Of course, the adaptation wouldn’t be complete without multiple nods to the game. This was most evident in the first 20 minutes of the episode during Sarah’s tragic arc. The scene where she gives Joel his beloved watch for his birthday contained teasing dialogue from the game, and the final sequence leading to her death was nearly a shot-for-shot recreation of the game’s cutscene.
After Joel takes Ellie under his wing, the series’ Ellie quips lines from the game like, “You mumble in your sleep,” and “Your watch is broken,” reminding Joel of the last piece of his daughter he has left. Fine details like these are what made the story powerful to players of the game — nestled perfectly into the quiet moments of the story, giving the story its heartbeat. Newcomers to “The Last of Us” will feel just as gratified as players did when the game calls back to these tender and sometimes tragic moments.
But having Merle Dandridge reprise her role as Marlene from the game is nothing short of spectacular. It is so cool for players to see the voice of this crucial character come to life in a new way. Hearing the same voice across versions of the series transplants fans of the game back to the emotions they had during their own playthroughs. For newcomers, they get to experience Dandridge’s excellent acting for the first time, with the added benefit of the actress having grown into the character more over time.
With game creator Neil Druckmann heavily involved in the production, it is clear that co-creator Craig Mazin respects the origins of this epic story. The parts of the game that work, really work, and it’s encouraging that they were left unscathed in the writing for the TV series. While keeping the best parts of the game and being playful with others, episode one of “The Last of Us” has set a promising stage for weeks to come.