The Last of Us: How Tess’ Story Is Different In the Games

The Last of Us HBO series has been impressively accurate to the games so far, but a couple of minor changes to Tess' story could be setting up bigger differences to come.

Tess HBO The Last of Us
Photo: HBO

This LAST OF US article contains spoilers.

The Last of Usexceptional second episode certainly wasn’t lacking in suspense, though it’s safe to say that no moment in the episode generated more buzz than Tess’ apparent death. Some viewers were even left wondering whether or not Tess is truly dead.

Well, barring a truly wild twist, I can assure you that Tess is dead. Unless we’re lucky enough to get a Tess flashback scene down the line, that’s sadly the last we’ll see of her. While that’s a shame given the strength of both the character and Anna Torv’s performance, fans of the games know that Tess’ death is a painfully necessary part of Joel and Ellie’s future adventures

Actually, those same fans may also know that Tess’ death in the HBO series and her death in The Last of Us game are actually slightly different. Here’s what you need to know about those differences and why those changes were made.

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How Is Tess’ Death Different In The Last of Us HBO Show vs. The Last of Us Game?

In HBO’s The Last of Us, we watch in horror as Tess reveals to Joel and Ellie that she was bitten during the trio’s excursion out of the quarantine zone. All too aware of her eventual fate, she urges Joel to complete their assignment and escort Ellie. Shortly thereafter, she finds herself surrounded by infected. One of the infected even tries to give her what could most horrifyingly be described as a kind of “kiss” that will presumably complete the assimilation process.

Thankfully, Tess manages to hold off the infected long enough to trigger an explosion that consumes her, the infected, and a good portion of the Massachusetts State House. However, Joel and Ellie escape as a result of her sacrifice.

Many of the key details of Tess’ death are the same in both the show and the game. The location is (roughly) the same, Tess is bitten in both scenarios, and Tess makes it clear to Joel that she wants him to complete their assignment without her. In the games, though, Tess doesn’t take out a horde of infected before she dies. In fact, Tess isn’t killed by the infected (or an explosion) at all.

See, in The Last of Us game, Tess is actually killed by a group of FEDRA soldiers who have been pursuing Tess, Joel, and Ellie since they left the quarantine zone. Tess, aware that she has been bitten, urges Joel and Ellie to go on while she stays behind to deal with the FEDRA soldiers and buy the two the time they need to escape. While Tess fires at the pursuing soldiers in order to keep them occupied, she’s not able to kill all (or perhaps any) of them. Indeed, Joel soon sees the aftermath of Tess’ last stand for himself and confirms beyond any doubt that she was shot and killed by the soldiers during the conflict.

While that’s not a huge change in the grand scope of The Last of Us‘ epic narrative, it is a pretty notable minor difference that does alter the fate of a beloved character. So why did the show’s writers make that change? Well, I’m glad you asked…

Why Tess’ Death Was Changed For The Last of Us HBO Show

During an interview with HBO’s The Last of Us podcast, series co-creator Craig Mazin revealed that they decided to change some of the details of Tess’ death in order to address a plot inconsistency in the game and to ensure that the vital moment better fit some of the show’s reworked themes and details.

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“Why would FEDRA even be here? What are they doing? There’s nothing there for them to police, really. It didn’t make much sense to me to have FEDRA all the way out there,” said Mazin regarding the specifics of Tess’ death in the game. “We wanted a chance to show a different result of being infected, which was not one of mere violence or horror, but rather a sick kind of community. Now, at the end, we had an opportunity to show how connected they were.”

Series co-creator Neil Druckmann (who also co-directed and wrote The Last of Us game) expanded on that point during an interview with Entertainment Weekly in which he stated that the reworked details of Tess’ death help show that “these things don’t have to get violent unless you’re fighting them from spreading [the infection] further.”

That explanation actually makes a lot of sense. After all, The Last of Us HBO team previously explained that they intended to change the way that the Cordyceps infection is portrayed in the show vs. how it is portrayed in the games.

While some of those changes can be attributed to logistical demands, some of them are more about the team’s desire to change how the infected are both perceived and utilized in the show. In this case, it seems that they really wanted to sell both the slightly re-imagined nature of how a person can become infected as well as the communal nature of the infected themselves. There’s also the aforementioned perceived plot inconsistency that Mazin wanted to address. And yes, you could argue that Tess’ death is more “heroic” (if only cinematically so) in the show than it is in the game.

In any case, it’ll certainly be interesting to see what other changes (both minor and major) the show makes to the games moving forward.