HBO’s TV adaptation of The Last of Us has been fantastic so far. It’s essentially a one-to-one adaptation of the original game, with plenty of new scenes that help to flesh out the world even further. Not everything has remained the same, though; certain scenes have been adjusted slightly from the game, including the ending of the second episode.
In the game, Tess meets her untimely demise when she reveals that she’s been infected. In order to buy Joel and Ellie some time, she stays behind to face off a group of FEDRA soldiers in a gun fight. But in the HBO adaptation, instead of fighting human soldiers, we have a horde of infected swarming the place instead. And not only that, the episode ends with one of the infected slowly approaching Tess before planting a tendril-infested kiss on her lips. She finally manages to spark a flame on the lighter, and then blows the building up.
First off, what the hell? We all knew Tess was infected and that she was doomed anyway. Was that kiss really necessary, HBO? Did we really need that mental image of tendril French kissing seared into our brains forever?
After ruminating on it for a couple days, I think we did, in fact, need it. HBO’s portrayal of Tess has been remarkably nuanced, and in a lot of ways, I’d even venture to say that she feels like a much more complex character in the show than in the game.
In The Last of Us, Tess is depicted as a tough woman who isn’t afraid of getting into fights. The thing about the game, though, is that we rarely got to see how she fared in the face of the unknown. Humans, she can deal with. But when it comes to the infected, she wavers. We get little hints of this in the game, but the TV adaptation makes that distinction extremely obvious.
Our first introduction to Anna Torv’s Tess occurs in a scene where she’s been beat up pretty bad by Robert and his men. He’s putting pressure on her, but she’s having none of it. Tess handles herself well in the encounter with Marlene too, and it’s not until she, Joel, and Ellie first hear the iconic cries of a Clicker that we finally see that tough facade start to crack.
Tess isn’t the only one rattled by the infected, of course. It’s clear that Joel and Ellie are genuinely frightened as well, and it’s a testament to just how dangerous and terrifying this virus is. Tess’s own fear is dialed up to a hundred by the time we get to her final scene, though, as Torv adds this layer of hesitancy and struggle when she finally reveals her bite mark to Joel. The fear is palpable, especially as she starts moving around to keep busy, spilling gasoline all over the floor and pleading with Joel to take Ellie and run.
The Last of Us is great at injecting tension in all of its action scenes, but none of them have come close to this little sequence of Tess desperately trying to flick the lighter to get a flame going. She’s sparking it intensely, and the sparking slows down when the infected eventually break in. As the infected approaches her for the tendril make out sesh, Tess never closes her eyes. Instead, she accepts her fate and stares at it straight on, before finally getting the spark she needed to give Joel and Ellie a chance.
I’ve played The Last of Us a whole bunch of times. Of course I knew Tess was gonna die. I was prepared to feel a little sad about it, but I wasn’t quite prepared for Anna Torv’s wonderful depiction of the character. There’s so much more depth to HBO’s Tess than I ever would’ve expected, and it’s pretty impressive that so much of it was conveyed within just two episodes.
To come back to my initial gut reaction and question: did we really need that gross ass tendril kiss at the end of episode 2? I think we did. It encapsulated Tess’s fear of the infected, yet also reaffirmed that she was strong and brave enough to accept her fate and do what needed to be done.