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The Last of Us HBO show is a chance to explore some of the game’s “half-developed” story branches, series creator and Naughty Dog creative director Neil Druckmann said. He made the comments in a recent interview with TechRadar, where he said conversations with show writer Craig Mazin (Chernobyl) about how to adapt the survival horror game without losing its emotional heart quickly led to discussions about the world Druckmann created.

The Last of Us Parts 1 and 2 and the Left Behind DLC stick to Joel and Ellie’s viewpoint, so some narrative elements such as FEDRA, the military-government that formed after the cordyceps disaster, and the fungal outbreak itself only get a surface narrative treatment in the games. Mazin wanted to explore all of these things and more, including character relationships that don’t get much attention otherwise.

“We don't have to just stick with Joel and Ellie like we do in the game,” Druckmann said. “We [knew we] could leave them for a while before we came back to them.”

He also said Mazin was crucial in helping decide what elements from the zombie games were worth adapting.

“Craig’s brilliance is his ability to say, ‘That’s not as important [to have in the show as it is in the games],’” Druckmann said. “When people have adapted video games in the past, they’ve thought, ‘Oh, players want to see that gameplay moment.’ That’s not what they want. They want the core at the heart of that experience.”

The Last of US TV show premieres Jan. 15, 2023, on HBO Max. The first season covers the events of The Last of Us Part 1, and the second season – which has no anticipated air date yet – will cover the events of Part 2.