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As it turns out, HBO’s The Last of Us Episode 2 once featured an even darker opening scene than the one audiences ultimately got.
The critically-acclaimed PlayStation adaptation is two episodes deep now, with audiences eating up Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey’s journey across a post-apocalyptic America.
Ever since the game’s debut back in 2013, The Last of Us has garnered quite the reputation for being a pretty dark affair, something that has been on display (and will continue to be) in the HBO series.
But according to the show’s creators, it could have been darker if a cut Episode 2 opening had made it in.
According to The Last of Us showrunners Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann, Episode 2 (titled “Infected”) originally focused on a dark backstory for Anna Torv’s Tess.
Speaking on the official The Last of Us Podcast, Druckmann and Mazin explained that they had written a cold open for Episode 2 that added “a little bit of a backstory [to] Tess.” It would have shown that before meeting Joel (Pedro Pascal) and going into business in the Quarantine Zone together, Tess “had a husband and she had a son” who both became infected by the Cordyceps fungus:
Mazin: “We had talked about, and we wrote it, we never shot it, and it was a little bit of a backstory of Tess and the fact that Tess had a kid. She had a husband and she had a son, and they were infected and she had to kill them.”
Upon this realization, Tess would have killed her husband but “could not kill the son.” This led to her “locking him in the basement” where the Cordyceps fungus would have taken over, leaving her child to become a Clicker (an elevated stage of the Cordyceps infection):
Mazin: “She killed her husband but she could not kill the son. She couldn’t do it.”
Druckmann: “She locked him in the basement.”
Mazin: “She locked him in the basement, where, theoretically he’s still a clicker.”
Druckmann noted that the cold open would have seen the cameras zooming in on the basement door as the audience “just [hears] this pounding coming” from the other side. Later in the episode, Torv’s characters would have then told this tragic story to Joel and Ellie (Bella Ramsey); however, the pair of showrunners eventually realized “[the sequence] didn’t fit:”
Druckmann: “‘Cause we had a cold open where we just, like–where the camera, like pushed on this door, and you just hear this pounding coming from this basement, and then we cut out. And then later, Tess would tell the story of, like, how she couldn’t kill her son, and just like Craig is saying, it didn’t fit, but it’s fun to think.”
Warning – The rest of this article contains spoilers for Episode 2 of HBO’s The Last of Us.
In a franchise where bleak and tragic narratives are plentiful, it feels like this look into Tess’ life before the Boston Quarantine Zone was ultimately cut because it was too dark.
The cold open viewers ultimately did get was not any more optimistic, as the series went back to the beginning of the Cordyceps infection. It saw a leading expert in health science discover the fungus had made the jump to humans and say the best course of action was to bomb the city, killing innocent people to stop the spread.
Druckmann and Mazin have been smart thus far in knowing when to expand on the source material and when to trim a sequence or two from the games, and this Tess origin story may have been better left on the cutting room floor.
Tess’ backstory is something that was never explored in either of The Last of Us games, and if she was a bigger part of the overall journey of the TV show, it maybe would have made sense to have taken a dive into where she came from.
However, now knowing that she does not make it out of Episode 2, the time it would have taken to set this up seems to have been better spent elsewhere.
HBO’s The Last of Us continues its run with an 80-minute Episode 3 on Sunday, January 29.