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'The Last of Us' creator teases unused game flashback in HBO series
A key moment of The Last of Us backstory will finally play out, with an original voice cast member.
Though it's sticking very closely to the source material that inspired it, from story beats to shot-for-shot recreations of the environment, HBO's The Last of Us is still taking some liberties with the ways in which it unfolds the narrative of Joel (Pedro Pascal), Ellie (Bella Ramsey), and the post-apocalyptic universe in which they're fighting to survive. That means a lot of things, depending on the individual episode, and according to creator Neil Druckmann, it also means restoring some material that the game simply didn't have room to include.
Speaking to Variety in the wake of the HBO series' second episode, Druckmann -- who wrote the original Playstation game and co-created the series alongside Craig Mazin -- teased that later on in the fist season of The Last of Us, we'll get a flashback sequence that he originally drafted years ago, which will fill in a key unexplored piece of Ellie's life before she met Joel.
"The one that shows up very late in the season is Ellie’s mom," Druckmann said. "I had written a short story after we had shipped the game already. It was supposed to be an animated short, but it fell apart and didn’t come to be. There was a moment where we almost made it as DLC, but it fell apart."
The original game does give us certain key moments of backstory -- most notably the entire prologue sequence in which we learn what happened to Joel's daughter -- but others are merely implied, brought up in passing as Joel and Ellie go through their journey. That helps with the sense of immediacy and action in the game, but the series allows Druckmann and Mazin more room to play with perspective and timing. That meant resurrecting the moment with Ellie's mother -- who is never depicted onscreen in the game -- and doing it with the help of a Last of Us game veteran.
"In our conversations, I brought it up to Craig and he was immediately excited by it, or as he would say 'activated,'" Druckmann continued. "We brought it to life in the most beautiful, poetic way, which is Ashley Johnson playing Ellie’s mom and she was the original actor for Ellie."
Watching Johnson in the HBO series, and with such an important role, will be a treat for fans of the game, but even if you haven't played The Last of Us, you can probably guess that the show is having fun with its ability to change perspective beyond just Joel and Ellie's experience. It's an ability that's been reflected in early scenes in both episodes so far, including Episode 2's brief look-in on an Idonesian mycologist who makes a terrifying discovery.
"It started with a conversation that Neil and I were having early on, where I would ask him some of my patented, annoying questions," Mazin said. "One of them was, 'What’s going on in the rest of the world?' One of the things that Neil always talks about is how in the game your perspective is really connected completely to either Joel or Ellie, depending on who you’re moving with your controller. We don’t have that, so then the question is, 'What does the rest of the world look like?' Initially, we were going to have much more of an international view of things, but I think where we went was to just talk about where it started, and ground people in the science of it as best we could."
The Last of Us airs Sundays on HBO.