In retrospect, it was pretty clear HBO’s take on The Last of Us was going to do away with one of the source material’s best moments. Back in episode three, Joel and Ellie find a defunct Mortal Kombat II arcade cabinet, prompting the young girl to excitedly tell her grumpy guardian about Mileena’s iconic fatality in which she eats her enemy and barfs out their bones. In the game, it’s a fictional arcade game called The Turning she tells Joel about, and for those of us familiar with the game and its DLC chapter, Left Behind, this served as a pretty strong indication that The Turning’s iconic moment in HBO’s adaptation of that DLC would also be altered. Sure enough, it was. While the sentiment is still fun, the use of Mortal Kombat instead of The Turning both oozes with corporate synergy between PlayStation Productions and Warner Bros. Discovery, and misses a moment of tragic wonder that was a standout segment in the original Left Behind DLC.
The Last of Us games are filled with in-universe media. As Joel and Ellie make their way across Naughty Dog’s version of a post-apocalyptic America, the two frequently stumble upon remnants of the world before the cordyceps fungus destroyed polite society and talk about them in pretty extensive detail. Savage Starlight, a comic series that functions as a collectible in The Last of Us Part I, is a personal favorite of Ellie’s. It’s a science fiction series that follows a character called Dr. Daniela Star who goes on adventures across the galaxy. As you collect these comics throughout the game, you get bits and pieces of the story from the blurbs on the back of each volume, but the real value of them is in the way they expand upon Ellie’s character across both games. She develops a fascination with space and wishes she could have been an astronaut in a world not leveled by an infection, and Dr. Star’s catchphrase of “to the edge of the universe and back, endure and survive” is a thematic touchstone.
At another point, Joel and Ellie find an advertisement for a movie called Dawn of the Wolf that is clearly an homage to the Twilight series, which Joel mentions seeing with his daughter Sarah just before the outbreak. Both Savage Starlight and Dawn of the Wolf make appearances in the show’s seventh episode, which act as both knowing nods to old fans and conversation points about how characters like Ellie and her best friend and first love Riley, who were born after the apocalypse, lack a lot of cultural context for what the world was like before.
However, the show also incorporates a few more real-world brands to illustrate these concepts. During Ellie and Riley’s date in a mall in episode seven, they pass by a Victoria’s Secret and remark about how ridiculous and impractical lingerie seems in a world where they live in military boarding schools and go off to join revolutionary groups like the Fireflies. It’s a fine scene and allows Ellie and Riley a little flirtatious banter as they continue exploring the abandoned shopping center, but it also highlights the reality that TV shows are more likely than games to make product…
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