies and FEDRA fight outside. As the fighting continues, Tess walks up to a FEDRA team and loudly proclaims that she is not Firefly. The officers ignore her protests, push her to the ground, handcuff her and take her away. The scene illustrates that FEDRA doesn’t really care about the humanity of those left behind in this world, but Tess being offered on this particular chopping block frames her eventual fate in a very different way than it felt in the 2013 source material.
Tess dies in episode two under similar circumstances to the ones that led to her death in the game, but with a mean and gross twist. After traversing Boston to deliver Ellie to a pack of Fireflies, Joel and Tess arrive at the rendezvous point to find her escort completely wiped out. But along the way, Tess was bitten by an infected and she knows her time is limited. She begs Joel to take Ellie the rest of the way to her destination in hopes that her immunity can lead to a cure. As a horde of infected move toward them, she pours gas tanks on the floor and scatters grenades. She can buy the pair for a while, but she goes out on her own terms.
In the game, these infected were FEDRA troops and Tess went out in a gunfight. However, in the HBO show, Tess struggles with a lighter while trying to light the gasoline on the lobby floor. The explanation showrunner Craig Mazin gives for this change is sensible. It makes more sense for the infected to pursue our heroes than FEDRA, who should have fought his way through the desecrated remains of Boston for a few fugitives.
As the horde enters the building, many of them run right past Tess completely ignoring her, it is clear that the infection is rearing its ugly head and they begin to see her as one of them. Then an infected breaks away from the group and slowly plods towards Tess with his fungus vines growing out of his mouth.
Tess eventually gets the lighter to work and drops it onto the petrol below, but not before the infected violently kisses her. The cordyceps fungus already takes away her entire personality, and the show takes it a step further by sexualizing an already gruesome scene and replacing her agency with another form of violence. The argument can be made that the infected has no actual intent, but the images it evokes and which the public must witness are undeniable. Whatever concept of lore the show is trying to illustrate, it didn’t have to do it in a gruesome way. At HBOs The last of usTess isn’t going out on her own terms, she’s going out in one of the most baffling, inhuman creative choices the adaptation has made yet.
The world of The last of us is a ruthless one, and no one is really free from that in any of the expansive media, but Tess was a character who could at least confidently stand for something in her final moments in the game. But in HBO’s portrayal of her, Tess is missing one of the main things she held onto the most: her dignity. More changes are coming as the series progresses, and they’re not all bad, but whatever comes, it’s going to take a lot to wash the taste of Tess’s story out of my mouth.